Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Reduced Power Research

The Washington Post recently changed its motto to "Democracy Dies in Darkness". It's hard to tell whether that's a claim or a prophecy. The government is trying to make it literal, by reducing HHS grants for light.  Statnews reports that HHS Sec Tom Price wishes to reduce support for "indirect expenses" or "overheads" in research.

Price repeatedly suggested reducing the amount the NIH pays universities to cover “overhead” costs, like lab equipment and utilities. That would let the agency direct more of its funds to actual research, even if the overall budget were reduced, he said.
“I was struck by one thing at NIH,” Price said, “and that is that about 30 percent of the grant money that goes out is used for indirect expenses, which as you know means that that money goes for something other than the research that’s being done.”

"Indirect expenses" has a specific meaning to a businessman. They're things that cannot be directly linked to the product being manufactured. For example, they include electricity, rent, and telephone costs. His accountant will treat them differently from direct costs - for example, what accounting period the incurred cost hits the books, which affects spreadsheets and the bottom line. There are tax implications. I think indirect costs (unlike direct) are tax deductible. Usually a business will develop a costs rate. If indirect costs are normally say 30% of overall costs, then a change to 35% may need investigation to see if there is impending trouble.

If a researcher writes a paper, it's trivially true that institutional electricity and telephone costs can't be linked directly to the conclusion of the paper. However, it's also fucking trivially true that without them, the research can't be conducted and the paper can't be written. Every businessman knows this - that's why they keep an eye on the rate, not suddenly decide to defund indirect costs. What the hell are universities going to do if they lose support for rent because it's 'indirect'?

These people are as crazy as junebugs.

Never mind, we can all start using this: 

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