I just got off of a conference call with the acting NIH director, wherein he briefed what I presume were 6 gazillion panting scientists about what's going to happen with the $10.4 billion NIH got from the stimulus bill.
NIH will end up with about $800 million for comparative effectiveness research, half of it looped through AHRQ for some reason, which is actually a fulfillment of an Obama campaign promise, as you may recall -- and, bizarrely, a bete noir with a large segment of the right that actually thinks it's a violation of your freedom for you and your doctor to know which treatments work better. Weird, bizarre, and very very strange.
Other money goes for construction programs, like building and fixing up labs -- $1 billion of it to external institutions, i.e. mostly colleges and universities. Maybe Harvard can finish that new stem cell research center after all! (Those of you who don't live in the Athens of America probably don't know that they had to put it on hold because they lost all their money at the dog track.)
The part I really care about -- $8.2 billion -- is to fund actual scientific research. Yay! The director will get an $800 million slush fund to do with as he pleases, it seems. Of the remaining $7.4 billion (believe me, it goes fast when you start spreading it around), it must all be used for projects that will be completed within 2 years and won't create out-year commitments. That's a weird criterion for research, believe me. No large-scale trials or epidemiological studies will be funded, we've all got to scramble to think up stuff we can do fast.
Some of it will go to existing applications that were approved as scientifically meritorious but didn't make the pay line. Rats, I don't have anything in.
Some of it will go as supplements to current projects. That we can do. One idea is to create more post-doctoral fellowships for out-of-work Ph.D.s That will create some job openings on the back end for cab drivers.
Some of it will be for new programs, in what are called NIH Challenge Grants. The solicitations will be out soon.
This is all great -- we're all feeling like kids in the candy store right now -- but it is also quite bizarre. There will be this 2-year torrent of money and then slam, the spigot will be off. Will all those nerds be back in the cab in 2011? Just wondering . . .