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The New Patrons

As federal scientific research budgets have taken a hit in the past few years, philanthropists who have made their fortunes in a variety of fields have stepped in to fund research that has captured their eye, the New York Times reports.

"For better or worse," Steven Edwards, a policy analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science tells the Times, "the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money."

For instance, Intel's Gordon Moore, who is worth some $5 billion, has given $850 million for research into astronomy, physics, and biology, while Eli Broad, who has an estimated $6.9 billion, has donated $700 million for genetic research. And Bill Gates, with a fortune coming in at $76 billion, has given an estimated $10 billion for global health.

While these billionaire science enthusiasts are enabling research in a variety of fields, some critics worry that certain trendy fields or a small number of top institutions will benefit from this largesse at the expense of other needy, but less glamorous research fields or institutions, the New York Times says.

Francis Collins, the director of the US National Institutes of Health, tells the Times that philanthropists are "terrifically important" for funding gaps and pushing along new opportunities, but Collins also notes that even with the large sums of money philanthropists are giving to researchers, they cannot replace public financing. NIH alone, the Times notes, has a budget of $30 billion.

Still, Lee Hood tells the Times that philanthropy "lets you push the frontiers."