I came across a short article at Science’s news site that notes that “Up to 1000 NIH Investigators Dropped Out Last Year” — i.e. the number of investigators funded by the NIH is presently dropping, a likely consequence of shrinking funding. The article includes this graph:
What I find striking about the graph is the large rise in the number of NIH funded scientists over the past few decades, which isn’t commented on at all. I quickly made a plot of US population over the same period, scaled to match (i.e. the 1970 values are lined up, and the vertical range is 2.5x this value):
This isn’t news, but it’s yet again interesting to note that the number of scientists has grown disproportionately compared to the overall population.
I find it remarkable that calls for increasing science funding seem to be driven by a sensible desire for more (and more stable) funding per research lab, but seem oblivious to the fact that increased funding creates strong incentives for hiring. As we’ve seen in the recent past, consequences can take the form of less funding on average per lab, greater uncertainty, less risk-taking in scientific proposals, etc. Why is “population control” so rarely discussed?
4 thoughts on “Culling the (science) herd?”
NIH adds to the hiring boom by allowing high F&A rates and for allowing F&A to stack from multiple grants, enabling universities to take out bonds on buildings, fill them with soft money positions, reap the F&A to pay back the bonds and repeat. I’d attribute a good part of the mid-90s boom to that.
Yes. There’s a great discussion of universities’ incentives in Paula Stephan’s “How Economics Shapes Science.” You’re welcome to borrow my copy!
Actually, the number of fully funded scientists was dropping since 2004.
The NIH is splitting the grants to make it look like people stay in the system:
Thanks for the link — this is fascinating, and the graphs on the grantome site are great.