At Least One Prominent Scientist Understands What the Funding Crunch Means For Junior Researchers

This is from an interview by James Fallows of Eric Lander (boldface mine):

JF: Any researcher can find ways to use extra money. But in genomics now, how significant is research funding as a limiting factor on progress toward therapies?

ESL: It is incredibly limiting right now. Young scientists who need to look at 100,000 cancer samples, or do functional tests inhibiting all the genes in the genome, or explore the use of chemicals in ways they never could before—they need an NIH [National Institutes of Health] that is able to place bets. With sequestration, and the NIH budget falling by about 25 percent in real terms over the past decade, the people reviewing grants naturally become more conservative. When there’s less money, reviewers don’t want to run the risk of wasting money on something that doesn’t work.

I’ve got to tell you, if you aren’t prepared to waste money on things that might not work, you can’t possibly do things that are transformative. Because for every successful transformative idea, there’s five times as many nonsuccessful transformative ideas. Nobody knows how to figure out in advance which ones they’re going to be.

We’ve got an amazing cadre of young people coming into the field, and they have this cognitive dissonance right now. On the one hand they see unbelievable opportunities, and on the other hand, for the first time they see the nation decreasing funding for biomedical research.

In a very objective sense, this is a unique moment to be investing. This is the first decade when we can actually look across diseases in this systematic way. The idea that we’re not investing to let a generation of young people try their riskiest, cleverest ideas is a tragedy. Because we’ve got such an opportunity.

While the NIH seems blissfully unaware of the crisis facing younger scientists, at least one prominent scientist gets it. Hopefully, this will turn into pressure on elected officials and NIH.

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1 Response to At Least One Prominent Scientist Understands What the Funding Crunch Means For Junior Researchers

  1. Pingback: Is Open Access/Science the Biggest Problem We Face? (How About a Different Emphasis For 2014?) | Mike the Mad Biologist

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