Much has been written on the effect that budget sequestration is having right now on Americans, on the livelihoods of teachers, Federal Aviation Administration employees, and others. But just as troubling as these present effects are the silent ones sequestration is having on our future through wide-ranging cuts in science.
In a new piece for The Huffington Post, reporter Sam Stein dives deep into the depressing world of scientific funding post-sequestration. Stein interviewed a host of scientists working on potentially ground-breaking advancements, who now fear they will never achieve those advancements as their grant money and federal funding dry up.
“In 2013 alone, NIH (National Institute of Health), the primary federal spigot for projects impacting human health, will be forced to cut $1.7 billion from its budget,” reports Stein.
As a guest in The Last Word’s Rewrite segment Wednesday, Stein told msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell that science cuts now will have exponential effects on future generations.
“You don’t see how the cuts manifest themselves in the next year or so,” said Stein. “It’s when we don’t discover cures for diseases that we end up seeing the cost. It’s going to be a bad economic investment as well because health care costs that could have been avoided are going to be incurred because of the lack of scientific breakthroughs.”
Scientists without federal funding face a dilemma. They can turn to charity, but, as Stein points out, the list of wealthy donors is not infinite, or even that large. They can turn to the private sector, but investors will naturally be interested in projects that can generate high returns, and often the most crucial projects aren’t the most profitable. Failing these less-than-ideal options, scientists may have to give up their work, or else turn to other fields–in the case of young PhD students, decide against the field to begin with.
Perhaps more troubling, scientists may be forced to turn to other countries.
“I talked to an AIDS researcher who’s been doing amazing work at George Mason University, whose lab is going to be close,” Stein told O’Donnell. “And he said he’s in talks with people in China because he wants to continue his work…We are not funding him. And so what he’s going to do is, he’s going to take his work and he’s going to move it to China.”
If there was ever such a thing as an “investment in our future,” science investment would be it. And as budget cuts continue to squeeze the economy, our future is squeezed in ways Americans may not regret until they get there–when it will be too late.