Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Curing Cancer

Ezra Klein has a post on the NIH (National Institutes of Health) budget. After several years of rapid rise in budget allocations, the NIH is now faced with the lean years. The puny promised increases in research funds amount to a drop in the budget in real terms. This creates problems for young researchers who can't get funding for new research and for the universities and other research institutions which would like to keep the young researchers employed with something better than the writing of multiple grant applications in the vain hope of finding enough money somewhere.

As some of Ezra's commenters pointed out, it is not feasible to expect the NIH budget to just surge year after year, and perhaps this is the time to put a halt to the considerable increases of the past. But the whole process looks a little like a car coming from 100 miles per hour to a full stop in ten seconds, not a soft landing for the researchers.

The NIH is an important funding source for medical research which doesn't offer money-making opportunities through patents, the kind which is often viewed as basic medical research. The kind which we hope will find a cure for cancer one day. Most economists, even conservative ones, acknowledge that funding basic medical research is something the government should be involved in, because the markets will underprovide it.

Something to keep in mind when looking at how much money the NIH will get next year.