At some point we’d like to investigate the idea of donating to research projects. Non-profit-motivated research is credited with many large and meaningful successes, both in medical areas (most recently, the development of a rotavirus vaccine) and in other areas (most notably, the Green Revolution).
There are serious concerns when donating in this area. For example, a recent working paper by Austan Goolsbee (h/t Greg Mankiw) argues that the additional dollar of U.S. research funding doesn’t lead to more research – only to higher salaries for the people already in the area.
One of the big challenges, it seems to me, will be coming up with ways to make good/educated guesses at which areas of research are funded to the point of diminishing returns, and which aren’t.
Key resources will be surveys such as the relatively new public survey of research & development funding for “neglected diseases” (h/t Malaria Matters), defined as diseases that predominantly affect the developing world. Data like this could allow a “rough cut” at which areas are over vs. under-funded: look at the proportion of dollars to the death toll, or DALY burden, etc.
Of course such a heuristic can’t capture the whole picture – certain diseases may be costlier to investigate, there may be more promising paths on some than on others, etc. Is there a better way to get at this question?