Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Cost of the War in terms of NIH funding

PZ Myers has a good post on the cost of the Iraq war.
I wrote something last November on this topic (over at Tokatakiya) that may interest scientific types.....so I'll repost the relevant part here:

While on hypocrisy, it is in all of your interest to know that Bush just vetoed a bill that would raise the NIH budget from about 29 billion to about 30 billion annually. He vetoed a billion dollar (about 3%) increase for the single most essential funding mechanism for biomedical research in this country. Apparently, (and I quote from the article) “the president decried the Democrat-led Congress for engaging in what he called a "spending spree," and said that the legislative majority was "acting like a teenager with a new credit card." You have got to be kidding me, right?

Through 2008, we would have spent at least $600 billion on an avoidable, useless war in Iraq. That money (Ed: that has, essentially, already been spent) could have funded ALL of NIH biomedical research at current levels for the next 20 years.

If you trust the latest congressional projections on the total cost of the war and its aftermaths (approx. $1.6 trillion), then that money could have funded the total NIH budget, with an annual 10% increase, for at least the next 40 years ! (my calculations: 30 billion at 10% compound interest over 40 years turns into approx 1.3 trillion).

I was going by the congressional projections then of a $1.6 trillion bill for this war. Going by the new estimate of a $3 trillion bill, the numbers fall as follows:
The same money could have funded the total NIH budget, with an annual 10% increase, for over 48 years; or with an annual 20% increase for over 25 years (30 billion at 10% compound interest over 48 years amounts to 2.91 trillion; 20% compound interest over 25 years amounts to 2.86 trillion).
Over the past couple of years, there has been a lot of talk of reforming peer review --- essentially because of the scientific funding crunch. While peer review is not without its problems, I have always thought that one immediate and effective solution is to double the freaking NIH budget. The current review system may serve us just fine if there was more bread to go around. It's not like we don't have the money---when politicians want something, it is amazing how the money appears. But as of now, the NIH system says, in effect, that 4 out of 5 grant applicants are incompetent. This is abyssmal; every year we churn out more bright and enthusiastic scientific minds and every year we crush a whole bunch of them on the pretext of not having enough money.

Look at the numbers above. We can already see what tangible destruction that money has caused. Now try and imagine how much good could have been done with it, just from this one NIH-funding-perspective. It is a damn shame.

2nd UPDATE, 12.50 pm:

Turns out DrugMonkey was way ahead of me and had posted something on these lines (i.e. cost of war analyzed in NIH funding terms) in May last year. He has analyzed the cost in terms of RO1 grants. Check out his article.

One more thing: If you want to see what the cost of this war means in terms of other aspects of life, such as education, healthcare etc., check out this Dynamics of Cats link from DrugMonkey's aforementioned article and the National Priorities Project page on the cost of war.

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DrugMonkey said...

oh yeah.

Just imagine what we could do with that cash...

Anonymoustache said...

Sorry DM---I wasn't aware of that post or I'd have linked to it too---I will update my post to reflect it now. Thanks for the heads up.

Fade said...

Spending sprees, indeed. Bush is a 14 year old girl with Daddy's Platinum card.

Great post, btw, linking you.