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Hullabaloo


Thursday, January 16, 2014

 
In our quest to appease superstitious neanderthals and short-sighted plutocrats we are abandoning the future

by digby

Even as we watch the entire world's climate get more and more extreme, our cretinous right wing and their rich patrons treat it as a joke.  But that isn't the whole story. This is a bipartisan war on science. How about the fact that because of our single minded obsession with cutting government spending (while continuing to spend lavishly on our military empire) we are also slashing basic scientific research funds that no "private" entity will finance because there is not immediate profit to be had?

Here's a letter from a young scientist who's projects have been shelved so that we can chase phantoms and mollify morons.
In my 11 years in basic research, I have seen funding levels drop off a cliff, while the job market in basic research goes from bad to worse. Some days I think I made a mistake getting my PhD (6.5 years in graduate school). As I discussed with some of my colleagues, the process of getting a PhD fundamentally changes you as a person. I am much more bitter and cynical of the world I initially wanted to help. I can barely remember these feelings, but when I started my research career, I wanted to fundamentally and positively affect the human condition through discovering basic molecular mechanisms of diseases.

The PhD process itself is hard enough without other people telling me how much of a terrible thing it is. But now, I am vilified as a "taker" and a "lazy moocher" that is "dependent on government money." I am part of the 47% that the government "does not care about." Apparently, the 80-100 hours a week I am writing or doing experiments are not enough, and I wonder what would make me not "lazy." I wish I was hyperbolizing, but to stay alive in basic research, 80 hours is the minimum time someone needs to be working, just to have the right to get a paycheck that is much less than if I were in private industry because the money is so tight. As a result of my nearly all-consuming work schedule, I cannot imagine starting a family, nor do I have enough money to do so. In fact, at age 32, I have zero savings because I have devoted my time to basic science research, and I think my wife is extremely unhappy with our situation and my hours.

What can I do? I can't stay in basic research when the government that funds it is actively trying to choke off funding in a quest for the abstract concept of "deficit relief." Maybe I go find a company to work for and join the exodus of PhD level researchers out of academia. At some point, the NIH becomes a vestigial government organization that gets a budget too small to be useful. Private companies will have to take on the load of basic research, thus cutting their effective time to make product, and increasing their overhead costs. I imagine many of them could go out of business. In addition, new companies that spring up as a result of basic academic research from Universities will be stifled or prevented all together.

The collateral damage to all science fields will be immense, and will be worse at each successive level away from basic research into practical product design. In other words, for Biology, translational research will falter, which will lead to a failure of pre-clinical and then clinical studies. And finally, we will be dependent on other countries to fund research as our country shifts exclusively to a service economy. (These are my thoughts in my bleakest moments, but they tend to predominate lately. In some ways, my new normal is thinking bleak thoughts until they seem not so bad anymore).
There's always Wall Street ...

In case you were wondering, our leaders' bipartisan quest for "deficit reduction" is what has inevitably led to a drastic drop in funding going forward:
The deal, which passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday and will likely sail through the Senate soon, sends $29.9 billion to the National Institutes of Health in fiscal year 2014. That's $1 billion more than NIH funding last year. But it's also $714 million less than NIH funding before sequestration cuts went into effect. Adjusted for inflation, it's smaller than all of President George W. Bush's NIH budgets, save for his first year in office.
I guess that was bound to happen when "progress" became a dirty word.

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