In the United States, billions of dollars have been spent on marketing to convince people to go into science careers, despite the difficulty many PhDs will have finding jobs in academia. That, coupled with the fact that efforts are on to make funding more 'equal' and establish quotas for young researchers, minorities and female grant applicants means a finite funding pool could be even more limited. The best and brightest, regardless of demographics, could end up leaving to other countries where science is more of a meritocracy.
Despite that, the BrightFocus Foundation says more federal funding is the answer, rather than common sense funding for the best research. They cite as evidence their survey of over 170 biomedical scientists who got funding from them, which implied that more funding would cure diseases like Alzheimer's, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. Welcome to The War On Cancer circa 1971.
It's no surprise, really. Insiders advocate their own research or they wouldn't be in the field, so 94% agreeing that a lack of federal funding for brain and eye disease research is impeding scientific discoveries is no shock. I also have never met anyone in the corporate world who felt like they were overpaid or that their jobs were not vital to the company - even union janitors at General Motors make $50 an hour with salary and benefits and they want that to go up.
But why this modern fetish with federal funding? In the recent generation of academic researchers, scientists - historically overwhelmingly distrustful of government - now regard government as the ultimate credibility. Over 50% of science is now under government control, despite the fact that private sector basic research has led to most of the biomedical breakthroughs of the last century. Biomedical research is the only area the government has not taken over yet - academia moves too slow, companies say - but increased regulations have created a climate where few companies can survive to a stage III clinical trial because venture capitalists see government interference as a blockade that is only going to get worse. They also regard the lawsuits by lawyers for every new product once it is on the market as a financial pincer. Culturally, academics have declared open war on the entire field, alleging that many papers published by corporate research groups are unethical, without presenting an alternate solution for drug discovery.
91% agreed that a lack of research funding is driving scientists from the field - which is also a little myopic in its conclusion. Are that many neuroscientists waiting tables in restaurants? The problem is we have too many researchers and advocates want to add more and then fund them with taxpayer money. That isn't really achievable. What is achievable is that the best researchers can be federally funded. Science is a meritocracy, the best researchers win. The others simply get jobs in that icky corporate world. Post-doc incomes are low because there are already too many PhDs trying to stay in college.
96 percent said limited funding was the top barrier to entry for new scientists in the fields of brain and eye disease research. Again, nothing will solve this problem. Every special interest claims it does not have enough funding so 96% of brain researchers are in favor of, what, unlimited funding? Well, aren't we all? The fact is that there is no barrier to entry for people who really want to do it - we have a modern problem where both government and universities instead insist they are 'competing with the private sector for the best people'. Academia used to be an occupation for people who loved research and did not care about money. With the advent of unlimited student loans and Pres. George Bush and Republicans doubling funding for the NIH and substantially raising science funding across the board, salaries ballooned. But unlimited student loans are going to end and federal funding is not going to double again either. We can't do anything about the generation in academia that has 6-figure salaries and expect raises while they sit in foreign jails(1) but young researchers of the future are going to be doing research for love of research, just like their ancestors did.
Guy Eakin, Ph.D., vice president of Scientific Affairs for BrightFocus Foundation, said in his statement,"The total U.S. health care cost for Alzheimer's alone is $200 billion annually and is expected to soar to $1.1 trillion per year by 2050 if we don't have the scientific discoveries made possible by research funding. Yet budget cuts for research continue, and we're losing the talents of a generation of scientists."
Does that number sound real? Expected by who? How? It seems a lot like that number record companies use to complain about music piracy, or that 'jobs saved or gained' employment figured pulled out of thin air by the government in 2009. When you read something like "expected to soar to $1.1 trillion per year by 2050 if we don't have the scientific discoveries made possible by research funding", it is wise to reach for your wallet.
(1) And that six-figure salary he gets is 18th out of 28 - just in his one department. Just at his one school. Academia is very much no longer toiling away by poor scholars.