The PJ Tatler

In Defense of Government-Funded Research

Tedd Roberts, sometimes known as Speaker to Lab Animals has a lenthgy, but cogent, rebuttal to Dr. Paul Hsieh’s article about research and government funding on his blog Teddy’s Lab Rat today.

In attempting to research actual funding policies and proportions, I started with a Wikipedia article, which appears to indicate that about 30% of US research funding is by the government, and just over 60% by the private sector. When I went to check the references for myself, I found a circular reference which points back to the information in the table, thus indicating that Wiki is referencing itself for its own justification of these numbers.  Therefore, I looked at the NIH website where I found that for 2011, the NIH budget was around $30 billion, of which more than $25 billion directly supported biomedical scientific research.  From there, the I looked at the second major government source of research funding, the NSF. In 2011, the NSF budget was almost $7 billion, of which $5.5 billion was directly applied to research.  The entire DOD medical research budget for 2011 was $1.2 billion, leading to a sum of just under $32 billion for U.S. federal government funding of research.  There are, of course, smaller research budgets buried in agency funding, such as crop research by the USDA and toxicology studies by the EPA.  However, even discounting those sources, the Wikipedia claim of government only providing around 30% of research funds implies over $70 billion in funding per year by nongovernmental sources!

While I don’t completely agree with Tedd’s position, I don’t 100 percent disagree either. While I would prefer to see the government out of most forms of research and all of it funded by private dollars, from a practical standpoint, if all those federal monies disappeared tomorrow what would replace them? Moreover, private companies have little incentive — indeed a positive disincentive — to fund pure science. So who then would fund the sort of high-risk, high-reward research DARPA undertakes?

These are questions conservatives need to answer prior to simply saying “we must eliminate government-funded research.”

Read the whole thing here.