Stop Slashing Science

Dr. Paul Reynolds, author of the blog Lies, Damn Lies, and Startup PR and an internationally recognized, multi-disciplinary engineer, dissects the research funding (or lack thereof) in President Trump's proposed budget from earlier this year. Despite its late publication, Paul's analysis is evergreen--science funding is frequently vulnerable to congressional budget cuts.

President Trump's first budget proposal is calling for dramatic cuts to many agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the leading funders of research in the USA - the NIH would face around a $6 billion cut (~20%). The NIH is the largest funder of medical research in the world, and back much of the medical research in universities and labs around the country. Many of the medications and treatments used today had their start in NIH grants, and key research leads to entire industries, such as what arose from the Human Genome Project. The NIH have a nice list of the value they add to society, the economy, and our lives, here.

In large part it's the Research and Development funding from the US federal government that makes the USA the global leader in technology. Studies demonstrate that funding at the R&D level result in up to $8.38 of economic activity 8 years later for each $1 invested - infrastructure debt, that supposedly we'll find $1 trillion for under the mattress, would be expected to show around $1.92 return per dollar within a few years, and about $3.21 over 20 years.


By a factor of 3 or more, spending on basic R&D returns huge economic benefits to the country compared to infrastructure, and it's simply short sighted to cut. (Of course a functional infrastructure is also needed, hard to drive to your research lab without roads! But it's not a binary either/or choice - and 'infrastructure' like a pointless/counterproductive border wall will cost more than is saved with the NIH cuts) This has been something that every administration for over 40 years has recognized, and can be seen in data collected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Clinton years saw a massive rise in NIH spending, and we're reaping the benefit of that investment now. Even in the Bush through Obama years, while NIH remained flat (barring the ARRA boost), other agencies saw an increase. The cuts in the Trump budget are unprecedented in the last half century.

The smartest students from around the world come to US universities to study, both as undergraduates and researchers - and the US gains the best and the brightest of the rest of the world, and without paying the cost of raising those people. It's a huge net positive for the country, especially when those people stay, become citizens, and have children, as people tend to do when they are welcomed and given a chance to contribute. Those children of immigrants themselves are typically far more likely to contribute to the advancement of the country in science. Consider this statement from a Forbes article on immigrants:

A new study from the National Foundation for American Policy found a remarkable 83% (33 of 40) of the finalists of the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search were the children of immigrants. ... In fact, 75% – 30 out of 40 – of the finalists had parents who worked in America on H-1B visas and later became green card holders and U.S. citizens. That compares to seven children who had both parents born in the United States.

So this science spending results in economic returns of at least a factor of 8 within 8 years, and encourages smart, law abiding, company founding, job creating immigrants to come to the USA, have children who are then the most driven of their generation, will improve society and the economy decades from now, and make sure we can all retire well in a booming economy. Why would you destroy that?