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Guest Column: Sequestration and Science


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Republican Party is escalating its attack on science. We are already used to a certain level of GOP hostility toward science. It routinely denies the validity of any scientific findings that contradict its political or religious biases. Global warming?  Conservatives say that 99 percent of climatologists are wrong about that. Evolution?  For them, it is simply a God-hating theory that should not be taught in schools.

But now the GOP is gearing up to do real damage to the whole enterprise of scientific research in this country. The conservative obsession with budget cutting is now undermining the public funding that is vital to the support of the scientific community in the U.S. Corporations will only sponsor research that produces profits in the short term. So progress and breakthroughs in most areas of basic science rely substantially on government grants.

Sequestration is now beginning to severely limit those necessary research funds. So far, these mindless cuts have reduced federal research funds by $9.3 billion. The National Institutes for Health took a hit of $1.7 billion, and it handed out 700 fewer grants this year. This means that vital medical treatments and cures will be delayed or go undiscovered.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, looking at the impacts of these cuts in just one area—research on influenza vaccines—has expressed concern: “If you want to convert this into real meaningful numbers, that means people are going to die of influenza five years from now because we don’t yet have the universal vaccine. And God help us if we get a worldwide pandemic that emerges in the next five years, which takes a long time to prepare a vaccine for.”

On a broader level, these cuts in research funds are going to make it more difficult for scientists of all sorts to earn a living and do their work in this country. A survey by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology found that with research resources drying up in the U.S., almost 20 percent of its respondents are now thinking of relocating to another country to continue their work. Clearly these budgets cuts are threatening to undermine our leadership position in science worldwide.

These cuts could also undermine the development of the next generation of scientists. Promising young people may decide not to put in the many years of arduous study necessary to earn a doctorate in science if they face an ever-decreasing chance of getting their research funded.

These disturbing cuts to scientific research are part of a larger pattern of budgets cuts that are harming the public interest. Continual reductions in government spending on the national and state levels have already done long-term damage to our infrastructure and our education systems.

Republicans are in the thrall of a libertarian-inspired anti-government ideology that makes reducing government spending their highest priority, no matter what the costs. They remain blind to the fact that most government programs—like road building, food stamps, Social Security and environmental protection—are fulfilling vital public needs that cannot be met otherwise.

Americans need to put a stop to this reckless budget cutting and reject the government-hating ideology that is driving it. Continually reducing public sector spending doesn’t just hurt the government, it hurts all of us.•

 

Douglas Amy, a professor of politics at Mount Holyoke College, is the author of several books, including Government Is Good: An Unapologetic Defense of a Vital Institution, and creator of governmentisgood.com.

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