Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Science Funding Around the World

Today, Greek politicians are trying to bring a number of disparate parties together to form a new government after recent elections. Meanwhile, the expected leaders of the new government hope to negotiate new terms for a previously arranged bailout from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, according to the New York Times.

The economy has tanked in Greece, and it's certainly affected research spending there as well. In April, Physics Today spoke to many Greek scientists for their thoughts on recent budget cuts and consolidations.

They weren't optimistic, and reading their responses prompted me to look deeper into how much countries fund research and development around the world – and how that has changed in recent years. While the global statistics regarding science funding can be interesting by themselves, visualizing them in graphs, charts and infographics can truly illuminate the situation.


A comparison of research and development spending as a percentage of GDP for the year 2007. The larger red and yellow circles represent more spending, while smaller blue circles highlight less investment in research. Israel and Japan are among the top spenders with 4.8 percent and 3.44 percent, respectively.

As the above graph shows, countries vary widely in how much they spend on research and development. Greece, for instance, only spends roughly 0.5 percent of their GDP on research and development, compared to about 2.8 percent in the U.S.

This data comes from the World Bank and includes both private and public research dollars. You can play around with the data with Google's public data explorer. Just search for "research and development expenditures," and you should be able to find the correct dataset from the World Bank.

So there's definitely a dearth of funding for Greek science relative to other countries, but how has funding changed over time? For the most part, funding as a percentage of GDP has remained fairly constant, but budgets have certainly tightened both in the U.S. and abroad.



Unfortunately, the latest R&D data during the recent economic crisis aren't readily available. But there's one interesting, albeit not very scientific, dataset that covers the past few years. Using the arXiv bookworm, we can track how frequently scientists use certain terms in scientific papers published on the popular arXiv.org preprint server.

The frequency of the term "funding" in research articles published on the arXiv preprint server used by physicists. The percentage of papers with this term coming from Greece are highlighted in red, and the percentage of all papers mentioning funding are highlighted in blue.

Although I wouldn't read too much into the graph above, it's interesting to see how much more attention the word "funding" has received in recent years in scientific articles. In particular, there's a huge spike in the number of Greek papers mentioning funding when the Greek debt crisis became more prominent.

So scientists appear to be more concerned about funding in light of recent economic crises, as one might expect. What I found more surprising, however, was how the research and development funding is divvied up in the United States.

Scientific American has a great infographic covering this issue for 2011 data. One takeaway point is the huge disparity between defense spending and non-defense science spending. Although there's certainly scientific research coming out of that defense budget, it might be time to reevaluate some priorities.

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2 comments:

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