Underfunded Science and our Untapped Scientific Potential

Updated: Apr 12, 2019

Funding is always a hot topic in science no matter which country you reside in. The reasons for this are two-fold: (1) we depend upon scientific research and development to continue to move forward as a society, and (2) the livelihood of those directly involved – the principal investigators, the postdoctoral fellows, the students, and the staff of scientific establishments – are highly dependent on government or external funding to survive. The number of countries that lack granting opportunities, government funding, and access to affordable materials and reagents is staggering. This is especially concerning when you consider what we as a society are loosing in advancements against disease and suffering around the world.

The Pervasiveness of Underfunded Science

This topic of underfunding in science was recently brought to my attention in several articles from Nature. While I was aware that science was considered underfunded in many parts of the world, including developed nations, I had not delved into how significant this issue is on a worldwide scale. The articles in question highlighted the challenges researchers in sub-Saharan Africa face in accessing funding, retaining staff and students, and conducting meaningful research. One article detailed how the vast majority (>80%) of academics in this region had at one time taken unpaid research positions during their careers, with many citing a lack of funding as the root cause for such issues. Moreover, many of these research labs are dependent on self-constructed equipment, which I can only imagine puts a significant strain on their scientific output (although they should be commended for their ingenuity).

Of course, Africa is not alone in their scientific funding plight. A recent article in Cell Stress and Chaperones looked at research funding in Latin American countries, and many of these developing nations face similar issues as those seen in Africa. For instance, the Latin American countries spend substantially less than 1% of their GDP on research and development (except for Brazil, which is slightly over 1%), which is a fraction of what developed nations spend. Africa is similar with an average expenditure of ~0.5% GDP. These monetary insufficiencies are compounded by societal and infrastructure deficiencies that further impede scientific progress. Consider the challenges faced by Palestinian researchers, where in addition to a lack of funding, are crippled by travel restrictions, a lack of infrastructure, and political unrest.

It is important to keep in mind that many of these countries are struggling significantly in a number of ways, and investing in science may seem like an inappropriate or even counterproductive allocation of funds. However, many have argued that investing in research and development is a boon to any nation’s economy. Not only does it provide jobs and help develop a highly skilled and productive work force, but it often leads to international recognition, which feeds forward into further economic prosperity.

Consider What We Are Losing

The current state of scientific funding is disappointing, to say the least, when you consider what we as a society are likely losing in impactful scientists and scientific advancement. It is not hard to imagine the unique and critical advancements in medicine and other fields from these developing nations with distinctive ecologies, cultures, and views. Tapping into this potential through increased funding and support structures could be invaluable to those developing nations and to people around the world.

Excision Editing Would Like to Help

Although we are editors here at Excision Editing, we were scientists first. I think anyone who has been in science for a number of years can appreciate how difficult research must be in those labs that do not have access to funding. With that said, Excision Editing would like to help in any way that we can. If you are part of an underfunded lab and would like help in editing your manuscript or if you need consulting to move your bench work to an impactful publication, please contact us! Tell us your story and indicate how we can help. We are hoping that a well-written document could boost the impact of your work and with that perhaps make funding more likely or a little easier.

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