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I was reading a paper online, and in a footnote, it read:

The author is supported by NSF grant DMS-0649473 and by a Simons Investigator Award.

Then it hit me, this information is completely useless to me as a reader. Why would I care what kind of funding the author have? The author for this instance has had every single kind of funding you can imagine, and at no time in my life was I ever interested in knowing any of it. This must be useful information for someone else.

But this is not the only place I see funding information being mentioned. In research posters, you tend to see a list of funding sources being mentioned at the top or the bottom of the poster, like brand names with their own little logos and everything. Again, they are completely meaningless to me. Sometimes I would recognise one of the sources of funding, but there usually isn’t a clear-cut relationship between the fund and the project, especially since a lot of them are government grants.

Can someone explain to me what would motivate one to mention his or her source of funding (or going even further by thanking the fund, award or grant)?

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    Surely they're saying thanks because they wouldn't have been able to do the research without having the money. Or am I missing something obvious here? – astronat Jun 29 '17 at 20:26
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    It is often required by the granting agency, for (I think) fairly obvious reasons. – David Ketcheson Jun 29 '17 at 20:27
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    For many reasons. E.g. to inform readers about possible biases. – mystupid_acct Jun 29 '17 at 20:33
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    @astronat Yes, but at this point I think it is mostly done out of habit, rather than some genuine expression of gratitude, therefore to me it is meaningless. It is like saying, I appreciate the generosity of my company for giving me a paycheck every Friday (otherwise certainly I would have starved out in the street and perished). Just a weird thing to say, IMHO. – Carlos - the Mongoose - Danger Jun 29 '17 at 20:44
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    The National Science Foundation in the U.S. requires such a statement. Done. At the same time, it also requires a statement that none of the opinions expressed in the papers reflect the viewpoints of the NSF. I imagine that the NSF (for example) has to promote their "brand" in order to get continuing funding from Congress (apparently ever more politicized, though maybe it was always so). Certainly we can imagine that the riffs that will "make the sale" to Congress in the U.S. are rather distant from scientific arguments, etc. – paul garrett Jun 29 '17 at 22:50
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Several reasons.

  • Conflicts of Interest. If you're doing climate change research that's funded by The Society of People Who Think Global Warming is Poppycock, you need to mention this. Organizations with a clear interest in a specific outcome are much more likely to produce research that affirms their desired outcome than they do those that refute it, regardless of the actual truth of the matter. Researchers may perform ethically compromised science to satisfy the funding agency. Since organizational bias (and pressures they exert on their researchers) may not be known until after the fact, this information should always be mentioned so that we can always make the best judgment of the results in light of current knowledge.

  • Part of the point of funding you is so that the organization's name is out there and associated with (hopefully good) research. If McDonald's funds your race car, you're expected to put a sticker or something on it with their name on it. Grants often include specific language requiring you to mention the grant in any work that directly utilizes it.

  • So the grant agency can track work done with their money. These agencies want to know that their money is being used appropriately and for good projects. They don't want to just throw large sums of cash out there willy-nilly. Money isn't meaningless; it's worth something. This may even be required by law: if they are funded by a government, the government is going to want to know how the money is being used. Without such tracking, funds can be misappropriated or embezzled, or wantonly wasted on clearly sub-standard proposals.

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    Your last point is the most important and presumably the only real reason. – Walter Jun 29 '17 at 21:45
  • @Walter Agreed, but it depends on the funding power; for other funding powers the other points are more important. The first is usually covered separately as well, but the second might be more important for smaller funding sources or funding sources named in honor of some donor or other individual. – Bryan Krause Jun 29 '17 at 22:56
  • +1 good summary. Actually, all points are relevant in different circumstances. But in short, acknowledgement goes to people to give them credit for a contribution, and same holds for the institutions, for slightly different reasons. – Captain Emacs Jun 30 '17 at 8:55
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    And for the third point, the funding agency can go to their funders and see "look how much good science we have enabled! give us more money for next year!". – Davidmh Jun 30 '17 at 13:22
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    @Walter The last point is not the only real reason. Funding information, especially for medical studies, often contains very salient information. – Fomite Jun 30 '17 at 19:18
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There is also a technical reason: to prevent a certain form of a fraud.

Imagine you have grants from agencies A, B, C, and D. For all of these you will need to submit final reports that detail how you used the funding and what you achieved with it.

If the papers didn't contain any information about the source of funding, a dishonest academic could just take the list of all papers produced in their group, and submit a report to agency A claiming all of them were solely funded by the grant from A, and a similar report to agency B, etc. Each agency would think that you have produced a good number of papers in comparison with the volume of funding they are aware of, and they would be happy.

