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July 15, 2005

Science Funding's Unintended Consequences

There's an interesting article by Sallie Baliunas at Tech Central Station today on research funding. The piece notes a recent Nature article that suggests scientific misbehavior might be linked to "perceptions of inequities in the [science] resource distribution process" and connects that with tendency among federal funding agencies to shift emphasis from basic to applied research.

Since 1970, total federal non-medical research spending as a fraction of Gross Domestic Product has declined by about one-third. No formal history has tracked research misbehavior, leaving it impossible to say if ongoing stresses on budget allocation systems would partly explain current misbehavior.

Continual budget pressures, though, are transforming U.S. research and development. Funding agencies now weigh more heavily a proposal's aim toward practical applications, especially those with near-term payoff.

The rest of the article focuses on this trend, citing as an example PITAC's 1999 report "Investing in our Future" that noted that federal funding in computing research was "excessively focused on near-term problems" (a problem that persists) and providing examples of the sort of serendipitous discovery that doesn't occur in that environment.

Though I'm not sure what to make of the linkage between this change in focus and scientific misbehavior, the article's point on the real cost of the push towards applied research is well-taken. "Questions of how funding is distributed are as critical as how much funding."

Here's the whole thing.

Posted by PeterHarsha at July 15, 2005 08:59 AM | TrackBack
Posted to Policy | R&D in the Press