NIH stimulus funding: Some (mostly) good news

Posted by Neville Sanjana at 4:31 PM EST

Since President Obama started discussing his plans for funding science and economic stimulus, I think many scientists have been excited with the possibility of a sea change in levels of federal funding for science. Happily, the Senate just passed an amendment to increase the NIH’s stimulus funding to a big $9.2 billion (the House version however is still at $3.5 billion, so we won’t know the actual number for some time). Even though these numbers seem small compared to the overall NIH Budget ($29 billion last year), remember this is a stimulus (well, one kind of stimulus, here’s another interesting idea from Harvard’s Greg Mankiw), meaning funding in addition to the regular budget to help stimulate the economy.

Amazingly, the NIH has escaped the stimulus cutback that other scientific  agencies seem to be facing. According to this NYT article, the cost cutting efforts

to trim the size of the stimulus appear to take a chainsaw to the physical sciences and leave the N.I.H. money untouched at $10 billion.

According to a version of a memo describing the cuts, the stimulus for N.S.F. and the energy department’s Office of Science would be cut to zero and there would be cuts to the NASA and NIST portions as well.

Clay Westrope, Sen. Nelson’s spokesman, said the senator was not anti-science, but that he felt the stimulus bill was the wrong place to add financing for long-term research. “If they were in a spending bill, he would probably support them,” Mr. Westrope said.

Mr. Westrope said he could not explain why biomedical research was regarded as a stimulus, but physics research would not.

Puzzling. At least, it’s reassuring to see the support for the NIH, which, according to an article in Science this week, will result in new challenge grants for high risk projects along with increased large RO1 grant funding. (I highly recommend the Science article which has a nice summary of the recent legislative motions and what the funding agencies are planning to do with the stimulus money.) I’m pleased to see such strong support in the Senate and this kind of action is one of the reasons that I was happy to renew my SfN membership earlier this week (yes, I know I should have done it back in December). Among those lending his support to the Senate’s increased NIH stimulus funding was Patrick Swayze, writing in the Washington Post: I’m Battling Cancer. How About Some Help, Congress?

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