Find two scientists together, and chances are they are complaining about grants. The American research community is presently in its sixth year of a funding crisis exacerbated by an earlier period of growth that created new funding commitments and recruited additional scientists to the workforce. Resources in the system are insufficient to support current demands for research funds, and scientists are devoting unprecedented time and effort into competing over the dwindling funds available. Robert Siliciano, a prominent virologist, testified to a Congressional committee that 60% of his time is dedicated to seeking research funding (25
). There are simply not enough resources for the number of scientists.
Would a successful business organize its research and development department so that employees spend more than half their hours writing detailed 5-year plans and then provide resources for only a 10th of them, leaving the rest to languish? Of course not. Yet, that is essentially the status of the nation's scientific enterprise in 2009. Over the past 5 years, the NIH budget has declined 13% after correcting for inflation (1
). A greater emphasis on centrally defined research priorities in an era of declining budgets has had a particularly harsh impact on individual investigator-initiated research, the traditional engine of scientific progress. A precipitous 46% decline in R01 grants awarded between 2000 and 2007 underscores this trend (19
We must face the fact that the ongoing funding imbalance is causing lasting harm to the nation's scientific enterprise, undermining both productivity and innovation. The crisis comes at a particularly inopportune time, as biomedical research will have a very important role to play in the world's economic recovery (3
). For some scientists, their very jobs are at stake. This is because salary support for many American scientists is more dependent on grant revenues than in other countries (4
). Additional casualties of the funding crisis are more difficult to measure but nevertheless real: deteriorating morale and a perceptible decline in scientific collegiality and cooperation. As David Sarnoff once observed, “Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people” (26