During the current political environment, R&D budgets are being reduced or frozen. For example, the budget for NIH, the largest public funding program in the U.S., is lower than it was in 2003. The “Plan B” outlined in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (aka sequester) plus the current 6-month continuing resolution cycle employed by Congress has all in the research community scared; not only for their own jobs but also for what it is saying to our citizens and people across the globe. Our ‘leaders’ in Washington no longer consider basic research a priority. In essence, the ‘leaders’ are saying, “We are too worried about our re-election bids to see the big picture and the catastrophic consequences of our short-sightedness”.
The innovations and technologies directly or indirectly resulting from basic research have brought invaluable prosperity to this country and has enriched the lives of each of us directly. Cuts to research are the essentially the same as cuts to flesh. Eventually, the infection at the cut spreads to the entire body. The cut doesn’t suffer, the body suffers. John Donne said it well in his passage, Meditation 17 Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
The bell is tolling in the U.S. and has for some time now. We all suffer when ignoring our research community.
Warning: this will be a personal post with not much in the way of explaining scientific wonders.
I had just graduated with my Ph.D. and was in the job market; ready for an exciting post-doc or a faculty position at a local community college. Full of ideas and enthusiasm, I was going to conquer the world and provide for my family. Little did I know Science had another idea. I applied instinctively for a Research Associate III position. “Science Writer? Hmm, sure, why not?” I thought. They wanted a writing sample based upon a recent journal article. I got a call for an interview and happily scheduled it in my calendar.
I was still on the research/post-doc bandwagon and didn’t think much of the science writer interview until I sat in that chair and talked for an hour about science. It opened my eyes to a whole other world. A world filled not with test tubes and media bottles but with a computer and an imagination. A long term goal of promoting science to anyone who cared to listen soon became a reality when I was offered the position. “You want to pay me how much? I would do it for free!” I thought.
I settled into my new home, an actual office with a window and two computer screens. I was living the American dream. I was studying up on previous documents the group had published; top quality, award winning documents. While waiting for my first assignment, I started a blog to tell the world all the wonderful science discoveries I was taking note of. The group was going through an usual dry spell. “Don’t worry, it will pick up” I was told. It was fall and we should have some meeting documents to work on first of the year (2013).
Thanks to the failure to reach a compromise in response to the Budget Control Act of 2011, budget sequestration took affect January 1, 2013. Austerity had reached American shores and it wasn’t pretty for science and innovation. No new programs could be organized and the forward-thinking science program managers were handcuffed to politics. “It won’t affect me” I thought. Operating on a continuing resolution also meant no new monies for programs…strike two. Thanks to the GSA ‘training sessions’ in lavish resorts, travel restrictions were placed across all federal agencies…strike three.
On August 13, 2013, I was told my position was being eliminated due to lack of work. My wife had just taken a administrative leave without pay from her position because we were days away from becoming foster parents. We also had just found out she was pregnant after a year of trying, including one (maybe two) miscarriages.
If you need a face to put with sequester, try my four year old’s.
I’m sorry. I can not personally stand for politics in science. The climate hearings a few years back are what gave the Koch brother/Big Oil-backed “scientists” their first national recognition which opened the flood gates for what we see today within the general public who believe there is still a debate among scientists about the effect of human activity on climate change. Giving this additional talk time to the politically-charged deniers more spotlight makes it even more difficult for sane people to keep up. Unfortunately, those who know and try to speak the truth can’t shout. If we do, the politically biased members of the debate just call us bleeding hearts and tree huggers. This is one reason climate scientists quickly backed down in 2008ish.
One of my top goals in life is to help the general public understand something very plain and simple. A vast, almost unanimous, number of scientists do not pursue science for riches or become a celebrity. Becoming a scientists takes years of very hard work and dedication that can not be understood unless you have been through it. There is flexibility in your schedule in grad school. You are able to pick which 80 hours a week you work. Even after receiving a Ph.D., scientists still must wait years (usually) before having a steady job, ie faculty position or equivalent. The postdoc is a long, arduous job with long long hours. There is no money or security incentive for a majority of scientists until well into their 40s. Does this seem like a glamorous path to riches and celebrity?
I digress. My point is; the reason scientists do what they do is because they have a passion, a curiosity which compels them to figure out how Nature works and finding answers for their/our questions. Period. Scientists are objective. We have to be. Going into an investigation with pre-conceived, subjective ideas will lead to ruin as no other members of the scientific community will consider your results valid. Therefore, no publications will occur making funding impossible. Objectivity is a must. I sound very made in this post and maybe I am. Misconceptions don’t sit well with me.
This is a call to the sane, logical members of society, scientists or not, to help. We need a national voice, a portal to convey the truth. I have a headache.