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It’s official: scientific research is economically worthwhile
A new study confirms that apart from the discovery of new knowledge and the long-term impact of such knowledge, scientific research also contributes to short-term economic gain. The study, published in this week’s Science journal, is the first of its kind to generate large-scale systematic data on short-term effects of science funding. The study was carried out by researchers from the American Institute of Research, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, University of Michigan, University of Chicago, and the Ohio State University using data from the STAR METRICS project. This is a partnership between federal science agencies and research institutions set up to document the return to the public of science investments.

Policy-makers have an interest in the evidence of the short-term economic value of science-funding. The new study was carried out to document this in the United States. It focused on nine universities including Michigan, Wisconsin-Madison, Minnesota, Ohio State, Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan State, Chicago and Indiana. These universities were awarded approximately $7 billion in research and development funding in 2012 of which approximately 56% was from federal government. The study results shed light both on composition of the scientific workforce in these universities and the national impact of science research on businesses that supply laboratories funded by federal grants.

The study found that most people employed under federal research funding are not faculty members; in fact less than 20% are faculty researchers. The remainder is made up from graduate and undergraduate students, research staff, staff scientist and post-doctoral fellows. The researchers were also able to ascertain that each university receiving federal funding spent it in widely throughout the United States, with approximately 70% being spent outside their home states. While a large proportion of funding went to big companies, small enterprises also benefitted. In analysing the spending patterns, the researchers commented that "we were struck by how many are small, niche, high-technology companies…"

Co-author Roy Weiss, Deputy Provost for Research at the University of Chicago, said, "Research universities are dedicated to the discovery of new knowledge. This study reports the first cooperative endeavour by multiple universities to evaluate the benefit of government investment in research. In addition to making the world a better place by virtue of these discoveries, we now have data to support the overall benefits to society."

Julia Lane, Senior Managing Economist at the American Institutes for Research and a lead researcher on the project, further summarised, "This study provides evidence that while science is complicated, it is not magic. It is productive work. Scientific endeavours employ people. They use capital inputs. Related economic activity occurs immediately. Policy makers need to have an understanding of how science is produced when making resource allocation decisions, and this study provides that information in a reliable and current fashion."


Weinberg, B.A., Owen-Smith, J., Rosen, R.F., Schwarz, L., McFadden Allen, B., Weiss, R.E. and Lane, J. (2014). Science Funding and Short-Term Economic Activity. Science, 4 April 2014, 344(6179), 41-43; DOI: 10.1126/science.1250055

Press release: Committee on Institutional Cooperation; available from
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