If we look into the history of science and invention, one element will stand out in terms of funding: there was no organized system of funding prior to World War II. Today, world over governments have established prestigious science & technology institutions and scientific funding agencies with multiple levels of oversight and grant awards.
In this piece of writing, we are going to examine the two types of grant funding programs closely, but before we get into it, we must spare few moments to deliberate upon the intricacies of the concept of funding itself. With the lines blurring between government and private sector, let us take a stock of the basic funding premise. Science funding has traditionally been a part of the government spending structure.
Going by the example of civic infrastructure; the government builds the transportation facilities, and companies use them to transport their goods across the country for a small amount of money. Likewise, the government funds fundamental research to produce knowledge, and organizations use that initial fundamental knowledge and transform it into the market-based product with little research and development (R&D) investments of their own. When researchers make outstanding medicinal discoveries after a long drawn process of scientific investigation followed by the application, it becomes a national asset in terms of human benefit and welfare. (Saha and Bhattacharya, 2011)
Scientific funding resources need to be understood and incorporated into the ever-evolving financial systems on their own merits and demerits. And that is precisely what we will discuss in this article in order to make it easily comprehensible.
Government Grant Fund
Governments everywhere are responsible for stimulating economic growth; to that end, federal, state, and local governments award monetary allotments. Governments are primarily liable to promote the social, health, and educational welfare of the country and the relevant government’s departments make the fund available for eligible individuals and institutions to carry out result-oriented scientific research to the benefit of the general public at large.
Let us have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the government grant funding programs:
Government grants are financial tools to address human issues on the broader spectrum, and like everything else, these tools can be used in the service of human welfare.
Some of the advantages are:
- Government grants fill the gap created by unpredictable free-market conditions.
- Government grants allow for safe access to financial assistance to the benefit of individuals, institutions, and corporations.
- Government grants do not disrupt federal policies and tax legislation.
- Government grants create economic leverages such as a gradual increase in tax revenues.
The other side of the coin, so to speak, is as important to the whole picture as is any other monetary consideration. Some problems link to the government grants that you can work around, while others you simply cannot find a way about, especially if your work is systemically arbitrary.
Disadvantages that should be taken into serious consideration are as follow:
- By their very nature, government grants are stopgap and inflationary.
- Some long-term projects can drive the level of taxation upwards to the immediate harm of the public at large.
- As fiscal tools, government grants play a significant role in increasing the state’s debt loads in the long term.
- Government grants can also serve to cause economic disruption as they come in contact with marked equilibrium.
- Substantive government grants can be the reason for unfair competition between federally supported and non-supported organizations.
Private Grant Funding
In times gone by, research was done outside of any kind of formal governmental control. Historically speaking, early scientists like Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo were supported, encouraged, and sponsored by wealthy patrons. Only after World War II, did governments had begun to realize the need for cohesive and controlled research and development.
However, one must be aware that despite governmental endeavors in the areas of modern science and technology, it is private sector funding opportunities that have contributed to the lion’s share of financial assistance and infrastructure support. By 2012, the private sector had left the government side far behind, by providing 63% of $285 billion in research and development in the United States alone.
Below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of private grant funding:
- Scientific research is not bogged down by sluggish bureaucracy.
- Private funding sources can write a larger cheque if you fulfill their standards criteria.
- Private grant sources tend to get attached to projects closer to their worldview and projects that hold a high emotional quotient for them in order to provide access to their allies and field connections for further funding.
- Private funders are risk-takers, hence feel quite comfortable in providing lump-sum upfront grants.
- Institutionalized private funders are much more efficient and agile about funding mechanisms.
- With government budget cuts and reduced funding, conscientious private grantmakers are coming forward with a strict conflict of interest policy.
- Some private grant funders seek to purchase influence upon distinguished scientists and the outcome of the research.
- There is always the danger of creeping bias into research results and peer evaluation mechanisms through private grants.
- Shareholder value might drive private grants to turn fundamental research into money printing ventures.
- Companies/corporations tend to forward funding in the areas in which immediate results and monetary benefits can be realized.
- Although some private grant funders make fundamental research open but more often than not, most private donors demand to keep results sealed for a specific period of time.
- Corporate funding comes with clear strings attached policy in that they dictate terms and conditions from beginning to the end of the whole procedure.
