Letter to Obama

D.C. Science

Forty-nine American Nobel laureates and other distinguished American scientists call the president's attention to the importance of increasing funding for scientific research.

Dear President Obama,

As a part of your economic stimulus package, we ask you to consider an immediate increase in funding for scientific research. We deeply appreciate your commitment to increasing the funding that American science so desperately needs. We know that you understand how important it is for the long-term health and vitality of the American economy to keep America at the forefront of scientific research. While some might argue that the current economic crisis should push such plans into the future, we believe, to the contrary, that the stimulus package provides a vital opportunity to begin rebuilding American science, because increased science funding is an ideal economic stimulus: it creates good jobs across the economy, there is large pent-up demand so that money can be spent immediately, and it represents an investment in the infrastructures of scientific research and higher education that are vital to our economy’s future.

Creating good jobs across the economy: As you know, basic science research in the U.S. is largely funded by grants to individual investigators or national laboratories from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), the Dept. of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and a few other agencies. Federal money that science agencies invest in research grants, scientific infrastructure or national laboratories can be spent immediately to support large facilities already approved and awaiting funding, salaries for lab workers at all levels, purchases of supplies and equipment (much of them from small American businesses), and institutional expenses of the colleges, universities, and medical schools where researchers work. Funding for science and engineering creates good jobs throughout the local community: Families USA has estimated, for example, that each $1 billion of NIH research grant funding creates over 15,000 jobs with an average wage of $52,000/year and generates $2.21 billion of new business activity, a much better “multiplier” than many other proposed parts of the stimulus package.

Money can be spent immediately: Federal funding for non-defense research has fallen in real dollars every year since 2004 for the life sciences and far longer for the physical sciences. The health and vitality of the American scientific enterprise is seriously threatened, and a large backlog of needs has been created. To take one example: real spending by NIH and NSF on investigator-initiated research grants has fallen significantly. As a result, success rates for these grants are dangerously low and the funding is often inadequate even for the best proposals. This not only threatens established, productive investigators but endangers the careers of young investigators on whom our economic future depends. Money could be spent within weeks of passage of a stimulus package to fund many highly rated applications that have been waiting in line for support in FY 2008 and to restore dollars cut from the budgets of funded grants in recent years, with virtually no increase in administrative cost. It is estimated that NIH alone could spend up to $5 billion immediately on funding highly rated and approved but unfunded FY 2008 proposals and as much as another $5 billion to continue higher funding rates in FY 2009. The NSF, DOE Office of Science, NIST and NASA can be equally effective in applying funding immediately to backlogs of approved research proposals and major research facilities.

The commitment in the America COMPETES Act, passed by Congress in 2007 and signed into law, to double funding for basic research in the physical sciences over seven years has never been fulfilled. National laboratories have been operating on inadequate budgets, with projects delayed, staff cut or forced to work reduced hours, and projects and facilities in danger of being terminated during the next year without additional funding. These are further examples of the many opportunities for immediate as well as ongoing spending to shore up America’s scientific infrastructure.

A vital investment in America’s future: Funding scientific research serves dual purposes: it is an immediate stimulus to the economy, and it is an investment in American leadership in science, engineering, technology, and education. This leadership is vital to America’s economy and prestige, as well as to success in achieving energy independence, mitigating global warming, and treating and curing disease. In addition to the immediate multiplier effect of research spending, the intellectual property created by publicly funded research leads to the creation of innumerable small companies and, ultimately, many large companies in biotechnology, energy, computer technology, and other scientific and engineering fields. In these cases, federal seed money is multiplied enormously by inflows of private capital. Federal funds also support virtually all research training and much of the academic training of those earning their Ph.D.‘s in science and engineering and so train the personnel who staff, as well as create, America’s scientific and engineering companies.

We know that the focus of the stimulus package is on short-term spending over 1-2 years, without long-term commitments of federal money. There are many urgent needs for short-term spending on science, such as infrastructure spending and bridge grants to allow research to continue until longer-term funding proposals are successful. Other critical needs, however, require longer-term commitments, such as an increase in success rates for investigator-initiated research grants, which typically involve commitments of continued funding over 3-5 years. Because science funding provides an excellent economic stimulus, we believe the stimulus package provides a unique opportunity not only for short-term science spending but also to initiate the increasingly urgent goal of long-term increases in science funding.

