The Value of Research Funding

Study finds that, in chemistry, institutions that receive more federal support produce more papers and receive more citations.

October 21, 2014

To many people at research universities, it may seem self-evident that federal research and development support actually results in scientific breakthroughs. A new paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that the assumption is correct.

In the study (abstract available here), four economists at the University of Kansas analyzed data from 147 research universities for the period 1990 to 2009. They focused on chemistry (for which they include chemical engineering) as a field present at research universities and one that involves both basic and applied research.

While the authors don’t express surprise that federal support makes a difference, they stress the importance of science advocates knowing that such investments pay off, not just assuming so.

The study examined the top departments in federal support, and going to 147 means that it includes research powerhouses, but also plenty of institutions that have modest R&D infrastructure.

Tracking the flow of research dollars in chemistry, the research found that additional funds for chemistry research result in more published papers and in more citations of those papers. In other words, scientists can point to a “confirmation of a positive relationship between research funding and knowledge production.”

The study also finds that chemistry professors became much more productive during the time period studies, perhaps based on technology advances in addition to the availability of funds.

It is “quite reasonable” to wonder about the payoff from federal and other research support, the authors write. So they are pleased to say that there is evidence of the payoff in chemistry.

The authors are Joshua L. Rosenbloom, Donna K. Ginther, Ted Juhl and Joseph Heppert.


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