Issues with Research Funding

I found the discussion that we had in class on Tuesday about research funding to be rather interesting and a little frustrating. I found an article from 2011 on Scientific American discussing “The Broken Science Funding System”. This article points to a 2007 study that showed that U.S. university faculty members spent about 40 percent the time they had for research “navigating the bureaucratic labyrinth”, which I understood to mean applying for grants, although I suppose it may also include some other activities such as reviewing other articles or trying to get published. It also points out that the National Science Foundation found that between 1997 and 2006, an average applicant had to submit 30 percent more proposals in order to earn the same number of awards. This seems like a very large increase in the amount of time and effort that must be dedicated to being funded over a ten year period, and I wonder how much it has changed in the eight years since. 

To quote the article, this funding system “not only…makes inefficient use of scientists’ time, it discourages precisely the kind of research that can most advance our knowledge”. I could not agree with this point more. One example of this is what Dr. Duffin pointed out in class the other day: the old, well-known professor is much more likely to receive funding than their younger, less-connected counterpart. This to me seems like an entirely skewed system. For one, it seems to me like this may discourage young people from wanting to be researchers, as it seems so difficult to be funded and be able to pursue their ideas. Also, this seems to be an issue because it may prevent people from doing truly risky and innovative research. If funding only goes towards “safe” projects (whatever safe means), why would researchers feel challenged to try something out of the box? While I understand that the people giving grants do not want their money to be wasted, to me it seems that any new research in which the experiment is conducted well and it produces results can be useful in teaching us something. If researchers are not encouraged to challenge themselves by doing something that seems a little bit risky, how are we supposed to learn? I believe that there has to be some way to change the funding system so that it encourages researchers’ curiosities instead of shutting them down. 


Here is the link to the Scientific American article:


5 thoughts on “Issues with Research Funding

  1. I completely agree with you on this one. The life of a researcher in need of a grant sounds extremely stressful. Like you said, the system is skewed because it seems as though innovative ideas aren’t encouraged like they should be.

  2. Imagine where we would be if we were giving scientists equal chances to research. It makes you wonder how many revolutionary studies haven’t taken place yet simply because the person with the idea was not well established enough to receive grant money. I think there are a lot of changes that need to take place in the system that we’re afraid to address, even though doing so would ultimately progress society. Aside from economic benefits that those in power receive from current proceedings, I wonder why someone hasn’t started a movement to fix this situation.

  3. I also agree with you. The pathway to getting funds for research is a long and highly critical one. Due to the hierarchy of the research field, it is hard for young scientists to find the funding needed to advance knowledge on a specific field. Kelli brings up a good point when she talks about how some revolutionary studies did not happen because of a lack of funding. I hope that the research community gets its act together in the near future so that more funds can be available for all scientists.

  4. I once heard that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. While insanity can’t exactly be limited to this definition, I feel it is something that can be found in this very issue. If they are continually funding these safe research projects, instead of exploring the innovative ones, then how can one whole heartedly expect to find the new and exciting results they are hoping to find? I am glad that I was not the only one frustrated to learn that this is how the research world is handled in our day and age. I thought the following article kind of pertained to this issue if you would like to read it.

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