Budget Battle: What’s the ROI for Science Spending?

The showdown over the “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and budget cuts has arrived, and, with it, university-based scientists and their allies are pleading their case for strong and sustained government support.

Beaker_Over_Money_SmallIn some ways, science advocates are in a good position. It’s a rare bipartisan issue, with leading Republicans and Democrats routinely proclaiming their broad support for research spending, particularly in medical fields.

And yet, after years of trying, the science community still cannot answer a simple question, one that has gained the growing attention of policy makers as the economy limps along: How much payback, in real dollars, does science spending actually provide?

For as much as lawmakers proclaim their love for science, the budget numbers don’t always reflect that. Congress has cut federal support for biomedical research, as compared with inflation and with gross domestic product, almost every year since 2003. And between 2005 and 2010, Congress promised repeatedly to double spending on nonmedical research, but it hasn’t come close to matching that.

And now, if Congress lets a package of automatic cuts known as sequestration—because the money is being “sequestered,” or taken away from federal agencies—take effect on January 2, federal science budgets will instantly lose about 8 percent, or about $12.5-billion in research-and-development money in 2013 alone.

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Source: Paul Basken | The Chronicle of Higher Education