How Science Deals with Death by a Thousand Cuts

Scientific progress is only possible when someone is funding it, we are in a state of rapid progression precisely because someone is always at work on something. Science funding has become simultaneously easier to find and harder to secure as time has passed.

When funding dries up, several things occur (sometimes at once). Lack of funding often triggers scientists to move lab facilities elsewhere, usually to another territory picking up the lack of funding through subsidies. Science may start seeking alternative funding, which may involve and may shift how it advertises itself and to whom. A whole host of options can be considered once science funding is on the chopping block.

 

Moving Universities or Facilities

Science that occurs at the academic level relies a lot on grants and private funding that may or may not come through. In a perfect situation, researchers have enough warning of funding drying up to try and conclude experiments. Other times, funding my just disappear entirely for one reason or another.

The researchers are then left with two options: the first is to wait until funding reappears and attempt to resume work, the second is to move facilities entirely. Either way, there are storage and movement considerations that go beyond a simply U-Haul. Heavy and precise machinery, which has been finely tuned and calibrated, may need to be relocated. Some biosamples are affordable to replace, but others have to be kept in special kinds of cold storage during transport.

It’s a delicate and expensive process, and researchers also need to factor in these costs when doing their work.

New Funding Sources

In the old days of science, funding was very personal. Alexander Graham Bell borrowed from a young Thomas Watson, his assistant, to create the Harmonic Telegraph. It was acceptable to go to a wealthy patron of someone you’d met and make your case, which is still true today. However, thanks to budget cuts, access to public money has become harder to find.

Private money is subject to fluctuations and organizations from around the world are vying for a piece. Also, results-oriented investors may decrease funding year over year to try and “encourage” scientists to wrap up work. Science can run on deadlines, but some experiments thrive best when allowed to conclude.

This can change how researchers structure their experiments. They may try and conduct experiments that lead to exciting new products, as opposed to some of the fundamentals needed for progress. Of course, grant and federal money still exist to try and cover some of those more academic pursuits. The situation is still growing more serious year over year as academic funding slowly starts to dry up.

Final Thoughts

Funding is a requirement for continued progress, and it seems right now consumer demand is driving a great deal of progress in technology. Without significant fundraising efforts, our iPhones might be the only place we’d see improvement over time.

There are a few ways to change this scenario. First, we can start reporting science frequently and with greater accuracy. We can also get involved with crowdfunding science directly. Finally, we can advocate for science amongst our peers. Talk about space exploration or disease cures or whatever you find cool and you’re passionate about. Changing attitudes will help change how and where we find funding sources in the future.

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