Dr. Art Hunt at The RNA Underworld explains why Obama’s plan to double NIH research funding is a good idea.
Big bang for the buck: Hunt’s analysis suggests doubling the research budgets might drive as much as a trillion dollar increase in our economy. Sure it’s optimistic — but read what he says. And then consider: Which platform offers the greatest hope of cures or treatments for cancers? Which platform offers the best hope for a cure or treatments for Alzheimer’s disease?
The two industries I mention here – pharma and biotech – are intimately interwoven with the basic biomedical research enterprise, and a significant amount of the innovation that drives these industries originates (or originated) in the NIH-funded biomedical research laboratory. In this respect, the NIH budget is an investment, and a wildly-successful one. Even if we don’t take the face-value numbers I have pulled from Wiki here (that show an annual return of some 1000%, and more than 750,000 high-paying jobs the tax receipts from which would probably pay much of the NIH tab by themselves), and instead factor in that some of these receipts and jobs are not American, it is still easy to see that basic biomedical research returns considerably more than the investment made by the government. (And this doesn’t begin to weigh the intangibles, the ways that the research enterprise gives back to society as a whole.)
Science bloggers have been not so noisy as this issue might need: The closest John McCain came to supporting science, the driver of our economy, was when he offered to assault education, and that’s the opposite of supporting science. Obama’s mentions are encouraging, but not frequent enough nor strident enough.
Think of just three of the issues that are affected by basic science research, that will be yelled about during the campaign:
- Health care: New cures could save a great deal of money, but would likely drive up costs in the short term. Right to life? What right to life survives the inability to pay for basic life-saving pharmaceuticals?
- Climate change: Areas of ignorance cover more territory than the Arctic ice. To all sides it should be obvious that more information is needed, which will require a lot more basic research in almost all fields. If we fail to increase our investments in understanding climate change, how can we expect to avoid errors in public policy?
- Defense: Think of where the Allies would have been in World War II without RADAR. Think of how the invasion of Japan would have gone without nuclear weapons. Think of the successes of Gulf War I with the use of stealth and communications jamming technology — and the later problems. Think of where we would be today had we known there were no “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq in 2002 and 2003.
The silence on science should make us very, very concerned.
Have you read Obama’s response to the 14 big questions on science policy? McCain has not answered.
- Pharyngula, “Simple science teaching recommendations“
- The Intersection, “How I accidentally framed Carbon,” by Eric Roston (guest post – he’s the author of The Carbon Age)
- Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science