How Government Funding of Science Works

Government Funded Research on African-American Children – Math & Science Scores improve

The Good News: The Achievement Gap in Math and Science is closing between both African-American and Hispanic students and white students in elementary school math, and between African-American and white students in elementary and middle-school science.

This is Government funded/sponsored research and it is your tax money at work (US citizens). In light of the dialogue concerning the sewer study in black neighborhoods, I realize there is a huge misunderstanding about government funding research. I hope to set the record straight. Most of our nation’s (and most other nations, too) science, technological, and engineering innovations are funded with public money. The National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Mental Health, Centers for Disease Control, and even the Smithsonian Institute are all major funders of STEM research. Private foundations also leverage funds to researchers.

Though each organization has its own forms to fill out and hoops to jump through, all pretty much have the same process.

1. Organizations ANNOUNCE the availability of funds for research. The Agency announces funds are available and each major program (discipline related) get so much of the pie. Not every program gets the same amount of money (that’s a completely different topic to tackle). Let’s take the field of Engineering for example – program divisions would be Materials Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Air and Transportation Engineering, and so on.

2. Researchers (most often from colleges or universities) survey their portfolio of research and see if they are doing something that might fit the bill. Researchers are often college professors (faculty) who have earned doctorate degrees in their field of study. Researchers train graduate students (those pursuing master’s and doctorate degrees), so they can apply for and use this money, too. Sometimes, there are special funds set aside ONLY for students, faculty cannot apply.

3. Researchers write a proposal for the money (a grant) that outlines what type of research they are doing (or will do) and how they will use that money. Grant writing is a long and grueling process – sometimes. Essentially, you are writing a research proposal to be evaluated by the most critical and qualified people in your field. There is way too much money on the line to just give it to someone who has a neat idea, but doesn’t have the ability, capability or proven track record to get things done.

4. In exchange for the money the researchers must adhere to all legal boundaries (state, federal, and professional) as well as ethical boundaries. These are also considered in the grant proposal. Any red flags and a researcher has to re-do the whole proposal or sometimes is disqualified from funding for that round. Researchers are also expected to disseminate results – not only to other professionals in his/her field, but to the public as well. Why? Because the public paid for it. Also, this new information is knowledge designed to enhance/enrich our lives. Others (practitioners, students, and other researchers) can use this information to make decisions about policy, their lives, business, pursue future research, etc.

The story above is such as example. And can’t you just imagine the many applications of this finding and the study itself informing struggling school districts? So, to clarify, government sponsored funding is typically how most research is funded AND it isn’t designed to take advantage of any group of citizen. It is a very critical process and though the jargon can be overwhelming to non-scientist/engineering, it is open and subject ot public scrutiny.

Stay informed.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.

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