Stimulus creates application avalanche

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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: President Obama spent some time yesterday talking about his economic stimulus package. How many jobs it's already created or saved, and how many more are coming. Almost every part of the economy, it seems, got money in the bill. Including the National Institutes of Health. They'll get that money out into the economy in the form of research grants, which sounds pretty good. But might not actually add jobs. Paul Basken's with the Chronicle of Higher Education. He wrote about it today. Good to have you with us.

PAUL BASKEN: Thank you.

Ryssdal: All of this stimulus money that's out there, is it doing the expected and attracting just a whole bunch of scientists who need grant money?

BASKEN: Well, it's doing that. The question whether it's doing what's expected in terms of getting job created is one thing. But it certainly at this point attracting a lot of interest among scientists.

Ryssdal: Can you quantify it for me? How much money is at stake here, and how many applications above and beyond the normal?

BASKEN: The stimulus bill was $787 billion and of that there was $10.4 billion that was given to the NIH, the National Institutes of Health, which is the agency that hands out money largely to universities to do scientific research. But the NIH is the largest in the Federal government that does it. And last year, the NIH had about 77,000 grant applications from scientists. This year the number is up from 77,000 to 115,000, and that's due largely to the money that was given to the NIH through the stimulus money.

Ryssdal: What about those universities though? Are they kinda banking on this money to help them fund to help obviously scientific research but other avenues of science and academic pursuits?

BASKEN: They are. And in fact there was a long period during the Bush administration when the NIH funding, and again, that's the main source of scientific research funding going into universities, that was pretty level during the last five or so years of the Bush administration. So the universities have been really looking forward to this bump up. So partly what was talked about at the NIH meeting yesterday, when they went over some of these numbers, was the fact that they're seeing some evidence that some universities were kinda treating it, one described it as a lottery, where they were just saying, OK, put in any application you can, there's all this money out there and go get it. And the NIH reviewers, or actually the officials at the NIH, were a little concerned by that. They certainly do want to see a lot more interest, and a lot more good projects being funded. But they're a little concerned that the increase was so large it was reflecting more cases than really has a reasonable prospect for being funded.

Ryssdal: Does it necessarily hold as the Obama administration was banking on that more money for scientific research will get better science out there? I mean certainly there are more grant applications being made. Are we going to see better science out of that?

BASKEN: We'll have to see. But there's certainly good reason to expect that. The question I think also is whether we're going to see a large number of jobs from this. Because remember the whole point of the economic stimulus bill was to create jobs. And in this kind of funding it's a little questionable as to how many jobs you're really creating, because what you're doing is giving money to university researchers who already have jobs at their universities. They buy some scientific equipment, but a lot of times that scientific equipment may have been made in another country. There's been some criticism, or at least questioning, as to whether this kind of spending is a jobs creating mechanism. But then again, people also point out, when you spend this kind of money what you do is you get spinoffs, and you get companies that are formed. You hit the next Google or whatever, maybe that alone will create thousands of jobs.

Ryssdal: Paul Basken. He covers science for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul, thanks a lot.

BASKEN: Thank you.

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