Posted by Renee Schoof on September 19, 2014
Scientists from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were in Washington on Thursday to lobby on Capitol Hill for more funding for the National Institutes of Health for scientific research.
They’re joining in an effort with about 50 associations nationwide in what’s become an annual rally in recent years. Participants include researchers and people advocating for research leading to cures for particular diseases.
“The big concern we have is the decrease in levels of funding for NIH and the impact not only on research going on now but also impact on next generation of scientists,” said Raphael Valdivia, the vice dean for basic science at Duke.
Too many young scientists can’t get funding awards for their early work, and “they’re really dropping out of the pipeline,” Valdivia said.
Funding levels for NIH have been flat for a decade, and because of inflation, there’s been a drop of purchasing power for biomedical research, he said.
The NIH has an annual budget of about $30 billion. Researchers would like to see an increase to about $32 billion, and also have the money promised over five-year periods instead of annually, so that there’s more time to plan and pace investments, Valdivia said.
Other countries, including Russia, India and China, are increasing their spending on research and development. “We are cutting back,” he said. “It’s very hard to get a scientist out of the laboratory to go to Capitol Hill to make your case, but we’re getting to the point where we have to, because nobody else is,” he said.
Valdivia and his colleagues planned to meet with Republican Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem and Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro, as well as some House members.
Valdivia said one argument he hears against government funding for science is that industry should pick up the tab. “But there’s a space there of very basic research that industry will never be able to pick up – that’s seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge,” he said. “Often we can’t anticipate what the applications will be.”
Private companies need to pay attention to earnings, and they’ve cut back on research and development because it’s very costly, he said.