As a scientist involved in biomedical research, I am outraged at the priorities apparent in President Reagan’s proposed budget. Pentagon research and development is to be increased by 19% after inflation. In contrast, in a little publicized maneuver, the Reagan Administration has reduced the number of biomedical research grants to be funded this year by 23%, by exploiting a loophole in the appropriations already approved by Congress for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
I refuse to believe that the American public would really choose to slash medical research while increasing spending for research into new and better ways of killing people, so I must conclude that people do not understand the way biomedical research works.
Research scientists must not only “publish or perish,” we must also support our research by getting grants. Writing grant proposals is difficult and time-consuming. A typical proposal may be a 100-page document, which must thoroughly document preliminary experiments and current research on the subject, and must meticulously describe the methods to be used, the feasibility and goals of the project, and its relevance to the advancement of knowledge and to possible cures of disease. Grant proposals are carefully reviewed by a panel of scientists, and are then “graded.” Only the proposals with the highest “grades” are funded. There is already intense competition, and Reagan’s action will reduce the number of research projects funded from the 6,500 approved by Congress to 5,000.
In justifying the bloated defense budget, Budget Director David Stockman testified before Congress that military research and development funding cannot be reduced without interrupting ongoing projects. This argument applies even more to biomedical research. It is not unusual for a scientist to spend a year developing the apparatus and techniques necessary to carry out a specific experiment. In addition, we must keep abreast of the tens of thousands of research papers published each year.
Reagan’s massive cuts in the NIH budget will interrupt 1,500 research projects this year. Not only will the interrupted work be wasted, but many scientists may lose their jobs, and be permanently lost from the research community. Reagan’s action will also discourage young people from choosing a career in medical research. Academic research requires as much education and training as becoming a medical doctor, but does not pay as well as most jobs in industry. Academic researchers sacrifice personal wealth because we enjoy the challenge of research and because we believe that our work benefits mankind.
The NIH is the principal source of funds for biomedical research. If researchers are to continue their efforts to understand and cure diseases such as cardiovascular disease, AIDS, and cancer, then our research must be funded.
THOMAS E. DeCOURSEY
University of California