Right Hooks

Why Not Cut the NIH Budget?

Dubious research studies and bureaucratic regulations are proving to waste tax dollars.

Political Editors · Mar. 24, 2017

Donald Trump’s proposed budget includes $6 billion in cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The news ruffled the feathers of many scientists and others over fears of lost funding for research. The NIH mission statement says that it exists to “uncover new knowledge that will lead to better health for everyone” and that “the goal of NIH research is to acquire new knowledge to help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat disease and disability.” Clearly, NIH’s objective is to better human health, and much of its budget goes toward doing just that. But not all of its research aligns with that noble mission.

A perusal of NIH-funded research can cause one to wonder, for example, just how necessary or effective are studies like these: $175,000 given to the University of Kentucky to study the effects of cocaine upon Japanese quail, or $600,000 to study the sex habits of hamsters, or $3.6 million given to Bowdoin College to research “what makes goldfish feel sexy?” And that’s just scratching the surface. In any case, it’s clear that plenty of taxpayer-funded NIH research isn’t going toward “better human health.”

In 1965, the U.S. government was funding 60% of the nation’s research and development. By 2006, over 65% of research and development was done by private organizations. This is not an argument for defunding the NIH, as it still serves a legitimate purpose — particularly in researching rare diseases that don’t attract investment from profit-driven private organizations — but it is an argument for better budgeting practices and elimination of wasteful spending.

Unfortunately, the NIH is plagued with many of the problems that typically affect large government agencies: It’s overly bureaucratic and antiquated in its structure, and it suffers from poor budgeting practices, burdensome regulations, and budgetary earmarking that sometimes results in wasteful and ridiculous research. Frugality is not rewarded. Instead, there is pressure to spend budgeted money so as to not losing future funding. That being the case, wouldn’t it be wise to cut funding to those obviously wasteful and unnecessary research studies?

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