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Basic Science Spending

US government spending on basic research at universities and colleges was basically flat, and even down a bit in some fields, in fiscal year 2012. That finding, from the National Science Foundation, is not surprising to anyone who has kept up with how the federal budget has been at the center of a multi-year partisan battle over government spending.

Overall, basic R&D at universities for the life declined by .3 percent between 2011 and 2012. Of the three scientific areas that saw declines, the life sciences took the least of the cut, as it decreased by $55 million while mathematics research dropped by $75 million and other sciences fell by $160 million.

Universities and colleges received 51 percent of all the $31 billion in federal basic R&D spending in 2012, or $15.4 billion.

Of the five federal departments that contributed to basic research, the Department of Health and Human Services provided the largest slice, or $9.2 billion, while NSF spent $3.8 billion. Within HHS, which funds the National Institutes of Health, 85 percent of the basic research spending at academic institutions was in the life sciences, while 16.5 percent of NSF's spending was in this field.

A majority of the life sciences basic R&D funding in 2012, or $4.9 billion, was spent on subfields of biological sciences, a decrease of 2.9 percent year over year. The medical sciences field saw an increase of 1.5 percent to $2.9 billion.