The U.S. National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) – a component of the U.S. Public Health Service (itself part of the Department of Health and Human Services) – spends tens of billions of dollars on animal research each year, investing both in research at its own facilities (its “intramural” program) and at other facilities (its “extramural” program).
The NIH is actually the largest federal funder of animal research . . . yet there’s a huge amount we don’t know about how the NIH is spending our money.
The NIH is cagey when pressed on its expenditures, but one thing we do know is that at least 50% of the NIH’s extramural funding “goes to basic research on sentient animals.”
Basic (as opposed to “applied”) research is “curiosity-driven” or “blue-sky research” that, “by definition, is not designed to lead to cures” and is not even undertaken with an honest eye toward human application. Yet, it still receives more funding than applied (i.e., goal-oriented) or clinical research.
Faced with concerns about its clinical irrelevance, researchers making careers in the “basic science” space vigorously claim that the gain of any new knowledge is beneficial to humans. This intentionally amorphous assertion escapes scientific validation, while scientific reviews of actual data prove that actual benefits to humans are miniscule at best:
A review of 25,000 basic science publications found that only 2% contained a claim of future human application; of that 2%, only 0.4% resulted in a clinical trial; and, of that 0.4%, only 0.004% led to a clinical application useful to humans.
Certainly, the vast majority (if not all) of us expect a return greater than 0.004% from the science our money is used to fund, but we too often just don’t know what we don’t know.
Put differently, we can only take meaningful action to change the status quo if we can learn what the status quo is, and the animal research industry, generally, and the NIH, specifically, want to impede our education.
It’s time to force the issue.
The COST Act would help us learn more about how the NIH spends our taxpayer dollars.
Senate Bill 778 – the Cost Openness and Spending Transparency (“COST”) Act – would require the government to publicly disclose the total cost to taxpayers of every project supported with federal funds. In March, this bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, where it still sits.
It is incumbent upon us, as indirect subsidizers of animal research through federal agency (including NIH) expenditures, to be ardent in our support of attempts to increase industry transparency, including the COST Act.