Laura and John Arnold Foundation: Grants for STEM Higher Education


OVERVIEW: The Laura and John Arnold Foundation’s major vehicle for funding scientific research is its Research Integrity program. The foundation offers most of its funding through this program to two major recipients, but has given large awards to other grantees, as well.

IP TAKE: This foundation’s higher ed STEM giving is all about changing the status quo by increasing the rigor, reliability and transparency of research. Inquiries and responses to CFPs can be solicited online, but unsolicited applications are not accepted.

PROFILE: The Arnold Foundation is engaged in transformation and reform, looking for innovative new models and especially championing openness and transparency. Specifically, the foundation seeks “to address our nation’s most pressing and persistent challenges using evidence-based, multi-disciplinary approaches...that target the root causes” of these issues with solutions that are “both scalable nationally and sustainable.” This objective is probably most apparent in the foundation’s work in education reform, its biggest priority. Other programs include Criminal Justice, Evidence-Based Policy and Innovation, Research Integrity, Sustainable Public Finance, and a catch-all area called New Initiatives.

But a large focus area, Research Integrity, has a similar zest for shaking things up. Instead of just supporting individual researchers, the Arnolds want to see increased rigor across all research. Research Integrity funds improvement of the reliability of published studies, with an emphasis on openness and participation among peers.

The Arnold Foundation’s program seeks to bring research into the wider science community. Toward that goal, it funds watchdog programs promoting open science, efforts to replicate existing studies, and researchers who can provide robust and meaningful work in areas where it is currently lacking.

The Arnolds and their staff keep an eye out for qualified parties with big ideas and ambitions to improve their fields, and then back them in a big way. The RI program has given tens of millions of dollars over the last several years, for example, but the foundation has supported only a handful of recipients so far, including two big favorites.

First, there’s the Center for Open Science. This organization's mission is “to increase openness, integrity, and reproducibility of scientific research.” It also oversees the Open Science Framework, an online model for inviting peer review from a study’s start to finish.

The Research Integrity program is a major funder for the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI), with tens of millions of dollars committed over several years. NuSI was established to “reduce the individual, social, and economic costs of obesity, diabetes, and their related diseases by improving the quality of science in nutrition and obesity research.” The initiative does make its own grants, but by invitation only.

All of this suggests that Arnold’s science research giving is very targeted and strategic, meaning they are looking for just the right project to back heavily. 

With that in mind, the program also funds institutions of higher education, but at lower levels than COS and NuSI. Recent university grantees include top names like Harvard, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, Oxford, and the University of Minnesota. The foundation has funded a conference on data sharing in medical clinical trials, the establishment of a center to "improve the quality of health care news," "efforts to improve the transparency and reliability of clinical trials in medicine," and public education work on how sugar affects health.

This is a foundation to watch closely, especially if your work involves reproducing existing studies and/or nutrition science in order to verify their validity. The foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals, but it will review inquiries, which can be submitted online, and it also issues calls for proposals.