Science under siege

Scientists across the US are feeling the sting of decreased funding (photo: USDA)
Scientists across the US are feeling the sting of decreased funding (photo: USDA)

In the United States, the vast majority of scientific studies are performed by federally funded scientists. Science funding was already tight before sequestration began and now the government shutdown is squeezing the system even tighter. This makes it a particularly difficult time to be a scientist in the U.S. (in fact 1/5 scientists have considered leaving the country all together).


AAAS Member Central has a new blog series that examines how sequestration is impacting various components of the scientific enterprise. It does a good job of highlighting the different populations affected by these funding cuts as well as the downstream consequences (decreased productivity, closing of labs, lay offs, strains on private foundations, etc.).

The series thus far:

Stanford grad student: Sequester will have economic consequences

How sequestration is affecting training program directors

Yale lab forced to reduce size by attrition (my interview with Yale professor Lawrence Rizzolo)

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Frank Conlon: R21 budgets reduced by 5 percent

Federal government shutdown

The partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1 has obvious impacts on the lives and research of the furloughed scientists  and support staff who work at the NIH, NSF, and NASA, but it has far-reaching downstream impacts as well.  To get a feel for the impact on scientists across the nation (and even internationally), you can check out discussions about the shutdown on Twitter (#shutscience) and on reddit (there are some really interesting discussions on this page). Some examples:

  • new patients will not be enrolled in clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health
  • scientists can’t communicate with collaborators who are federal employees or receive supplies from them
  • new grant applications will not be processed, and the processing of existing grants may be drastically slowed
  • seasonal Forest Service scientists have been laid off
  • many government websites that scientists depend on are either not online or are not being updated (NIST resources, for example)
  • Forest Service permits that are required for field research are not being issued and scientists who do research at National Parks are locked out of their field sites (note: this can be a big deal because field work is often seasonal and cannot be stopped or rescheduled)
  • fishing surveys that determine future fish quotas will be incomplete

A silver lining?

Luckily, scientists are resilient, and some researchers are finding ways to continue to work and help their colleagues. For example, there are tales that scientists serving on grant review study sections this week are putting in valiant efforts to prevent the shutdown from slowing down review of their colleagues’ grants. And at least one professor is providing a mirror website for vital NSF forms. Hopefully these creative fixes won’t have to last for long, and the shutdown will end soon–for all our sakes.


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