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How Do You Put a Price on Science?

The recent economic stimulus package includes financial aid for university science departments. The bill allocates an extra $10 billion for the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and an extra $2 billion for the NSF (National Science Foundation) to stimulate shorter-term grants for science research. The provisions on the money are that it must be used soon and it must stimulate the nation's economy.

So the question is: How will this money be spent? Most federal science research funding has remained flat for several years, so these additional funds are much needed. And while some of the money is being earmarked for laboratory and building improvements, where will the rest of it go?

Of course there are some concerns with the provisions. For example, will we cut funding in global health research in favor of more domestic benefits? Will stem cell research remain off limits, preventing us from finally catching up with the rest of the world in this fast expanding field? And what about providing jobs for all those graduating PhD scientists? While it's great to encourage people to go into careers as scientists, it's not so great when those people find they can't get hired due to the lack of available positions. The NIH has urged universities to make new hires a priority as they contemplate how they will spend the stimulus funding. Will the institutions listen?

New scientific advances can undoubtedly boost the nation's economy (particularly in the fields of clean energy and biomedicine), but we have to choose wisely in how we spend additional federal funds to make sure what science is done continues to provide for advances in all fields around the world.
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