Sources of funding for Nobel Prize work

by on February 21, 2010 at 4:40 pm in Data Source, Economics, Science | Permalink

Athina Tatsioni, Effie Vavva, and John P. A. Ioannidis have an interesting new paper:

Funding is important for scientists’ work and may contribute to exceptional research outcomes. We analyzed the funding sources reported in the landmark scientific papers of Nobel Prize winners. Between 2000 and 2008, 70 Nobel laureates won recognition in medicine, physics, and chemistry. Sixty five (70%) of the 93 selected papers related to the Nobel-awarded work reported some funding source including U.S. government sources in 53 (82%), non-U.S. government sources in 19 (29%), and nongovernment sources in 33 (51%). A substantial portion of this exceptional work was unfunded. We contacted Nobel laureates whose landmark papers reported no funding. Thirteen Nobel laureates responded and offered their insights about the funding process and difficulties inherent in funding. Overall, very diverse sources amounting to a total of 64 different listed sponsors supported Nobel-related work. A few public institutions, in particular the U.S. National Institutes of Health (with n=26 funded papers) and the National Science Foundation (with n=17 papers), stood out for their successful record for funding exceptional research. However, Nobel-level work arose even from completely unfunded research, especially when institutions offered a protected environment for dedicated scientists.

I thank Michelle Dawson for the pointer.

1 sanjiv February 21, 2010 at 5:51 pm

“Sixty five (70%) of the 93 selected papers related to the Nobel-awarded work reported some funding source including U.S. government sources in 53 (82%), non-U.S. government sources in 19 (29%), and nongovernment sources in 33 (51%).”

I am confused by this statement. What is the no. of papers that receive funding? 65 or 55+19+33?
Unless a single paper has multiple sources of funding.

2 david February 21, 2010 at 6:17 pm

I’d love to know the results for a similar study on the Economics Nobel.

(I know, I know, not really Nobel but Sveriges Riksbank Prize In Memory Of etc. But it’s the premier prize. There’s a Nobel in Maths, too, it’s just called Fields).

3 Rahul February 21, 2010 at 7:17 pm

It would be more interesting to see what percentage of the NIH and NSF funding got Nobels. NIH and NSF are huge so an efficiency metric should normalize for that. A “funding $ spent per Nobel” is more interesting.

If your pockets are infinitely deep sooner or later you will catch a Nobel even accidentally. It isn’t enough to spend a lot. $ need to be spend efficiently.

Of course, that’s assuming that the Nobels are an excellent surrogate for signaling quality of research.

4 Nathan February 21, 2010 at 10:28 pm

What about the theory that the best research or research with the (estimated) best chance of winning a prize gets more money thrown at it in order to bring prestige to the donor organization? Or is it too difficult to predict?

5 Andrew February 22, 2010 at 3:11 am

“the theory that the best research or research with the (estimated) best chance of winning a prize gets more money thrown at it”

I think that is the theory and the conclusion is people are not very good at throwing money.

6 Candadai Tirumalai February 22, 2010 at 9:12 am

Unfunded research is more likely to blaze
a new trail, and requires the hardihood and
dedication of pioneers. The Nobel Prize
may not be able to spot all these even 20
years after the fact but it is encouraging
that it has recognized some.

7 Peter L February 22, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Selecting on the dependent variable much?

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