Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Scientists should cut waste too

Your call for scientists to rally for continued federal funding (Nature 470, 305; 2011) places no responsibility on them to reduce the $1.3-trillion US budget deficit.

As many scientists depend on taxpayers' money for research, they have an obligation to reduce waste and inefficiency and to work within their means. Funding agencies cannot and should not continue to do business as usual.

For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) imposes a salary cap of $199,700 for scientists; most other federal agencies do not. The 'indirect costs' claimed by academic institutions range from 55% to 60% of the total grant budget. This implies that the taxpayer will pay $199,700 for an NIH-funded radiologist but $398,571 if the post were funded by another agency. Also, 55–60 cents of every research dollar will be spent on administrative and facilities costs, even though buildings and utilities have been paid for many times over.

Unlike companies, non-profit academic institutions deliver a paltry return on taxpayers' investments. In 2010, after spending nearly $3.1 billion of taxpayers' money on intramural research, the NIH received $91.6 million in royalties and was issued with 134 patents. By contrast, in 2009 IBM spent $6.5 billion on research and development, generated $15.1 billion in revenue and was issued with 4,914 patents.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthew Kumar.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kumar, M. Scientists should cut waste too. Nature 471, 448 (2011).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing