AI analysis reveals the pivotal role of publicly funded basic science in biomedical research


  • AI analysis shows NIH-funded research accounts for 30% of significant biomedical contributions.
  • Citations represent knowledge transfer among scientists, but not all are equally important.
  • Early-cited references prove more critical in research, as per machine learning insights.
  • Federal funding, especially for basic research, significantly influences clinical breakthroughs.

Main AI News:

Biomedical research, a cornerstone of human health advancement, is intrinsically linked to publicly funded basic science, as unveiled by a recent artificial intelligence-empowered analysis. This in-depth exploration has shed light on the indispensable role that federal funding plays in the realm of scientific innovation.

Professor B. Ian Hutchins from the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Information School, a pivotal institution within the School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences, shares, “What we found is that even though research funded by the National Institutes of Health makes up only 10% of published scientific literature, these papers contribute to approximately 30% of substantive research—the bedrock supporting countless new scientific discoveries—referenced in subsequent clinical research within the same domain. It’s a rather significant overrepresentation.

In a collaborative effort, Hutchins, along with Travis Hoppe, who now serves as a data scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Salsabil Arabi, a graduate student at UW–Madison, recently unveiled their findings in the esteemed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The typical research publication is replete with extensive citations, meticulously acknowledging the earlier work that bolsters or informs the study in question. For instance, the paper you are currently perusing, titled “Predicting substantive biomedical citations without full text,” authored by Hutchins and Hoppe, references no fewer than 64 other studies and sources in its “References” section.

Citations constitute the transmission of knowledge from one scientist or group of scientists to another. They are meticulously documented and tracked to gauge the impact of individual studies and the researchers behind them. However, not all citations included in a given paper contribute equally to the research they annotate.

Hutchins elaborates, “As scientists, we are instilled with the practice of substantiating factual claims with empirical evidence. Similar to Wikipedia entries, we cannot have the ‘citation needed here’ tag. We must furnish the necessary citation. Yet, if the cited information fails to elucidate pivotal prior work upon which we have built our research, it fails to truly support the assertion that the citation denotes an indispensable precedent for our findings.”

The researchers hypothesized that citations incorporated later in the publication process, particularly those added at the behest of peer reviewers—esteemed subject-matter experts tasked with evaluating scientific manuscripts submitted to journals—were less likely to be genuinely pivotal to the authors’ research endeavors.

Hutchins underscores, “When we build upon the work of others, we tend to identify and cite that work earlier in our research journey. This does not imply that all references within an early manuscript version are critical, but it suggests that the crucial ones are more likely concentrated in the initial stages.”

To delineate this early-late demarcation, the team employed a machine learning algorithm, trained to assess citations’ significance by analyzing citation data from over 38,000 scholarly papers. Each paper’s citation data encompassed two iterations: a preprint version disseminated publicly before peer review and the final published version following rigorous peer review.

The algorithm discerned discernable patterns that facilitated the identification of citations more likely to be integral to the fabric of each scientific work. The outcomes unveiled that basic biological science research, backed by NIH funding, featured prominently in the weightier citations, surpassing its proportional representation in all published research by threefold.

Hutchins emphasizes, “Federal funding for basic research perennially faces scrutiny from the public and congressional leadership. Our findings furnish substantive evidence, dispelling mere anecdotes, that this form of basic research funding plays an instrumental role in fostering the type of clinical research—encompassing treatments and cures—that garners more favorable reception from Congress.”


The analysis highlights the essential connection between federal funding for basic science and the advancement of biomedical research. This revelation not only underscores the significance of continued investment in basic research but also signals to the market that such funding is instrumental in driving innovation and fostering clinical breakthroughs, making it a critical area for stakeholders to monitor and support.