The NIH budget never actually doubled

February 4, 2013

I pointed out some time ago that inflation “UnDoubled” the NIH budget rapidly in the wake of sustained Bush-era (now Obama-era) flatline budgets for the NIH. Nothing like a graph to make a point so I’ll repost it.

Figure 1. NIH Appropriations (Adjusted for Inflation in Biomedical Research) from 1965 through 2007, the President’s Request for 2008, and Projected Historical Trends through 2010.
All values have been adjusted according to the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index on the basis of a standard set of relevant goods and services (with 1998 as the base year).* The trend line indicates average real annual growth between fiscal years 1971 and 1998 (3.34%), with projected growth (dashed line) at the same rate. The red square indicates the president’s proposed NIH budget for fiscal year 2008, also adjusted for inflation in biomedical research.

Now, what I ran across today at Ethan Perlstein’s post on Postdocalypse now (go read) was this graph which makes the same point in a slightly different way. I like it. He didn’t link the source so I’m not certain of the inflation adjustment used…probably not the above BRDPI, I would think. But still…makes the point doesn’t it? At best the NIH purchasing power went up by 50%. It was never actually “doubled”.

UPDATE: Perlstein noted that he grabbed the figure from this article at dailykos by emptypockets which says this about the sourcing:

The Science column links to a study by Paula Stephan, an economist at Georgia State University (PDF of PowerPoint slides) that puts some numbers on exactly how the doubling affected young scientists.


No Responses Yet to “The NIH budget never actually doubled”

  1. I get about 60%, but I think this is in the right ballpark. Nonetheless, there was still an overproduction of PhDs at a time when the NIH had been told there were too many already.


  2. Beaker Says:

    The other misconception about the “doubling” (or use whatever multiplier is more appropriate)–is that more money led to a proportional increase in the number of investigators getting NIH money. This metric only went up marginally. What went up more proportionally was the total $/funded investigator (and the total number of applications).


  3. Dave Says:

    Soooooo, what’s your point? The budget still went up and by quite a lot. And now it is going down…and by quite a lot. Swings and roundabouts.


  4. miko Says:

    Maybe PI # didn’t go up much. How bout student/postdoc numbers? (No one is counting.)


  5. Pinko Punko Says:

    PI numbers did go up, or existing labs got bigger (I think both). Students in the pipeline went up that is for certain- demand has been either even or outstripped supply here, and has certainly done so once the budget went flat.


  6. Jonathan Says:

    doubled past participle, past tense of dou·ble (Verb)
    Become twice as much or as many.
    Make twice as much or as many of (something).

    NIH Budget in 1997: 12,740,843
    NIH Budget in 2003: 27,166,715

    27166715/12740843 = 2.1322541whathefuckareyoutalkingabout?


  7. Jonathan Says:

    Numbers from here:

    Seriously, in what world do you live in where $27 billion isn’t double $13 billion? Of course they doubled the NIH budget.


  8. AA Says:

    Jonathan, “double” is a useless metric since it is not inflation adjusted. Doubling of NIH budget when the purchasing power has halved due to inflation means that it is status quo…


  9. drugmonkey Says:

    Both of the graphs show an inflation-adjusted increase in appropriation…it just isn’t as much as the unadjusted dollars would make us think.

    Beaker, Sally Rockey’s analysis suggested a 68% increase in mouths-at-the-trough. Do you have another dataset to point to?


  10. whimple Says:

    So, the budget simply continued to rise at its (unsustainable) historical exponential rate. Hard to justify all the whining.


  11. Jonathan Says:

    A useful point to make (for advocacy reasons) would be that in the past decade, NIH’s budget has in effect decreased by 20% over the past decade. Starting that conversation with “Guess what, that doubling was nonsense it didn’t really happen, but…” buries the lede and muddies the water.


  12. Beaker Says:

    DM–Rockey’s data speak to the number of applicants, or mouths attempting to feed from the trough. My reference was to the number of funded grants from established investigators during the doubling versus the number from new investigators. Only the former increased. I can’t find the primary data, but the third graph in this link illustrates my point.

    Perhaps the inflation-adjusted per capita funding level did not increase for established investigators either, and the increase is just a reflection of more established baby boomer investigators obtaining funding? Nevertheless, the increased funds preferentially went to those who already had established a record of obtaining NIH funds. Noobs held steady at the same level (about 1500 grants per year) throughout the doubling.


  13. drugmonkey Says:

    Not sure that captures it completely Beaker…NIs immediately become experienced Is and we don’t know about slowdowns in exit rate and the re-entry cycle for occasional grant holders. (Note I only speculate on this latter population existing based on the one-grant mode in Rockey’s “myth busting” chart)


  14. Dave Says:

    Uh, seriously? As johnathan said, it doubled. And the graph you posted is correct only assuming unusually high inflation around the turn of the 21st century. Which there wasn’t.

    Are first grade math skills and rudimentary critical thinking not required for NIH fundees?


  15. dsks Says:

    “The Science column links to a study by Paula Stephan, an economist at Georgia State University (PDF of PowerPoint slides) that puts some numbers on exactly how the doubling affected young scientists.”

    Huh, coincidence. Just went to an excellent talk by Paula Stephan yesterday at the Biophysics Soc conference and was about to email her to ask if I could have a copy of her prez. No need, apparently. She has a book out about all this too.


  16. miko Says:

    Slide 12 in Paula Stephens talk… I LOL’d that “TT at PhD inst” has almost perfect changed places with “Other.”

    Oh, but I forgot, it’s always been tough.


  17. dsks Says:

    In her talk she noted how TT had become the “alternative career” path.


  18. professa Says:

    OK, I felt compelled to comment-
    Jonathan is completely correct, obviously the budget more than doubled, and there was also a huge increase from ARRA. As a community, we should not try to doublespeak like this, we need to appropriately advocate for continued robust funding for research!
    This whole post seems like bitching and whinging and falls on completely deaf ears with the public and congress.


  19. Spiny Norman Says:

    Ikkke, this is yet another thread that is not about dogs. Are you too fucking stupid to understand that?


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