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Science Funding and Short-Term Economic Activity

The geographic distribution of vendor and subaward expenditures. Source: Weinberg/Science.

The geographic distribution of vendor and subaward expenditures. Source: Weinberg/Science.

There is considerable interest among policy-makers in documenting short-term effects of science funding. A multi-year scientific journey that leads to long-term fruits of research, such as a moon landing, is more tangible if there is visible nearer term activity, such as the presence of astronauts. Yet systematic data on such activities have not heretofore existed. The only source of information for describing the production of most science is surveys that have been called “a rough estimate, frequently based on unexamined assumptions that originated years earlier.”

But although science is complicated, it is not magic. It is productive work. Scientific endeavors employ people. They use capital inputs. Related economic activity occurs immediately. Data characterizing these activities can be directly captured through the financial and payroll records of research organizations and have been used in other arenas, such as labor policy. Our data provide the first detailed information about initial inputs to the publicly funded scientific enterprise and lay the foundation to trace subsequent results.

These new data were initially generated in response to the mandate put in place by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus package, which required that recipients of stimulus funds document the resulting jobs created and retained. In response, almost 100 US universities and five federal agencies, with the support of the Federal Demonstration Partnership, established the STAR METRICS data program. The goal of the program was to document not just short-term, but also longer-term, results of scientific activity and to use automated approaches to do so. The first tranche of rich data are drawn directly from university personnel and financial administrative records that track actual expenditures of all active federal projects. These data provide project-level information about the occupations of the part-time and full-time workforce paid on each funded grant and about the purchases made from vendors who supply scientific researchers. Neither of these types of information have reliably been available before.

Click here to read more from this April 4, 2014 Science magazine article by Bruce Weinberg et al.


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