To prevent this, the agencies require that you can only list papers that explicitly acknowledge the source of funding. This way the above type of fraud is not possible. In essence, to submit convincing final reports you will have to have a research output that is somewhat proportional to the total amount of funding, even if you have multiple independent sources of funding.

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In a nutshell: because if you don't, then you won't have funding for your next paper.

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    @Joe_74 - Please keep your tone more civil. Threats are never appropriate. – eykanal Jun 30 '17 at 13:15
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    @Yossi - I agree that this answer should be expanded, as the current answer (1) gives no rationale (why wouldn't I get more funding?) and (2) gives no context (does this apply for all agencies? all countries? all fields?). I appreciate that a witty answer feels fun, but we have many students and non-academics here who aren't familiar with academia, and answers like this are completely opaque to them. – eykanal Jun 30 '17 at 13:16
  • I don't see a problem with this answer (in the context of the question). Newcomers in particular should be aware of the importance of this. Research costs money: equipment, consumables/reagents, and hiring staff. IF you don't acknowledge funding, the funding bodies will notice and refuse to fund you again. I don't know of many exceptions to this. It's hard enough to get and retain funding without compromising your chances. – Tom Kelly Jul 6 '17 at 10:47
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They might be completely meaningless to you, but they may be meaningful to someone, and if you don't have it as a standard policy, you won't catch those edge cases.

In my experience, there are two major reasons, both of which are important:

"Credit Tracking" - What grant funded what is essential both for claiming projects on grant reports (many funding agencies won't let you claim a piece of work comes from a particular project unless it's in the funding line) and for the public perception of the program. To use two examples from my own work:

This project was supported in part by a research grant from the Investigator-Initiated Studies Program of Merck Sharp & Dohme.

In this particular case, Merck is actively proud of their investigator-initiated program, considers research publications to be the primary output, and wants people to know that.

This work was funded by NIH MIDAS Grant XXXXXXXX...

In this case, the NIH has a specific funding mechanism set up for a specific purpose involving a network of researchers. This is, essentially, marketing. "Remember that program we set up? This is part of that."

"Disclosure" - Knowing how a paper was funded can provide useful context. There was once a paper that made very little sense in terms of what they were doing until I realized that they were funded by a particular company, and essentially talking about that company's product without saying it's name. Then, suddenly, the specificity of what they were looking at made perfect sense.

It's also useful context - a study of the efficacy of an alcohol-based hand rub will be read in a different light if its funded by the NIH, a soap manufacturer, or the maker of the hand rub. Even if it's good science it's useful information, and disclosing it for everyone and ignoring it most of the time is better practice than hoping sometimes if it's relevant we find out about it.

  • "Then, suddenly, the specificity of what they were looking at made perfect sense." - in this particular case, I do not think a mention in the acknowledgments should have been required to compensate for an apparently lacking explanation in the introduction of the paper. – O. R. Mapper Jul 1 '17 at 13:35
  • @O.R.Mapper It was perfectly clear what they were doing. "Why are they looking at that, there's no treatment that does tha...oh, they're pharma funded, that makes sense." – Fomite Jul 3 '17 at 3:59
  • Yes, and such a rationale should go into the introduction, if it otherwise leaves the reader confused. Trying to imagine the situation you describe, a sentence such as "While a treatment whose effect is ... is currently still an open subject of research, this work examines the perspective of a pharmaceutical solution for ... in order to ..." would probably remove my confusion. But maybe norms are different in medicine compared to my field. – O. R. Mapper Jul 3 '17 at 4:35
  • @O.R.Mapper All of that was clear. What was unclear was "Why in the universe of possible questions did you pick this one?" given medicine doesn't often do "interesting for it's own sake". – Fomite Jul 3 '17 at 5:18
  • I'd expect the fact that the question is relevant to be established by pointing out a couple of papers or other resources that raise the question, or at least describe a situation that readers should be familiar with that would make the relevance of the question evident. And that would happen in the introduction. Again, norms may vary by field. For instance, I have never seen a paper justify why it picks a particular relevant question over any other relevant question (nor wondered why it would). – O. R. Mapper Jul 3 '17 at 5:30
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The main concern for the reader will be conflicts of interest. Acknowledging government or charity funds are an appropriate way for an an academic author to show their finding is impartial. If they have commercial funding, it is even more more important to disclose it. It may also be informative of the standard of the work or career stage of the researcher, just as authorship order or journals are indicative in many fields.

It is also polite to acknowledge those who contributed to the work. This includes advisor, employees, students, and finding bodies. It is especially important for funding bodies as they need to show that their finding had supported publishable results and the author needs to show these to get grants renewed. Including the funds in the work makes it easy for them to verify and search digital archives.

In short. This is common practice and recommended academic conduct. You are not the only reader of the work and others will look for this.

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