Friday, February 08, 2008

Bush Flatlines Medical Sciences Spending

Bush is looking to double spending in the physical sciences and leave biomedical research spending at current levels, again. I guess he likes laser beams more than cancer and diabetes research. From Science:

President George W. Bush today proposed a flat budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2009 while asking for double-digit increases at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The numbers, part of his request to Congress for the 2009 fiscal year that begins 1 October, mirror previous budgets by emphasizing the physical sciences at the expense of the biomedical sciences.

The dichotomy has drawn a convoluted response from the scientific community, encapsulated by this comment from Robert Berdahl, president of the 62-member Association of American Universities. "Question: Is the President's budget good or bad for the vital research and education that is performed by America's research universities? Answer: Yes."

Presidential science adviser John Marburger says the increases for the physical sciences reflect the Administration's belief that a previous 5-year doubling of the NIH budget, which ended in 2003, threw the federal government's science portfolio out of whack. That's why, he noted, the Administration's request for a doubling of the physical sciences in its American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) would occur over 10 years. But Marburger also thinks that the biomedical community should be able to do more research with the same amount of money. "Frankly, I think that an argument can be made that better management [of NIH] can bring about much better productivity even with flat resources," he told reporters at a budget briefing. "The private sector does it all the time." [Seriously? Did I really just read that? The private sector is FOR PROFIT. My god.]

Predictably, that view doesn't sit well with biomedical scientists. "We reject the premise that funding science in one area or at one agency must come at the expense of another," says Bob Palazzo, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland. "There is no doubt that NSF and DOE merit the significant increases the president has proposed. But neglecting NIH at the same time is failing to grasp the interconnectedness of science."

Science lobbyists are counting on Congress to sustain the president's ACI request while pumping up NIH's flat budget. Last year, the community got the worst of both worlds with a last-minute cut in the DOE science and NSF budgets, whereas NIH's budget failed to keep up with inflation for the fifth straight year.

The amount of money proposed for the NIH is $29.5 billion. To put that in perspective, Bush's war on "terrah" costs taxpayers $15 billion... PER MONTH (with many more details in this PDF report from the Congressional Research Service).