While funding might seem like a boring part of science, remember that all the cool stuff that
gets mangled in the popular press you read about online and so on costs money. When there’s less money, there’s a good chance there’s less cool stuff to read about.
In my day job, there are two primary institutes that fund some of the stuff I do–infectious disease and microbial genomics): NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) and NIGMS (National Institute of General Medical Sciences). One more jargony thing–the bread and butter NIH grant for a university lab is an R01 mechanism grant. With all that jargon, let’s see how we’re doing (the tl;dr version–not well at all).
Based on these data (.xlsx), in NIAID world, from 2004 to 2013, the total number of R01 grants has declined from 620 to 384 (new proposals have dropped from 389 to 261; renewals of existing grants dropped from 231 to 132). The percentage of successful new applications dropped from 18.9% to 12.3%, and the percentage of successful renewals dropped from 44.6% to 29.9% (it’s worth noting that in any given year, about eighty percent of proposals are considered “new” and that the number of proposals is pretty constant).
In inflation adjusted dollars, total funding amounts decreased from $268.1 million to $175.1 million. New proposals have increased the annual amount per proposal from $430,820 to $478,132. While this seems to be a lone bright spot, I don’t know to what extent this reflects direct expenditures versus increases in indirect charges (the latter acrue to the university, not the researcher). On other hand, renewals saw a decrease from $435,125 to $409,225.
Overall, this is not good. Maybe NIGMS is better?
Before getting into the details, a key factor is that the number of NIGMS applicants has increased from about 2,900 to 3,500, so it’s a bigger pool. From 2004 to 2013, the total number of awards declined from 840 to 716 (new proposals stayed nearly constant ‘falling’ from 388 to 383, while renewals got crushed with a drop from 452 to 333) . Not as bad as NIAID, but remember the larger pool. The percentage of new proposals awarded funds dropped from 20.1% to 14.8%, while renewals decreased from 46.1% to 37%. In dollar amounts, the total NIGMS R01 pool declined from $325 million to $251.6 million. The annual amount per new proposal dropped from $347,549 to $331,600, while renewals decreased from $420,647 to $374,301. Again, keep in mind that thirty to forty percent of that total never reaches a researcher (just saying).
In short, the situation for investigator-driven research at these two institutes sucks. Hard. The next time you read a post or column about all the scary diseases, you might want to remind them about this little problem.