Spending on science, engineering, and technology will be only a relatively small part of a larger stimulus package, yet it will make a vital contribution to America’s future. Increases in science spending provide an excellent stimulus while the economy needs one. But as you must appreciate, to rebuild American science, science spending will need to be sustained even when the economy returns to health. We know it is your goal to restore funding for science to the levels needed to maintain the vigor and leadership of American scientific research. We believe that the forthcoming economic stimulus package provides a remarkable opportunity to initiate this effort immediately, forcefully, and productively.

Respectfully submitted,

Peter Agre, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
University Professor and Director
Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute
Dept Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Bruce Alberts, Ph.D.
Editor-in-Chief, Science Magazine
Former President, National Academy of Sciences
Professor of Biophysics and Biochemistry
University of California, San Francisco

Sidney Altman, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology
Yale University

Philip W. Anderson, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Joseph Henry Professor of Physics, Emeritus
Department of Physics, Princeton University

Richard Axel, M.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
University Professor, Columbia University
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Paul Berg, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
Cahill Professor of Biochemistry, Emeritus
Stanford University School of Medicine

J. Michael Bishop, M.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Chancelor, University of California, San Francisco

Elizabeth Blackburn
Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics
University of California, San Francisco

Gunter Blobel, M.D., Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate Physiology or Medicine
Professor of Cell Biology, The Rockefeller University
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Baruch S. Blumberg, M.D., Ph.D.
Nobel Prize in Medicine
Professor of Medicine
University of Pennsylvania

Michael S. Brown
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
W. A. Moncrief Distinguished Chair in Cholesterol and Arteriosclerosis Research
Regental Professor
Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine
Director of the Jonsson Center for Molecular Genetics
Department of Molecular Genetics and Internal Medicine
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Linda B. Buck, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Full Member, Basic Sciences Division
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Affiliate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics
University of Washington, Seattle
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Mario R. Capecchi
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and Biology
Co-chairman of the Department of Human Genetics.
University of Utah School of Medicine

Martin Chalfie, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor and Chair, Department of Biological Sciences
Columbia University

Stanley N. Cohen, M.D.
National Medal of Science Recipient
Kwoh-Ting Li Professor in the School of Medicine
Professor of Genetics and Professor of Medicine
Stanford University

Elias James Corey, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
Sheldon Emery Professor of Chemistry
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Harvard University

Johann Deisenhofer, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
Regental Professor and Professor in Biochemistry
Virginia and Edward Linthicum Distinguished Chair in Biomolecular Science
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Fred H. Gage, Ph.D.
Professor and Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases
Laboratory of Genetics
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Alfred G. Gilman, M.D., Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Regental Professor of Pharmacology
Dean, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School
Provost, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Sheldon Lee Glashow, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Metcalf Professor of Math and Science
Boston University

Roy J. Glauber, Ph.D.
Nobel Prize in Physics
Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics
Harvard University

Lee Goldman, M.D.
Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences
Columbia University
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine
Columbia University Medical Center

Joseph L. Goldstein, M. D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Regental Professor
Chairman, Department of Molecular Genetics
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Paul Greengard
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Vincent Astor Professor
Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience
The Rockefeller University

David Gross, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Director, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics
Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara

Melvin M. Grumbach, M.D.
Edward B. Shaw Professor of Pediatric Emeritus, Department of Pediatrics
University of California, San Francisco

Roger Guillemin
Nobel Laureate in Medicine
Distinguished Professor
Interim President
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

John L. Hall, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Fellow Adjoint of JILA
JILA Senior Research Associate
Professor of Physics, Adjoint
University of Colorado

H. Robert Horvitz, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
David H. Koch Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Member, MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research
Member, MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Ex-President, Genetics Society of America

Louis J. Ignarro
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Professor, Dept of Pharmacology
University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine

Eric R. Kandel, M.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine
University Professor, Columbia University
Fred Kavli Professor and Director, Kavli Institute for Brain Science
Senior Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Donald Kennedy, Ph.D
Editor-in-Chief 2000-2008, Science
President Emeritus, Stanford University

