Need more evidence that our politics have become dysfunctional in the extreme? Probably not. But here’s some more anyway – Budget cuts tied to sequestration (itself a sign of serious political dysfunction) are driving some of our best scientists out of the U.S. So says the chief of the National Institutes of Health, anyway.
Dr. Francis Collins has sounded the alarm, pointing to a recent study by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). Among the study findings: 80% of university-based scientists report more time writing grants than they did three years ago, with over 2/3 suffering federal funding cuts for their research. Universities don’t have the means to take up the slack, spelling disruption or elimination of research projects. More than half the scientists report, moreover, knowing colleagues who have been laid off. As a result, close to 20% of scientists are now thinking seriously about trying to move their work out of the U.S. to a country with more reliable support for research.
The sequester – there’s a mandated 5% cut to non-military spending – could suck up to $1 billion for research out of the federal budget. The damage will not be limited to sending some research colleagues abroad, but will carry forward in the form of fewer, smaller grants awarded and fewer students accepted to science doctoral programs.
If this seems like the intellectual equivalent as failing to repair our decaying physical infrastructure of roads and bridges, it is.
Dr. Collins isn’t afraid to tell it like it is to anyone willing to listen, and especially austerity-minded politicians – “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,” Dr. Collins said. “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.”