Effect of increased research funding

This piece in Nature by Michele Pagano has an interesting take on the effect of increasing research funding:

The infusion of funds increased the scientific workforce and the number of products marketed to scientists, but did little to boost excellence.

The context is the significant increase in funding from the NIH initiated in the late 1990s, draws a counter intuitive conclusion. The change in funding is implicated in triggering a range of the commonly discussed challenges in the research system.

Pagano rightly recognises that solving these challenges is difficult:

Resetting the trajectory of the scientific enterprise requires multiple, difficult actions.

But his proposed actions are little more than an exhortation for everyone to behave better:

Politicians must understand that job creation is not - and furthermore, should not be - a primary goal of the NIH or any other science-funding agency. Funds should be distributed on the basis of merit alone, not geopolitical considerations and interests. Institutions need to realign their mentality with their original academic mission, and reduce soft-money positions. Publishers should care less about publishing flashy stories and more about disseminating solid science. Individual scientists should emphasize excellence and rigour over stockpiling more and more papers and grants.

There needs to be continued focus on the way that incentive systems lead to these behaviours, and changing them where appropriate. I am also not convinced that increased funding per se is at the heart of the problem, but rather we need to think carefully about how funding is deployed and used.

Written on July 30, 2017

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