Smart Stimulus

Congress’s additional support for research is economically sound

The current economic crisis is forcing both governments and private enterprises to scale back on many projects and expenditures. Spending on scientific research, however, is not a luxury that should be reduced in frugal times. Consequently, it is encouraging that the House of Representatives recently approved billions of dollars in additional funding for scientific research as part of the stimulus package passed by the House.

The fiscal stimulus bill is intended to create new jobs and spur the economy out of the current recession as well as promote long-term growth and development. The combined $6.5 billion of funding for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation that the package contains will be useful in promoting both of those goals.

Because NIH grants not only create jobs for researchers but also frequently result in new products and treatments, funding for the NIH generates more than double its cost in economic output. This is exactly the sort of intelligent stimulus that Congress should be using to combat the current recession.

And increased funding for scientific research will not only help stimulate the economy but will also create long-term benefits for the country. More widespread availability of grants will encourage students to enter scientific research and help postdocs who need grants to do research and advance in their fields.

Biomedical research is a public good that would not receive enough funding if left to private companies, so government support of such research is essential. In order to continue researching important treatments and keep America on the cutting edge of scientific development, Congress must continue to adequately fund institutions like the NIH and the NSF.

Early in January, Harvard president Drew Faust, along with other members of the Massachusetts Life Science Collaborative, urged Congress to include increased funding for the NIH, the NSF, and other scientific research agencies in the stimulus package. They cited the job growth that additional funding would stimulate as well as the benefits funding for more research would create in the long-term. Congress’s positive response to this, and other appeals for more funding, is heartening.

The news from Capitol Hill is particularly welcome in Cambridge. Massachusetts, and especially Harvard, received large percentages of the NIH’s allocated funds in earlier years and will likely benefit significantly from this increased funding. The jobs that new grants will create in Massachusetts and at Harvard will also be beneficial to the state’s economy.

Funding for the NIH and the NSF stagnated during the Bush administration, which, combined with the rising cost of research and inflation, resulted in a decrease in funding from 2003 until now. We applaud the Obama administration for reversing this disastrous trend and reaffirming the federal government’s support for scientific research.