236% drop in research grant funding at NIH leaves researchers closing labs and laying off staff

According to NIH data, success rates for first-submission research grants dropped from 28.2% in 2001 to 11.9% in 2007, a whopping 236% decrease.  For the 2010 year, there were 28,596 research grants submitted (R01’s, R21’s etc) that were not funded.  Ten years before, in 2001, the number of non-funded submissions was 14,701. In a nine year period, there was a doubling of rejected research grant submissions to the NIH.  The NSF and other science funding agencies show similar statistics.

But it gets worse

The ARRA stimulus money and the first years of the Obama presidency gave a small and temporary shot in the arm to science grant funding rates.  Now the stimulus money is gone, and those who had stimulus money are joining the group of people competing for the shrinking pool of funds.  Tea partiers are fighting to reduce the NIH budget, erasing gains made during the 2009-2010 years.

Paylines dip to single digits

At some places such as the National Cancer Institute, pay lines have dipped to as low as 8%. Only one in twelve grants submitted will be funded this year.  And that is before accounting for further cuts at the NIH.

“It is brutal out there”

The current funding climate has led to low morale. One scientist summed it up succinctly: “It is brutal out there.”

A survey of British scientists showed that 98% rejected the notion that “morale is high.”  As a result of low morale and inability to get funding, researchers have been shuttering labs and laying off staff.  Some are resorting to extreme measures such as self-funding of salaries from their life’s savings.

The situation is grim and is ending careers – not only of younger scientists, but of senior scientists with strong track records and reputations.

Yet the total funding for NIH research grants continues to grow – for those who know how to get it

In 2010, $6.5 billion was given out in research grants and their equivalents, up from $5.3 billion in 2001.  The 2010 funding pool was enough to give out $88,000 for every single research grant application submitted during the 2010 year. In fact, over 15,000 research grants and equivalents were awarded for the year.  The pool of money for research is still there, and some researchers are still thriving.