In DepthBehind the Numbers

Salaries pump up biomedical inflation

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Science  17 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6245, pp. 225
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6245.225

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Summary

This new feature will take a fresh look at some of the numbers that drive important science policy questions in the United States and around the world. The first column examines a metric devised by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to track the cost of what's needed to carry out biomedical research. Conventional wisdom holds that the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index grows faster than a similar index for consumer goods because of the ever-rising cost of the high-tech supplies and equipment used in a modern lab, and that NIH needs an extra dollop of funds each year to keep pace. But it turns out that salaries and benefits are by far the largest component—a fact revealed in 2012 after Congress lowered the ceiling for what investigators could be paid on an NIH grant.