Marc Kirschner, Ph.D.
Chair, Department of Systems Biology
Harvard University

Roger D. Kornberg, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
Mrs. George A. Winzer Professor in Medicine
Professor of Structural Biology
Stanford University School of Medicine

Herbert Kroemer, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Professor, ECE and Materials Departments
University of California, Santa Barbara

Robert B. Laughlin, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences
Department of Physics, Stanford University

Leon M. Lederman, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Pritzker Professor of Science, Illinois Institute of Technology
Director Emeritus, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Resident Scholar, Illinois Math Science Academy

Richard Lerner, M.D.
President and Chief Executive Officer
The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California
Member, Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology
The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California

Roderick MacKinnon, M.D.
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
Professor, Rockefeller University
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Joseph B. Martin
Dean Emeritus and Edward R. and Anne G. Lefler Professor of Neurobiology
Harvard Medical School

Craig C. Mello Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Blais Professor of Molecular Medicine
University of Massachusetts
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Kenneth D. Miller, Ph.D.
Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology & Cellular Biophysics
Co-Director, Center for Theoretical Neuroscience
Columbia University

Douglas D. Osheroff, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
MacArthur Prize Fellow
Professor of Physics and Applied Sciences
J.G. Jackson and C.J. Wood Professor in Physics
Stanford University

Arno Allan Penzias, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics

Gregory A. Petsko, D. Phil. (Oxon.)
President, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Gyula and Katica Tauber Professor
Chair, Department of Biochemistry
Brandeis University
Adjunct Faculty, Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School

William Phillips, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Distinguished University Professor
University of Maryland/Joint Quantum Institute

H. David Politzer, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Professor of Theoretical Physics
California Institute of Technology

Stanley Prusiner, M.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Professor of Neurology
University of California San Francisco

Robert C. Richardson, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
The F. R. Newman Professor of Physics
Director, Kavli Institute for Nanotechnology
Cornell University

Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Institute Professor, The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Oliver Smithies, D. Phil.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Excellence Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

John D. Stobo, M.D.
President Emeritus, University of Texas Medical Branch
Senior Vice President, Health Sciences and Services
Office of the President, University of California

Horst Stormer, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
I I Rabi Professor
Department of Physics and
Department of Applied Physics
Columbia University

Joseph H. Taylor, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Emeritus
Princeton University

Susumu Tonegawa
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience,
Departments of Biology and Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Director, RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics,
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Roger Y. Tsien, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry  
Professor of Pharmacology and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
University of California, San Diego
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Daniel C. Tsui, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Arthur LeGrand Doty Professor of Electrical Engineering
Princeton University

P. Roy Vagelos, M.D.
Chairman and CEO (retired)
Merck and Co., Inc.
Trustee Emeritus, University of Pennsylvania

Craig Venter, Ph.D.
Founder and President, J. Craig Venter Institute

Inder Verma
Professor and American Cancer Society Professor
Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Charles M. Vest, Ph.D.
President, National Academy of Engineering
President Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
National Medal of Technology Recipient

Andrew J. Viterbi, Ph.D.
National Medal of Science Recipient
Member, National Academies of Science and of Engineering
Presidential Chair Professor of Electrical Engineering
University of Southern California

James D. Watson, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Chancellor Emeritus, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Steven Weinberg, Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics & National Medal of Science
Josey Regental Professor of Science, Departments of Physics and Astronomy
University of Texas at Austin

Eric F. Wieschaus, Ph. D.
Nobel Laureate, Physiology or Medicine
Squibb Professor of Molecular Biology, Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University
Senior Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Torsten N. Wiesel, M.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine;
Vincent and Brooke Astor Professor Emeritus
President Emeritus
The Rockefeller University

Frank Wilczek. Ph.D.
Nobel Laureate in Physics
Herman Feshbach Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Adjunct Professor, Centro de Estudios Cientificos

Charles Yanoksky, Ph.D.
Recipient of the National Medal of Science
University Professor, Emeritus, Department of Biological Sciences
Stanford University

Originally published January 16, 2009

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