The debate has been widely reported: if funding had not been cut over the years, would researchers have developed a vaccine for Ebola to save thousands of lives? Could we have prevented the many tragic deaths in West Africa? It’s hard to say one way or another, but one thing we can all say for certain: we’d be a lot further along in the process if funding were better.
It made us think: How many programs that were developed to solve a societal problem have fallen through the cracks due to the lack of research funding? For instance, we are in the process of developing an exciting new parenting program, specifically designed for families involved in the child welfare system. Our goal is to make high quality parent training available to a larger number of families who are involved with the child welfare system so more children can remain at home or be safely reunited with their parents – thereby, improving overall child well-being.
We’ve been fortunate to find the support we need to get this project underway. But we know we’re lucky – for every project that is funded these days, there are countless more that are not. Many of these programs are not only costly to develop, but even more expensive to formally evaluate through the standard testing model in the research community, a randomized controlled trial.
Due to the overwhelming competition for the little funding available, some researchers are throwing in the towel. These are educated, driven individuals who had plans to make a difference in their area of expertise – whether that’s developing an evidence-based program to help keep families together or finding a cure for the next epidemic. And yet, it’s becoming more and more challenging for these researchers to continue following their passion.
Researchers in social sciences might have an even tougher battle. Support for “soft” sciences may be even harder to come by than for “hard” sciences like biology or chemistry. A vaccine that eradicates a disease may be more appealing to fund than finding a new way of working with people to prevent or change their behavior. For instance, we hear about how we’ve nearly wiped out polio, but how often do you hear about the counseling techniques used to treat people who struggle with depression? Did you ever think about how this proven therapy treatment – called cognitive behavioral therapy – was created, tested and refined by researchers? Mental health or physical health, research is critical to help us live healthier, happier lives.
At the end of the day, we might not understand the importance of research until a situation or a diagnosis stares us in the face – at which point, it might be too late. In addition, many of these research findings can even save our country money – both by focusing scarce dollars on research-proven solutions and in the long run by preventing costly health or societal issues. So we can’t keep putting research on the backburner, especially as our state and country slowly recovers from the recession and re-evaluates funding priorities. There are just too many undiscovered societal solutions and cures to slow down now.
Sound off: Do you think research projects are funded at adequate levels? What breakthroughs do you think we’ve missed, if any, in the last few years? What areas of research interest you most?