Cusp In The Media

Assessment: Academic return

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When Julia Lane began working in scientific-funding policy she was quickly taken aback by how unscientific the discipline was compared with the rigorous processes she was used to in the labour-economics sector, “It was a relatively weak and marginalized field,” says Lane, an economist at New York University.

In 2005, John Marburger, science adviser to then-President George W. Bush, felt much the same. He called on researchers and policymakers to focus on the “science of science policy”, an empirical assessment of outcomes and returns from funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF). “When the Congressional Budget Office does simulations of the effects of investment in areas like tax or education policy, they have models and processes,” says Lane. “But he said that when it comes to science, essentially all we say is ‘send more money’.”

Around the same time, the UK government also began to explore how to significantly increase the economic impact of the country’s research and development (R&D) investments. According to Lane, such efforts have historically been a low priority, because R&D accounts for only a small percentage of the economy — typically less than 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP), mostly from the private sector. However, public funding of basic research still represents a considerable sum.

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