Evolving Financial Models
While numerous new financial models for scientific research funding spring up every day (Bennera and Sandstromb, 2000), we examine the three fastest emerging and increasingly adopted financial ideas.
Some of them are mentioned below:
Depending on the field of research and the presentation of the research project, it is entirely possible today to crowdfund academic scientific studies. Educational institutes, organizations, charities, and academic centers all are taking advantage of online platforms available today in order to generate an additional income stream for research purposes.
Cancer Research Foundation is doing something really exciting and innovative to the delight of young scholars. As funding is becoming increasingly scarce, organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are restructuring fundraising methods by employing a bold strategy of investing through small-scale grants in proposals at the infancy stage of the project itself.
Biomedical research is becoming more expensive and even more difficult to fund in the current climate of budget cuts. Institutions would do well to reorganize the whole funding equation by adopting capital engineering in which you spread risks among investors and stakeholders to allow incentives for the researchers. To bridge the funding gap, institutions and their patrons should establish a megafund to facilitate quality research.
For any fundamental new discovery, the high-risk factor and long-term investments have to be made not only in prompt results-based research but also in pure knowledge-based research.
Conflict of Interest
Conflict of interest is a state of affairs in which individuals, as well as institutions, are associated with multiple interests that can potentially corrupt the motive of the task. In everyday life, we work hard to overcome our natural inclination to perform in a professional and non-discriminatory manner so as to maintain the ethical requirements of the task at hand with integrity. To put it in context, researchers are held to higher standards of accountability in the sense of personal upstanding by the public because scientific judgments can literally be a matter of life and death.
As a scientist, one must become aware of government funding sources along with private funding sources going into the research project with an aim to prevent potential suspicions cast upon the end result. Conflict of interest is the most dangerous factor as it has the capacity to destroy the credibility of not only those involved but also of the subject matter itself.
When you find yourself in a situation where various competing priorities are at play, then you can either eliminate that or step aside voluntarily. After taking care of primary and secondary interests, make sure you give due attention to the conflict of interest rule focused on financial relationships.
In order to be able to mitigate conflict of interests, take into deliberate consideration below mentioned quantifiable options:
In the process of studying emerging trends in the STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, and Medicine), the journal of the American Medical Association found that increased demand among the students of biomedicine to limit some industry relationships has led to the routine disclosure of conflict of interest by Americans medical school professionals. Disclosure is also one of the best failsafe ways to prevent the accusation of biased later on. (Justin, Yan and Cary, 2003).
To maintain 100% credibility of the overall project, including the end results, your chain of evidence must be beyond reproach. And, to achieve that, young project managers should practice strict conflict of interest policies to ensure credible publications of research funding sources.
Typically, in third party evaluation, you as an impartial individual or an institution bring in an independent and qualified firm of expert evaluators to assess the process, design, experiment, and financial relationships to safeguard fair and transparent scientific activity.
In the fast-changing and rapidly growing world of science and technology, global research has gone into a tectonic shift. With the latest trends, the worldwide young scientific community needs to make a loud and clear call for broader financial transparency. There is an urgent need to establish a global task force to monitor financial relationships within the marriage of money and scientific research; study funding networks and patterns; and identify the main governmental, private, and corporate funders.
External or third-party evaluation can play a vital role to aid the dynamic process of transparency by assessing the decision-making systems and portfolios of funding institutions and entities; by improving financial collaborations upon prioritized research projects; by preventing research and design theft and duplication.
Keeping all of the above in mind will enable you to form an informed and sound opinion, which in turn will assist in developing the funding approach best suited to your research project.
- Bhattacharya, S., & Saha, C.N. (2011, April). Intellectual property rights: An overview and implications in pharmaceutical industry. J Adv Pharm Technol Res, 2(2), 88-93. https://doi.org/10.4103/2231-4040.82952
- Bennera, M., & Sandstromb, U. (2000, February). Institutionalizing the Triple Helix: Research Funding and Norms in the Academic System. Science Direct, 29(2), 291-301. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0048-7333(99)00067-0
- Cary, P.G., Justin, E.B., & Yan, L. (2003, January 22). Scope and Impact of Financial Conflicts of Interest in Biomedical Research: A Systematic Review. JAMA, 289(4), 454-465. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.289.4.454