and honest (1, 3). In our study, interviewers surveyed a randomly selected sample of
Americans in their homes. The interviewers
told respondents that the U.S. Department
of Commerce was conducting the study to
inform policy-making, and they presented
extensive information to allow respondents
to make informed judgments.
In contrast, in the studies cited by Baron,
college students or people approached
arbitrarily in a public place (e.g., a train station or science museum) were asked to do
a quick experiment, were given very little
information, and were not told that their
answers would be consequential in any
way. Often, participants were told that the
situations they were asked to evaluate were
hypothetical (e.g., “Suppose that…”). Thus, it
should come as no surprise that some participants did not provide thoughtful responses
that are consistent with rational economic
choices. Moreover, Baron’s proposal for
how our survey should have been amended
seems neither practically doable nor scientifically merited.
Richard C. Bishop,1 Kevin J. Boyle,2
Richard T. Carson,3 David Chapman,4
W. Michael Hanemann,5 Barbara
Kanninen,6 Raymond J. Kopp,7 Jon
Krosnick,8 John List,9 Norman Meade,10
Robert Paterson,11 Stanley Presser,12
V. Kerry Smith,13* Roger Tourangeau,14
Michael Welsh,15 Jeffrey M. Wooldridge,16
Matthew De Bell,8 Colleen Donovan,17
Matthew Konopka,18 Nora Scherer11
1Emeritus, Department of Agricultural and Applied
Economics, University of Wisconsin, Madison,
WI 53706, USA. 2Department of Agricultural
Economics, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061,
USA. 3Department of Economics, University of
California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.
4U.S. Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO 80526, USA.
5Department of Economics, Arizona State University,
Tempe, AZ 85287-9801, USA. 6BK Econometrics,
LLC, Arlington, VA 22207, USA. 7Resources for the
Future, Washington, DC 20036, USA. 8Department of
Political Science, Communication, and Psychology,
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2050, USA.
9Department of Economics, University of Chicago,
Chicago, IL 60637, USA. 10National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, MD
20910, USA. 11Industrial Economics, Incorporated,
Cambridge, MA 02140, USA. 12Department of
Sociology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
20742, USA. 13Emeritus, Arizona State University,
Tempe, AZ 85287-9801, USA. 14Westat, Rockville, MD
20850, USA. 15Independent Consultant, Longmont,
CO 80503, USA. 16Department of Economics,
Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-
1038, USA. 17Abt Associates, Boulder, CO 80302, USA.
18Prospect Analytics, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA.
*Corresponding author. Email: kerry.smith@
1. K.Arrow et al., Fed. Reg.58,4601(1993).
2. R. T. Carson, N. E. Flores, N. F. Meade, Environ.Resour.
Econ. 19, 173 (2001).
3. R. T. Carson, T. Groves, Environ. Resource Econ .37, 181
INSIGHTS | LETTERS
Call to restore NIH’s
cap on grant funding
In her In Depth News story “NIH abandons
grant cap, offers new help to younger scientists” (16 June, p. 1108), J. Kaiser reported
that the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
reversed its decision to cap grant funding according to the Grant Support Index
and replaced it with the Next Generation
Researchers Initiative (NGRI). As a member
of the Advisory Council for the National
Institute of General Medical Science, I was
very disappointed by this decision.
Biomedical science is facing a crisis: The
National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget
has been basically flat, and research dollars
are distributed unequally. Just 1% of scientists receive 11% of NIH funding, and 10% of
scientists receive 40% (1). Tightened grant
funding threatens the careers of talented,
productive early and mid-career scientists;
many who fail to renew NIH grants must
shut down their labs. This is discouraging
many of our best trainees from pursuing a
research career (2–4).
NIH did an exceptionally thorough
analysis of how productivity and scientific
impact scale with the amount of grant funding possessed by a principal investigator (PI)
(1). The data strongly suggested that a cap
on the number of research project grants for
individual investigators would increase overall productivity of biomedical science and
allow more young and mid-career people to
keep their labs open. The bold solution—the
Grant Support Index—capped the number of
grants NIH provided to a single PI. It would
affect only 3% of investigators and could
fund 900 new grants for PIs without other
I was stunned to learn that NIH aban-
doned the Grant Support Index before it
even started. In my view, this resulted from
a concerted effort by a few very well funded
and powerful scientists threatened by this
new approach, combined with a failure of
the rest of us to vocally support the underly-
ing idea, while at the same time pointing
out needed tweaks. In fact, NIH had already
made some changes that reduced issues with
collaborative science and training grants (1).
The reversal of the decision to use the Grant
Support Index suggests that a few powerful
scientists can drive key policy decisions, to
the community’s detriment. Many of us see
this as a victory for cronyism. The public
comments of some senior colleagues (5)
reinforce this feeling.
Two critical differences make the NGRI
much less effective than the Grant Support
Index. First, no source was designated for
the funds needed. About 70% of all NIH-funded researchers have a single grant.
Because the NIH budget is a zero-sum
game, the NGRI may simply fund no-grant
labs using dollars that would otherwise
support the renewal to a lab with only a
single grant. Thus the NGRI would not
result in funding for a larger fraction of
productive labs. Second, by limiting the
opportunity to those with 10 years or fewer
of NIH grant funding, the new policy
excludes many mid-career scientists faced
with shutting their labs.
The Grant Support Index may have been
imperfect, but some sort of cap on funding
to PIs is critical. A plan limiting the number
of grants to individual investigators is one
option. An alternative, suggested by W. P.
Wahls (“NIH’s ineffective funding policies,”
Letters, 16 June, p. 1132), would be a cap
on total dollars to individual investigators.
The existing NIGMS 750K policy is already
a step in that direction (6). I and a group of
young scientists initiated a petition calling
for reintroduction of a cap, and almost 500
signers have already joined us (7). NIH must
develop a concrete plan to address funding
inequity and save biomedical science.
Department of Biology and Lineberger
Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280,
USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Presentation by NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch at
NAGMS Council (2017); https://drive.google.com/
2. B.Alberts, M.W.Kirschner,S.Tilghman, H.Varmus,Proc.
Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 112, 1912 (2015).
3. FASEB, “Sustaining Discovery in Biological and Medical
Sciences” (FASEB, 2015); https://gs.ucdenver.edu/
4. J.Kimble et al., eLife4,e09305(2015).
5. R. Weisman, “Scientists worry about plan to cap
individual labs’ federal funding,” Boston Globe, (2017);
7. M.Peifer,“Cap NIHfundingforindividual Investigatorsto
save the future of biomedical science,” Change.org (2017);
“The reversal of the decision
to use the Grant Support
Index suggests that a few
powerful scientists can drive
key policy decisions, to the