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short-term results. For example, even the generally highly effective Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been criticized in this regard in congressional testimony.36

Widespread, if anecdotal, evidence shows that even the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have changed their approach in this regard. A recent National Academies study37 revealed that the average age at which a principal investigator receives his or her first grant is 42 years—partly because of requirements for evidence of an extensive “track record” to reduce risk to the grant-makers.38 But reducing the risk for individual research projects increases the likelihood that breakthrough, “disruptive” technologies will not be found—the kinds of discoveries that often yield huge returns. History also suggests that young researchers make disproportionately important discoveries. The NIH roadmap39 established in fiscal year (FY) 2004, recognizes this concern, but the amount of funds devoted to long-term, high-payoff, high-risk research remains very limited.


Three other pieces in the mosaic also appear to provide short-term security but little long-term benefit. These relate to the events of 9/11, which profoundly changed our world and made it necessary to re-examine national security issues in an entirely new context. This re-examination led to changes in visa policies, export controls, and the treatment of “sensitive but unclassified” information. There appears today to be a need to better balance security concerns with the benefits of an open, creative society.

New Visa Policies

Much has been written about new immigration and visa policies for students and researchers. Although there have been improvements in the last


See US Congress House of Representatives Committee on Science. Available at: The current director of DARPA, however, points out that DARPA’s job has always been to mine fundamental research, looking for those ideas whose time has come to move on to applied developmental research.


National Research Council. Bridges to Independence: Fostering the Independence of New Investigators in Biomedical Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.


Other observers note that part of the reason for this is the length of the biomedical PhD and postdoctoral period and the difficulty of young biomedical researchers in finding initial tenure-track positions, for which many institutions require principal-investigator status on an NIH grant proposal. These trends, which are occurring in spite of the recent doubling of the NIH grants budget, suggest an imbalance between demand for and supply of recent PhDs.


The purpose of the roadmap was to identify major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH institute could tackle alone but that the agency as a whole must address to make the biggest impact on the progress of medical research.

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