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Private Funding is Unlikely to Replace Government Funding of Basic Science

Marc Kastner, president of Science Philanthropy Alliance, recently wrote in a San Jose Mercury News op-ed:

“With many recent high-profile announcements about science philanthropy, some may wonder if philanthropy could replace a significant portion of government funding.

The Science Philanthropy Alliance recently conducted a survey of private funding of basic science in the U.S. The survey indicates that private sources gave $2.3 billion in funding to basic science in 2016. This is small, compared to the amount—about $40 billion—the federal government invests each year. [Note: $23 billion goes to higher education institutions.]

Philanthropists and foundations do play a critical role in science funding. They fund what the government cannot easily fund, such as earlier stage, riskier projects, which are sometimes funded in later stages by the government. They can also be more nimble than the government. But the scale of science philanthropy is not large enough to replace government funding or even to make up for cuts of the size proposed in the administration budget.”