Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


Volume 28 | 2005 | Number 2


What in the World Is Going on in Washington with the Funding of Science?

Barbara A. Wanchisen, Ph.D.; The Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, & Cognitive Sciences


As many of you likely know, there are budget cuts all over the place in the federal arena, and funding for science is not a top priority in Washington at this time. Both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will likely receive miniscule "increases" in 2006, maybe about 2% at NSF and less than that at the NIH. I put that word in quotes because these proposed increases do not keep up with inflation, let alone enable new programs of research. On top of all of this, those of you who rely on money from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which is housed at the NIH, know the frustration regarding the changing priorities in that institute, especially as the reorganization relates to basic behavioral science.


OK, so should we all just give up?


Absolutely not!


One way to totally diminish your impact individually, and as a field, is to pack up and go home - this only makes room for all of the other sciences to gain a greater foothold here in the federal arena. And as for the NIMH, if they receive fewer and fewer applications in some areas of science (which I am told is happening), then they are in a sense "justified" in cutting back from those areas. It's a "Catch 22" to be sure. However, if the NIMH (or any institute) continues to receive a goodly number of fine applications, they can't have exceedingly low success rates without explanation.


The absolute best piece of advice I can give you is to be tenacious. Part of this means that you must find a sympathetic program officer, be willing to listen hard to what that person tells you, and keep at it … and at it. My understanding is that the vast majority of grant applications received at the NIH are sent in "blind" by the scientist, not one contact is made with the relevant program officer or any NIH staff. This is simply a big mistake. Also, talk to others in your field who have been successful - keep your eye on the prize - and just do not give up.


Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research: A "Clearing House" at the NIH

The NIH is by far the largest funding agency for our sciences in Washington (NIH's total budget is approximately $28 billion annually) and you may not realize that they have a special office, founded in 1995, that oversees your interests. It is called the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) and is listed on the NIH Web site under the Office of the Director.


OBSSR has pointed funding links on its site (those directed at behavioral science) and also knowledgeable staff should you be totally perplexed about navigating the behemoth known as the NIH. Even if you are used to the NIH, OBSSR is not a bad place to check out periodically. For example, did you know that there is an NIH-wide initiative on the study of obesity? Or that the NIH Director is interested in funding high-risk basic research under an initiative called The Roadmap? Sometimes it is helpful to look beyond the more obvious places for funding at the NIH (or the NSF for that matter) and see if your work can adapt to new realms.


By the way, an institute to keep an eye on now is the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.


They are beginning to pay greater attention to the basic behavioral sciences, and in fact, there is someone at NIGMS - James Onken - who was trained in animal learning. I would recommend contacting him about research ideas that you may have. In fact, they just recently have announced that they will release RFAs on animal models . Also, they are initiating a training grant program merging basic biological with behavioral components and we are keeping an eye on that progress. So while things are just starting there, it would be not be a bad thing to get in on the ground floor.


What About the National Science Foundation?

Animal behavior has fallen on hard times at the National Science Foundation (NSF) but things are slowly improving. Just about all animal research of this ilk (biological and behavioral) has been funded under the Biology Directorate and over the course of years, this directorate proved more favorable to "comparative" types of studies in animal behavior. However some new leadership in the Integrative Organismic Branch, headed by Tom Brady, is proving promising, and a behavioral neuroscientist, Diane Witt ( can provide you with the direction you might need if you would like to seek NSF funding. If you are conducting basic human research, the Social, Behavioral, & Economic Sciences Directorate is still the place to approach and now word has it that the Education & Human Resources Directorate is interested in behavioral science applications as well (I recommend contacting Gregg Solomon at for more information on this opportunity).


I can never encourage you enough to talk to people at the funding agencies and I hope that some of the names I have provided above are helpful (and probably new to most of you, as these things evolve over time). It is their jobs to help you, but also you will avoid wasting a lot of time if you talk to the relevant program staff.


One final thought: If federal funding is just not in your future, do consider approaching private foundations. This is not something that we focus on in the Federation, but I understand that many scientists can find homes for their research there, depending on the goals of the particular foundation. So do consider that an option as well.


Best of luck to you and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or concerns. I am available on




Modifed by Eddie Soh