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Biomedical Optics & Medical Imaging

Bioengineer asks: Does constant race for funding stifle science quality?

Stephen Quake, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, asks whether it's time to rethink the basic foundations of how science is funded.

He writes, "It strikes me as one of the ironies of modern life that professorial faculty, who by and large lean to the left politically, accept such a brutal free-market approach to their livelihood. If they can't raise grants to support their research every year, they won't get paid. So not only do they have to worry about publish or perish, it's also funding or famine, in the very real sense that without a grant there might not be food on the family dinner table!

"It's almost like a small business - each faculty member is essentially running an enterprise for which he or she must find revenue (grants), manage finances, balance the books and pay expenses like salaries, tuition, rent and even taxes to the university for the space used."

He adds, "Could we stimulate more discovery and creativity if more scientists had the security of their own salary and a long-term commitment to a minimal level of research support?

"Would this encourage risk-taking and lead to an overall improvement in the quality of science?"

Read more from Quake's guest column on a New York Times blog