Scientists Sound off on the Sequester

Well, we’re just hours away. Tomorrow, the Congressional budget sequestration will go into effect, slashing government spending on programs from defense to education and back.

While it may be fewer guns and butter for everyone, life sciences will be hit particularly hard. As BioInformatics LLC co-founder Bill Kelly wrote, “when we asked about the immediate effects they expect as the result of the sequester, scientists across all market segments predict the cutbacks will limit their ability to hire new staff for their labs, obtain new grants and attend scientific conferences.”

So billions is getting shaved from research because Congress rather swallow their poison pill than cast aside politics in the interest of the people. We won’t shouldn’t, won’t comment.

But the scientists, they should, and will.

What follows is a cross-section of free text responses given to us by life scientists on The Science Advisory Board when we surveyed them about their work in relation to the sequester. You can download the full report (with quantitative budget figures and trending from 2012) here. It’s free, but you have to register.

“Some of the best and brightest innovators in the United States are working in the Life Sciences. The Federal government should reflect this advantage that we carry versus the rest of the world instead of the dysfunctional, partisan oversimplification that is demonstrated currently. Federal support for Life Science research is already critically weak and we run the risk of driving more of our innovation to the developing, well funded markets such as China without bipartisan, honest and thoughtful consideration of what is best for the United States instead of for the Republican or Democratic parties.”

“Our traditionally strong and bipartisan federal support for health research and basic science has been a cornerstone of our economy. In addition to establishing our technological leadership and leading to dramatic improvements in health care and quality of life, these investments have driven the creation of innovation-driven businesses that have supported thousands of high-quality jobs. It is indefensible that, as our congressmen lament the lack of new job creation and the slow growth of our economy, they seem content to allow draconian cuts that would result in massive layoffs and lab closures that would have long-lasting (and perhaps permanent) negative impact on our country’s research infrastructure. Across-the- board cuts to balance the budget without consideration of the effects on individual programs makes about as much sense as performing brain surgery with a sledgehammer. It is time for our elected representatives to fulfill their responsibility by putting aside rigid ideologies and making some tough decisions, including protecting federal programs like the NIH and NSF that are efficiently run and have demonstrated high returns on investment. The future of our technology-driven economy is at stake.”

“Life Science research is one of the few areas where cuts should not occur but instead an increase of funding should be considered. It is one of the few areas that exponentially pays for itself, since medical discoveries can save billions of taxpayers dollars. However, along with an increase in funding should be serious reform to agencies like NIH who have significant waste. The agencies could save a significant amount of waste by updating their computer systems, holding grant reviews by video conferencing instead of in person, avoiding duplicate funding by publishing negative results too, encouraging more interdisciplinary collaborations between fields and industries, funding more new PIs and innovative projects instead of just established labs, etc.”

“There is a real need for governmental support for Research in life sciences as most companies have severely cut back in this area. Innovation is at an all time low as it seems that reinvestment in research is a long-term philosophy that is not supported in the US. If we want to compete with other countries we need to think beyond the next quarter’s earnings and develop a longer term perspective or continue to fall behind.”

“There have to be ways in which a sustainable funding to promote the growth of new and vibrant research must be maintained. Draconian, across-the-board cuts would lead to stagnation of research ideas and directions and be hurtful in the long run.”

“Beyond the obvious effects to research and the advancement of our scientific knowledge, I think it is important to consider the radical effect cutting funding will have on our economy. Although the company I work for does not receive governmental funding, our customers do. Not only will diminished grant funding affect their research and jobs, it will indirectly affect vendors’ bottom line, too. If our customers scale back on research, their need for our products will decrease.”