WASHINGTON, DC - The 200-plus research universities that make up ScienceWorksForU.S. today again called on Congress to stop sequestration and prevent the across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending that will result in drastic reductions in funding for basic scientific research. The consequences to the U.S. economy of reduced R&D under sequestration are significant - a minimum $203 billion reduction in U.S. GDP over the next nine years and 200,000 fewer jobs per year between 2013 and 2016 - but there are many other ways the United States will feel the impact of such drastic cuts.
In video messages to Congress, students, researchers and administrators spoke of the economic impact of sequestration, but also shared some of its more immediate and personal impacts.
To Suzanne Weaver Smith of the University of Kentucky, who leads NASA Kentucky, sequestration means a 40 percent cut to NASA's higher education programs there. "That's 30 students who are not going to have those opportunities," she says. "These students hopefully won't choose to leave STEM fields or not to pursue education, but you know that is really the risk."
Smith's UK colleagues, Mike Reid, a professor of physiology, and John Anthony, a professor of chemistry, expressed similar concerns about the people - undergraduate researchers, grad students, Ph.D. and post-doctoral scholars - working in their labs.
"If we have an abrupt cessation of federal funding, not only does the research stop but in some cases their livelihood stops," Reid says. He adds, "[when] research stops in a research-intensive field like physiology that means [students'] ability to progress toward a Ph.D. is immediately halted. They have no way to move forward without the support they need to do their work."
"These guys get a salary, they rent local homes, they pay taxes, they buy groceries, and we are essentially laying them off," says Anthony who is part of the Center for Applied Energy Research at UK. "So that is going to have not only an impact on the progress of our research programs to bring lower cost energy to the planet, but it is going to have a big impact on the local economy," he says.
Patricia Butterfield, dean of the Washington State University School of Nursing reminds Congress, "We engage in a partnership with the community, working with active clinicians to address the questions that are at the heart of delivering safe healthcare that saves lives. Interruptions in that only mean one thing; it means rolling back the clock on quality and putting the lives of our patients at increased risk."
Agricultural researchers at WSU are leading the way in solving some of the world's most pressing issues. Says Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, "the work our researchers do increases food production to feed a hungry world, ensures food safety and food security, improves the economic and environmental sustainability of food production, and develops alternative fuel sources to power the planet and foster energy independence."
"There will be real-world impacts to sequestration felt by the consumer as agriculture is impacted by potential across-the-board cuts," according to Bernardo.
George Washington University undergraduate research students April MacIntyre and Hamza Rahimi spoke of their concern that cuts to research would change the career plans of a generation of aspiring young scientists, doctors and engineers.
Federal research funding provides "resources to educate bright students with a passion to change the world through science," says Rahimi, a senior. "Cuts from the sequestration will close off an essential pipeline, limiting the options of students across the country who are just like us, as well as damaging American competitiveness around the world," he adds.
Angela DePace, an assistant professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical school, runs a six-person lab and she worries that with sequestration she will have to lay off her staff of mostly grad students.
She also worries about America's global innovation leadership. "One of the most wonderful things about a career in science is that you meet people from all over the world [who] come here to train," DePace says. "But if we decrease funding for science, we risk losing these scientists - Americans and our international scientists - to other countries where they are investing in science more heavily. That really puts our entire innovation culture at risk, which I find really disheartening."
"With sequestration, the prospects for new medicines will dip," explains William Chin, executive dean for research at Harvard Medical School. "Basic research is funded largely by government sources and not by industry. Industry will need to continue to focus its funding in late-stage development," he says.
"Today, thanks to investments by the National Institutes of Health, diseases from HIV to many cancers and heart diseases - once a death sentence - are now yielding to therapy," says Dr. Jeffrey Balser, vice chancellor for Health Affairs at Vanderbilt University. But, he adds, "the battle is never over as we work feverishly on diseases even now becoming epidemics."
"Those of us working in biomedical research find the notion our elected officials might, through intention or neglect, force our scientists to abandon their efforts is rather frightening," says Balser. "I know that families in this country, suffering with serious disease share my concern."
ScienceWorksForUS is a project of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Science Coalition (TSC) to demonstrate the tremendous impact that federally funded university based research has on the nation and on the lives of all Americans, particularly the role it plays in improving health and spurring economic growth.