Research: Good Investment ?

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Dec 20 22:47:06 EST 1995

On Wed, 20 Dec 1995, David J. States wrote:

> While I can appreciate that a tremendous amount of thought
> has gone into how proposals should be reviewed and available
> funding allocated, let us not loose sight of the real issue:
> basic scientific research is an essential function of government

> that has yielded enormous return on investment; more money

> needs to go into research at all levels.

In this poster your discuss biomedical research - perhaps
you are right and it (biomedical research) does indeed bring
the yield you are talking about below.

Nonetheless, I would like to take an issue with what you
say above in general terms, that is
(*)  " ...  basic scientific research ... yields enormous
        return on inverstment ..... "

This statement (in various forms) rather popular now.
In a recent article somebody even "calculated" such a return
at 28 % annual (!).  But at least as far as fundamental 
physical, chemical and much of engineering research is
concerned the (*) is unfortunately a (largely) wishful 

The question: 

If the return is so high why (almost) all major corporations
pull out of R&D, or at best keep them at bay ? Reports are
that even such giants as Bells, AT&T, Dupont, IBM downsizing
their research sectors. Recent  PhDs trained in RESEARCH
science and even engineering are taking jobs where PhD is
not essential. In short, the reality does not seem confirming
the above statement (*).

In short, for claim (*) to be trustable (including biomedical
research), we need a strong evidence that it is indeed endorsed 
by business community, and not just by words but by dollars.
Perhaps Bill Gates should be consulted on this matter.

Alex Berezin

> As an illustration, last month at the American Heart Association
> meeting, a clinical trial was announced in which it was shown
> that choleterol lowering drugs reduce morbidity and mortality
> in individual with an elevated cholesterol but no known 
> atherosclerotic disease.  About 20% of the population falls
> into this category.  The recognitiion of elevated cholesterol
> as a risk for heart disease, the elucidation of the cholesterol
> biosynthetic pathway, and the identification of critical control
> points in that pathway were all a direct result of NIH funded
> research.  Cholesterol lowering drugs sell for about $70/month 
> most of which is profit (or the drug companies would argue
> R&D costs for non-blockbuster drugs).  ~$500 per patient per 
> year * 30 million people -> $15 billion dollars.  In the future,
> the income from this one class of drugs could well pay for the 
> entire NIH budget!
> Once again, the government is shutdown.  Some of the most
> productive laboratories in the world are closed because they
> happen to be intramural components of the federal government.
> Funding reviews, study section meetings, and site visits are
> again on hold.  The message from Washington seems to be that
> basic biomedical research is not an critical function of
> government and disrupting research for short term political
> gain is OK.  It is not "OK" and we need to let our congressman,
> senators, and president know it.
> David States

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