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Why Sequestration Could Really Hurt Long-Term Research

The U.S. budget cuts that take effect tomorrow will demoralize future inventors, researchers, and disease curers.
February 28, 2013

The across-the-board U.S. budget cuts scheduled to take effect on March 1, known as sequestration, will have ripple effects that hurt scientific and health research for years to come, the heads of two federal research agencies said this week.

In a note distributed to research institutions, the National Science Foundation, which awards research grants on topics like climate change, materials science, and computing, anticipates it will issue about 1,000 fewer new grants than it had expect this fiscal year. And Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said the $1.5 billion cut from its $30 billion budget would slow research in diseases, specifically calling out a push to develop a universal influenza vaccine—”a project that is going extremely well,” he told reporters.

Collins said his greatest concern is the effect on young scientists, because the NIH’s training grants would be cut. He noted the psychological effects to their dreams and visions, not just the monetary ones. 

This may sound mushy to someone not familiar with the world of research. But for students in or hoping to enter doctoral programs, it is a rough and long path to a career in science, one that many can’t sustain even in normal times. If a funding setback, a grant that should have come through, or the general uncertainy about the funding future is demoralizing for seasoned researchers, it has got to be worse for those in the early stages of their careers. Fewer grants means fewer opportunities and a leakier “pipeline” of scientific talent—and that, in the end, may be the worst effect of the series of budget crises that politics has left us.

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