We have not yet identified focus areas for this category.

We believe that scientific progress has been, and will continue to be, one of the biggest contributors to improvements in human well-being, and we hope to play a part in accelerating it. We’re currently in an exploratory phase with respect to scientific research. We have not yet identified focus areas, as we have for U.S. Policy and Global Catastrophic Risks.

Life sciences

Our exploration of scientific research to date has focused mostly on the life sciences. Our interests are not limited to any particular field, disease, biological condition, or population. Instead, we seek to identify the approaches to scientific research that are most promising and under-supported by other funders. We hope to find opportunities that are potentially transformative, and appear after substantial scrutiny by world-class scientists to be compelling — if sometimes high-risk — philanthropic investments. We are committed to identifying the most promising science, regardless of how unconventional it may be. Our preliminary interests include:

  • Supporting attempts at Breakthrough Fundamental Science — research that aims to achieve important, broadly applicable insights about biological processes. Such insights can bring about many new promising directions for research. However, at the outset, it’s often difficult to anticipate all the specific ways in which the insights will be applied, and thus to be assured of “results” in the sense of new clinical applications. More
  • Supporting attempts to improve the policy and infrastructure around scientific research. Doing so could improve scientists’ incentives and their ability to pursue breakthroughs.
  • Supporting research toward neglected goals — goals that are undervalued by government and commercial funders. Such goals could include, for example, research targeting diseases and conditions of the global poor; creating meat alternatives to reduce the negative impact of meat consumption on animal welfare and the environment; developing biological interventions focused on enhancing people’s abilities (versus counteracting diseases and conditions, which is the goal of most biomedical research today). We are developing a process for investigating the importance, neglectedness and tractability of the areas that seem most promising.

Social sciences

We are looking for opportunities to fund important and under-supported social science research. We hope to survey the existing literature on a broad variety of questions in order to determine where further research might be most useful. This work is very preliminary.

Other areas

We may look into supporting scientific research outside of the life sciences and social sciences in the future, but this is not a priority for us at the moment. Investigating additional categories of science would require more capacity than we currently have, and based on our preliminary conversations, we believe that we can do more good by focusing on the life sciences and social sciences than by focusing on other categories of science.

More on this topic, from the blog

  • The Path to Biomedical Progress (February 2015). Most useful new technologies are the product of many different lines of research, which progress in different ways and on different time frames. This post laid out a basic vocabulary and framework for categorizing different types of research, and highlights the pitfalls that might result if a funders are overly focused on one type.
  • Breakthrough Fundamental Science (April 2015). We’ve repeatedly heard that the existing life sciences system makes it difficult to support “breakthrough fundamental science” — research that aims to achieve important, broadly applicable insights about biological processes. Such insights can bring about many new promising directions for research. However, at the outset, it’s often difficult to anticipate all the specific ways in which the insights will be applied, and thus to be assured of “results” in the sense of new clinical applications. This type of work stands in contrast to research that is primarily aimed at producing a particular new drug, diagnostic or other medical technology. The difficulty of supporting it may be due to a disconnect between what science is most valuable and what science is most straightforward to evaluate.
  • Science Policy and Infrastructure (April 2015). We laid out a possible vision for addressing systemic issues in the life sciences by trying to directly improve how the system works. We believe this approach would stand in contrast to the approach taken by most life sciences funders. The post drew heavily on Alberts et al. 2014.
  • Translational Science and the “Valley of Death” (April 2015). We discussed the different possible meanings of the terms “translational science” and “valley of death,” and several hypotheses for why pharmaceutical productivity might be declining. This post drew heavily on Scannel et al. 2012.
  • Our Updated Agenda for Science Philanthropy (May 2015). We gave an update on our progress and priorities.
  • Investigating Neglected Goals in Scientific Research (March 2015). We discussed the concept of “neglected goals” and our process for investigating them.
  • Returns to Life Sciences Funding (January 2014). We provided a rough sketch of what we know about the cost-effectiveness of life sciences funding.
  • Scientific Research Funding (December 2013). An early post introducing our interest in this area, our key questions, and the results of our preliminary investigations.