Dear Science Philanthropy Alliance community,
I started the year with concern about the state of funding for basic science research. U.S. government funding for basic science has been declining steadily since the start of this decade as our nation’s discretionary budget, the primary source of support for scientific research in the U.S., continues to shrink. Brexit continues to spawn worries about funding for research in the U.K. And government funding for science in many other parts of the world is similarly challenged.
I end this year even more deeply worried about the scientific enterprise, especially in the U.S. The administration’s proposed budget cuts earlier this year reflected a lack of understanding about the value of basic scientific research, without which there would be no applications that benefit our nation’s defense, our health, our economy, and our well-being. The recently proposed tax reforms eliminate tuition fee waivers for the graduate students who are so critical to the scientific enterprise. They would also impose an excise tax on nonprofit private university endowments, which have been among the few steady sources of support for basic science in the face of declining government support.
Make no mistake — basic science, the type of science that transforms industries and economies, still gets the bulk of its support from the government. Corporate or philanthropic funds cannot replace a significant cut in government funding: corporations, which answer to shareholders, mostly fund applied science while philanthropists fund less than 10 percent of what the government funds.
Philanthropy does play an important role in supporting basic science, often seeding innovative and potentially transformative but risky projects that would not otherwise be possible. I am heartened by the many individuals and foundations who are passionate about the potential of basic science and understand the funding challenges this type of scientific endeavor faces. Many of the funders I encounter are working to support science in the most effective ways possible. Some of them are new to giving to science, or have recently increased their commitment to science. One of our members, the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fund for Strategic Innovation, recently announced an innovative $100 million effort to promote scientific leadership and interdisciplinary research over the next decade and beyond.
The Alliance continues to support these intrepid philanthropists, by providing them with information and advice, by sharing other philanthropists’ practices, and by connecting them with more experienced philanthropists and respected scientists. The demand for this type of peer-to-peer learning is illustrated by our growing membership; this year we added another five members, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Leon Levy Foundation, the Page family, and The Rockefeller Foundation, for a total of 22 members.
With the help of our community, we will continue to support our members’ and other philanthropists’ work to bolster basic science research, to help research institutions be more effective in raising funds, and to advocate for the value of basic scientific research.
I also continue to be inspired by the public’s excitement about science, as demonstrated by the numbers who turned out en masse to view the total solar eclipse this summer, and that celebrated the first-ever detection of the collision of neutron stars. Like my fellow citizens, I continue to marvel at the new knowledge that science brings while enjoying the fruits of such discoveries, from the GPS on my phone to the computing technology that brings this message to you.
I would like to thank the many hard-working scientists who continue to explore the unknown for the benefit of humanity and the many supporters of this important work. I hope 2018 brings strengthened support for basic science, and look forward to what thrilling discoveries the new year will bring.
President, Science Philanthropy Alliance