Guest Blog: Jeremy Berg talks Sustainable Research Funding

Below is a guest post by Jeremy Berg of the University of Pittsburgh.

Berg is a past president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, a past winner of the ASBMB’s Howard K. Schachman Public Service Award and the new editor-in-chief of the journal Science.

Berg helped lead ASBMB’s advocacy efforts during his presidency and has since continued to contribute from afar. His guest post contextualizes an editorial he wrote in Science that predicts what sustainable funding for research might actually look like.

Defining Sustainable Funding

By Jeremy Berg

On Feb. 4–5, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology organized its Sustainability Summit to try to move forward on some of the key recommendations coming from various groups seeking to establish a more sustainable biomedical research enterprise.

As part of the summit, I was assigned to a group charged with building a case for why steady, predictable federal funding growth at or above the rate of inflation is important for the enterprise. At the summit, I argued that unpredictable, uneven budget changes were particularly hard to manage because the National Institutes of Health (and to a lesser degree the National Science Foundation) make multiyear grants that are paid out of consecutive fiscal years.

I knew from my time as director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences that making decisions about how to invest available funds in one year was particularly hard when one did not have a good sense of what would happen in the next. If the appropriation in the next year was thought to be reasonably good, then it made sense to fund as many multiyear grants as possible to get the best science supported. On the other hand, if the expectations for the next year’s appropriation were lower, then it made sense to hedge more and make shorter-term investments such as supplements to existing grants to avoid having too large a commitment base for the next year.

I agreed to work with other participants at the summit to craft a document that would include this argument. As I started to write, I realized that it should be possible to model this argument in quantitative terms. I set to work on this and was delighted to see that this approach proved productive relatively quickly.

Before I could finish the entire document, I learned that I had been selected to be the new editor-in-chief at Science magazine. This provided me with a great opportunity to share this analysis broadly, and I am pleased that this week’s editorial and my next and a few subsequent posts in my new blog Sciencehound are related to this effort.

I think the ASBMB staff, Public Affairs Advisory Committee and other involved are to be congratulated for organizing what is proving to be a quite productive event.

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