Sally Rockey, the deputy director of extramural research at the US National Institutes of Health, dives into the source of the increase in grant applications seen at NIH. At the Rock Talk blog, she notes that between 1998 and 2011, the amount of money requested by research project grants increased from $4.4 billion to more than $13 billion, while competing application funding increased from $1 billion to $2 billion in that same timeframe. Rockey adds that the total number of applications has nearly doubled and that the average number of applications per applicant has also increased. "However, the major contributor to the increased demand is a large growth in the number of applicants — from about 19,000 in 1998 to approximately 32,000 in 2011," she writes.
DrugMonkey also examines the data at his blog. "These numbers make it really hard to sustain the notion that the 'real problem' is greedy individual PIs who are receiving too many awards, for which presumably they have to submit more applications," he writes. "The 'real problem' is clearly that we have too many mouths to feed. The solution, consequently, is not to further squeeze and constrain the good PIs with budget cuts, dismal success rates and limits on the number of grants, or grant dollars they can hold at a time."