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April Funding Showers for Science [Commentary]

With Paul Allen’s announcement last month to support bioscience with a $100 million gift, yesterday’s announcement of Yuri Milner’s plan to send a fleet of probes to Alpha Centauri with initial funding of $100 million, and today’s announcement by Sean Parker’s Foundation of a $250 million gift for cancer research, it is clear that interest in supporting science research is growing.

The timing could not be better. In recent years, federal funding for fundamental scientific research has been declining. In a 2013 survey, only 2% of 3,700 scientists could find private funds to make up for the loss of federal grants. Half reported that they had laid off researchers. Basic science has been particularly affected. While philanthropy cannot replace federal funding, it plays a critical role.

Philanthropists are looking for strategies to maximize the effectiveness of their giving. For instance, Sean Parker chose to give to a number of distinguished institutions that are already doing great work in cancer research – a strategy that can accelerate progress and minimize risk, and he structured his gift to facilitate collaboration. Paul Allen chose to support institutions as well as specific scientists with strong track records, giving each $1.5 million to allow them to explore their ideas that are on the frontiers of their field. Yuri Milner chose to donate the initial seed funding to launch an ambitious new project to study our universe.

The strategy for giving is important – making choices about giving to institutions, programs, or people; the specific role that philanthropy can play in relation to funding from other sources; the best implementation practices. Our Alliance, with a network of the most experienced and respected foundations, philanthropists, and scientists across fields of basic science research, provides counsel on these and many other issues.

We are thrilled to see such generous commitments from visionary philanthropists, driven by science, discovery and curiosity. Their generosity provides the world with hope that we can indeed solve many of our problems and better understand ourselves and our world.



updated 4/14/2016