Time and time again, we read about the conflict between ‘big science’ and independent researchers. This is often accompanied by the claim that big science is sucking up all the money–if only the centers didn’t take all the money,
my our breakthroughs from small labs would be even greater.
And if only that were true. Here’s the allocation of NIH funding by mechanism (I’ve removed all mechanisms, except for R mechanism grants, the typical grant a prinicipal investigator with her own lab receives, and center grants:
R01s, as a percentage of the total amount available for funding, have decreased over the last sixteen years, but this hasn’t been due to CENTERZ TAKING ALL THE MONIES! In fact, R grant funding has increased as a percentage of all NIH funding. No, what’s dinged the R01s are R21s and the ‘other’ category. Some of the ‘other’ grants are larger collaborative mechanisms (e.g., P grants and some U grants), but those are simply large, multi-PI grants*.
In terms of the number of awards, it’s the R21s that have really shot up:
If you don’t think any centers should be funded, fine, but the hard times for R01s aren’t because center grant programs are suddenly getting money thrown at them: the funding for center programs has remained pretty constant. The problem is, as always, too many PIs chasing too little money.
*A common knock against P grants is that they’re often just bundled-together R01 grants, and not integrated programs (i.e., centers). Go figure.