Does the NIH Fund Edge Science?

27 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2018 Last revised: 6 Jun 2021

See all articles by Mikko Packalen

Mikko Packalen

University of Waterloo - Department of Economics

Jay Bhattacharya

Stanford University - Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: July 2018

Abstract

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plays a critical role in funding scientific endeavors in biomedicine that would be difficult to finance via private sources. One important mandate of the NIH is to fund innovative science that tries out new ideas, but many have questioned the NIH’s ability to fulfill this aim. We examine whether the NIH succeeds in funding work that tries out novel ideas. We find that novel science is more often NIH funded than is less innovative science but this positive result comes with several caveats. First, despite the implementation of initiatives to support edge science, the preference for funding novel science is mostly limited to work that builds on novel basic science ideas; projects that build on novel clinical ideas are not favored by the NIH over projects that build on well-established clinical knowledge. Second, NIH’s general preference for funding work that builds on basic science ideas, regardless of its novelty or application area, is a large contributor to the overall positive link between novelty and NIH funding. If funding rates for work that builds on basic science ideas and work that builds on clinical ideas had been equal, NIH’s funding rates for novel and traditional science would have been the same. Third, NIH’s propensity to fund projects that build on the most recent advances has declined over the last several decades. Thus, in this regard NIH funding has become more conservative despite initiatives to increase funding for innovative projects.

Suggested Citation

Packalen, Mikko and Bhattacharya, Jayanta, Does the NIH Fund Edge Science? (July 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w24860, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3222407

Mikko Packalen (Contact Author)

University of Waterloo - Department of Economics ( email )

Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1
Canada

Jayanta Bhattacharya

Stanford University - Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research ( email )

Center for Health Policy
179 Encina Commons
Stanford, CA 94305-6019
United States
650-736-0404 (Phone)
650-723-1919 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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