Jonathan M. Gitlin, writing for Ars Technica, criticized the President's dramatic call for a large program to end cancer.
So what's wrong with this idea, and why am I coming off like a cranky old man shouting at the clouds? For one thing, history has shown us that giving science a large slug of cash in a very short amount of time has horrible—some might say disastrous—consequences. This was plain to see after the NIH budget got doubled between 1998 and 2003 (something I and my colleagues wrote about extensively here at Ars). It was even more obvious once the two-year bolus of money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009-2011) was spent.
Think about the way a sudden influx of nutrients causes algae to bloom and then die off in rivers and oceans, leaving dead zones behind. Rapid injections of cash into the research enterprise create intense periods where there's lots of money available for lots of new scientists to get hired. But once those initial grants run out, there is no more funding to support them.
As a result of the past booms in funding, you will find empty lab after empty lab in research institutes and universities all over the land. We've trained far more scientists than we have money to sustainably support.
Instead of massive projects based around nebulous goals, he wants to see a sustained commitment to ongoing research.
Which brings me back to my initial point. The way to improve the health of our nation isn't another moonshot where we're not quite sure what we even mean by "Moon." Just find a way to deliver predictable, sustainable funding.
I promise you, the scientists will do the rest.
Predictable budget growth would allow scientists to build labs, do research over a long period of time, and provide opportunities for new scientists to enter the field and contribute their own research. It's an argument that seems sound to me.