Excerpt of an article published in The Huffington Post with first-hand accounts of how sequestration is impacting scientific research.
When The Huffington Post published an in-depth look at how budget cuts were affecting scientific research, we encouraged readers to offer reactions and share personal experiences.
Responses varied. There were some in the political world, primarily conservatives, who believed the issue was overblown. Funding for the National Institutes of Health, they noted, remained robust at $29 billion. And while the agency’s budget has decreased because of sequestration, it is still dramatically higher than it was under Bill Clinton, even when adjusted for inflation.
Reactions from academics and advocates were decidedly different. If anything, they thought the piece undersold the problem. Michael Lubell, Director of Public Affairs at the America Physical Society, one of the world’s largest organizations of physicists, noted that the NIH budget “stagnated and in purchasing power declined significantly” in the past few years. And it isn’t just the NIH feeling the pinch, he added. The Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and other government agencies are all slashing support for grants.
The most illustrative feedback, however, came from scientists, researchers and students from throughout the country who offered their own personal experiences with funding cuts, ranging from being forced to move their families to other countries to find work, to euthanizing the bunnies on which they’d been conducting experiments.
It’s worth acknowledging that those who depend on government grants are apt to protest when those funds get cut. Still, the stories illustrate just how widespread and disruptive sequestration and budget reductions have been to the field of science. A select few have been pasted below, slightly edited for formatting purposes.
Robert E. Marc, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Utah School of Medicine
Like many other investigators, we’ve been seriously wounded by sequestration. Many neighboring labs have let people go.
I have riffed one postdoctoral fellow and euthanized many beautiful, rare and expensive transgenic rabbits that were new, exciting models for testing new therapies for human retinal degenerations. We petted them, played with them, fed them treats. Now they are dead. I blame Congress directly for that.
I am fortunate in having a lot of funding, but we can’t bank grant money against a rainy day. It is not legal. And the only way I can protect my people is by destroying expensive resources (mice, rabbits), not buying service contracts on expensive equipment (like not buying fire insurance), and not buying critical reagents and lab resources. That hurts us and every business we buy from. Every sequester dollar is subtracted from the economy.
The sequester saves the taxpayer no money at all and is destroying past investments.
NIH funding is a huge part of the economies of many states, especially Utah. So the sequester cuts grocery money, house payments etc. In a smoke and mirrors move, the federal deficit is just distributed into small local economies who can do nothing about it. The sequester is like balancing your family budget by stealing from neighbors.
Moreover the sequester’s cost is tremendously understated as no one is counting the destroyed investments. I’ve spent over $25,000 developing a colony of animals who have a progressive age dependent blindness. Because of the sequester we’ve killed them before we could finish the treatment study. We saved about $4000 from this year’s budget. We thus wasted 5x more money than the sequester saved. When and if Congress ever does anything again, it will be years before we get our new blindness treatment study back on line. If it doesn’t get better soon, I’ll retire early and then 15 people will be unemployed.
Read the full article here.