Popular thought. But it is nonsense.
A close collaborator was recently experiencing this common denial trope from one of the more established type of scientists. The thinking is that
"...sure, things are tough for younger scientists right now but hey, things have been tough before. It's all just a cycle and oh, stop complaining kiddos. We had it hard too."
Here is why it is in error to argue this- the magnitude of the downturn was lesser and it lasted for a shorter duration in those prior "cycles". Let us refer to the infamous Undoubling graph.
Figure 1. NIH Appropriations (Adjusted for Inflation in Biomedical Research) from 1965 through 2007, the President's Request for 2008, and Projected Historical Trends through 2010.
All values have been adjusted according to the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index on the basis of a standard set of relevant goods and services (with 1998 as the base year). The trend line indicates average real annual growth between fiscal years 1971 and 1998 (3.34%), with projected growth (dashed line) at the same rate. The red square indicates the president's proposed NIH budget for fiscal year 2008, also adjusted for inflation in biomedical research.
The previous downturns in the NIH funding (and you can verify the scientist complaining by looking through old Science magazines, btw) occurred approximately in the late 1960s, the early 1980s* and the early 1990s. I happened to join this career path right around the 1990s downturn and I remember the whining about grant funding quite clearly. That 1990s downturn was what led to the infamous NIH Doubling. The late 1960s downturn led to Congressional action as well. In both cases you can see where the lapse in Congressional interest led to the following episode of downturn. It is here that we should also review the subsequent update on the Undoubling graph, the even more sinister Defunding Graph.
Via Michael White, presumably via John F Sargent, Jr.
It should be emphatically clear to even the casual observer that the magnitude of the decline in the NIH budget and the duration of the downturn prior to the next Congressional rescue differs. Dramatically. Make sure you check the corresponding longitudinal trends in grant success rates. In case you are wondering about the most recent numbers, according to Sally Rockey, the overall RPG success rates for FY 2012-2014 are 17.6%, 16.8% and 18.1%, respectively. Things are most emphatically not good for the kids these days.
These are the facts. We can argue until the cows come home over how and why various up and down cycles have occurred. We can dispute whether Congressional appropriations intended to rescue the NIH extramural community do harm, good, a balance of the two and what this means for the future.
It is not optional, however, to act like the present downturn is of the same magnitude or impact as the prior ones.
*"I remember multiple study section rounds in which nothing ended up getting funded" --a senior colleague