Bruce Alberts, Marc Kirschner, Shirley Tilghman, and Harold Varmus have an opinion piece in PNAS (link here) summarizing their concerns for the future of US biomedical research and suggesting some fixes. Their major premise is that medical research is predicated on an ever continuing expansion and we’re headed for a crisis if we don’t change immediately. As an NIH intramural investigator, I am shielded from the intense grant writing requirements of those on the outside. However, I am well aware of the difficulties in obtaining grant support and more than cognizant of the fact that a simple way to resolve the recent 8% cut in NIH funding is to eliminate the NIH intramural program. I have also noticed that medical schools keep expanding and hiring faculty on “soft money”, which requires them to raise their own salaries through grants. Soft money faculty essentially run independent businesses who rent lab space from institutions. The problem is that the market is a monopsony, where the sole buyer is the NIH. In order to keep their businesses running, they need lots of low paid labour, in the form of grad students and postdocs, many of whom have no hope of ever becoming independent investigators. One of the proposed solutions is to increase the salary of post docs and increase the numbers of permanent staff scientist positions. The premise is that by increasing unit costs, a labour equilibrium can be achieved. There is much more in the article and anyone involved in science should read it.