Flower power – Critics question stimulus funds spent on science research at the University of Montana

"The general population I don’t think understands how important university-based basic research is to the economic well-being and the future of this country." Dan Dwyer, UM’s vice president for research and development

Industrial powerhouses like AT&T and General Electric once devoted significant resources to expanding scientific know-how, but Dwyer says most private industry funding has gone away. Even pharmaceutical companies, once stalwart supporters of new research, are spending less on pricey studies, he says. That leaves universities holding the torch.

"Just about everything we are working with today, from computer chips to microwaves to medical imaging, all of these things have their basis in university-based research," he says. "It’s an incredibly important national issue that we continue to support basic research at our universities."

Dwyer says UM’s $12.7 million slice of the research-specific stimulus pie created the equivalent of 26.8 full-time jobs. He adds that the funding came from a pot of cash set aside by the federal government exclusively for science, meaning Fishman’s monkeyflower research and the other UM studies never competed with "shovel ready" infrastructure projects. If the money didn’t flow through UM—the school takes a cut of every grant—and into the local economy, it would have gone elsewhere. Lastly, if a UM researcher hits on a lucrative discovery, he says the university cashes in.

"This technology can lead to various spin-off companies, and the university has done that in a number of instances and actually grown the economy here in Montana," Dwyer says. "You never know when you’re going to hit that home run and generate really significant amounts of resources."

by Jessica Mayrer

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