Funding crisis in basic research


The editorial in our November issue discusses the shortage of funding for basic science in the US and how the ramifications of funding shortfalls on society at large can be measured.  But the US is not alone in facing a much tightened research budget.

Outcries over changes in funding polices can be heard also in many European countries.

In a column in Nature on October 9, Amaya Moro-Martin, a member of the governing board of Euroscience describes the problems and sums their root cause up by saying that “the policy-makers and leaders of an increasing number of nations have completely lost touch with the reality of research.”  The numbers she quotes are indeed stark: Italy’s spending on basic research has dropped precipitously and recruitment of scientists has fallen by 90%. And the situation is equally dire if not more so in Spain, Greece and Portugal.  She predicts that these budget cuts are triggering a brain drain from southern to northern Europe and, more seriously, lead people to leave research altogether in search for a more stable career.

The focus of the European research commissioner on applied rather than basic research will not solve this problem. Applied research does not ask the fundamental questions that underlie new discoveries, instead it improves upon what is already known.

Scientists in Canada voice similar concerns that their government puts increasing focus on funding projects that offer immediate commercial value rather than supporting basic research. A summary by the Canadian Association of University Teachers summarizes the drop in Canadian federal funding for basic Research over the last 8 years.  The authors urge their government to make basic research a priority and leave the awarding of grants to peers rather than side stepping this process by determining which projects or institutions will receive money.

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