Is the U.S. Overweight on Health R&D?

Let me continue my previous post on the R&D priorities of the U.S.government.

When it comes to government spending on health R&D, the U.S. just blows away the rest of the world (those are the blue bars. The data is from 2008 for all the countries, except for 2006 for Korea and 2005 for the UK).

But surprisingly, when it comes to government spending on nonhealth civilian R&D, the U.S. is actually lagging other major countries.  It appears that to some degree,  we have gambled our economy on the success of life sciences innovation.

Note: This data comes from the OECD, so it’s slightly different than the U.S.  budget data from the earlier post.


  1. John Thacker says:

    It would certainly be interesting to see how private sector R&D compared in the USA (and other countries). Does private sector R&D funding follow government funding, or does government funding crowd out.

  2. The problem with the data is obvious: A lot of the technical (i.e. non-health) research in the US is funded through DoD, or in other ways linked to defense.

  3. Mike Beversluis says:

    Agree with John above, and I’m also curious what the chart would look like if you included defense R&D too. A lot of that transitions out into the commercial world, and I suspect it’s mostly non-health related and probably significantly bumps up the US’s percentage numbers relative to the rest.

  4. Mike Mandel says:

    The DOD R&D budget is now mostly focused on development of weapons systems. Here’s what the just-released Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 had to say:

    “DOD funds more than half of all federal R&D, having provided an estimated $58.7 billion (51%) in FY 2008. Of this total, $51.8 billion, or 88%, went to development, the
    majority ($45.8 billion) being allocated for “major systems development,” which includes the primary activities for developing, testing, and evaluating combat systems.”

    The DOD funded only $1.5 billion in basic research in FY 2008. Microscopic. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) had a budget of $3.4 billion, but only $167 million for basic research.

    Now, by the nature of defense research, we can’t always trust what the numbers tell us. But I’m happy to reallot basic and applied research including defense…the numbers are going to be even sharper. In FY 2008, life sciences got $27 billion in basic and applied research, including defense, about half the federal research budget. Physical sciences got $5.6 billion and mathematical and computer sciences got $3 billion.

  5. Health is very important. I think US government has done the right thing.


  1. […] and Obama’s latest budget continues that trend, as I showed in these two posts, here and here.  That can’t continue. By becoming increasingly focused on healthcare research, the […]

  2. […] crisis and, indeed, the economic crisis.  As I have written, life sciences research has been the big bet of the U.S. economy, absorbing a rising share of government and academic research dollars If it had […]

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