Monday, February 09, 2009

New Funding for NIH!

While conservatives continue to root through the stimulus bill in search of causes for outrage (can't they just watch MTV?), and while we're on the subject of funded research, it's worth noting that the Senate version of the bill proposes $6.5 billion in research grants through the National Institutes of Health.
This is huge. NIH funding had petered out over the last decade, just when the potential economic and public health gains of having a vibrant, dynamic biotech industry were becoming more pronounced.

It's not wholly unreasonable to argue that someone other than the government could be funding scientific research, if the payoffs are so tangible and considerable. The thing is, many of the big breakthroughs come in basic, not applied, research, and they're a long time in coming. Companies aren't going to take on the expense of big, basic research labs. Universities will — and do. And as a result, we have biotechnology, we have Google — we have the dynamic that transformed our economy from the backdated manufacturing model of the late '70s to the thriving tech-savvy machine that powered us through the '90s and early Oughts (before bankers killed it dead).

On a list of What Makes America Great, funded research has to make the Top Five. I know that doesn't sit well with conservative orthodoxy: not only are we talking about government spending, but it goes to "university elites" who work on projects that may not promise an obvious, immediate payoff. But government grants are exactly the sort of "investment" that pays off in spades. And in the short term, with every single NIH grant creating or supporting seven jobs, and while hundreds of researchers sit on the sidelines with worthy projects delayed by nothing but lack of funding, a grants boost ought to be a no-brainer.

It's so easy to come down hard on Congress for its failings. Let's give a big cheer to the Senate for getting something right.

1 comment:

Mithridates said...

There's nothing better than when your economic self-interest coincides with your political philosophy and the current political agenda. And I didn't even have to construct a pseudo political philosophy to fit around my interests. Things just worked out that way. As an impartial observer, I don't think federal money could be more-well spent; as a graduate student doing basic scientific research about to go on the academic job market, I'm like a pig in, well, you know.

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