Sunday, September 1, 2013

Half Of America’s Scientists Have Laid People Off Thanks To Budget Cuts

Sequestration, on top of other budget cuts over the years, has meant that nearly half of respondents to a new survey of 3,700 scientists have laid people off or expect to soon, while more than half have had a colleague who lost a job or expects to, according to a new report.

Nearly 70 percent say they receive less grant money now than in 2010, yet just 2 percent have had those funds made up by their organization. That means 68 percent don’t have enough to expand their research operations, more than half of turned away promising young researchers, and about one in five is even considering continuing their careers in another country.

The survey respondents work in biology, chemistry, physics, geosciences, engineering, mathematics, economics, computer science, education, political science, and social and behavioral sciences. The report includes some of their stories, which describe losses of funding, jobs, and advances. “Our fusion experiment, with around 120 people, is being terminated,” says the principal research scientist from MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center. “[Thirty-five] layoff notices have been given, including [ones for] scientists with decades of experience.” A professor at George Mason University describes a situation just as dire. “I have just laid off my technician and will lose my postdoc in six months. My Ph.D. students need funds to finish their degrees, and now they are working in the lab without pay. The lab may have to be closed. I will move my lab to China.” And a graduate student from California State University, Fullerton says, “It is disheartening to be at the start of what I hope will be a strong and successful scientific career and have to wonder if I will even get a job, be able to fund my research and have hope of being a competitive scientist.”

The National Institutes of Health, one of the primary agencies that grants money to research on human health, will have to cut its budget by $1.7 billion this year alone. As Sam Stein of the Huffington Post recently reported, that has meant “[t]he length of some grants have been shortened, while others have decreased in size and still others have been eliminated altogether.”

The report also notes that federal investment had already fallen by nearly 20 percent since 2010. The budgets of all of the agencies that fund research have decreased in purchasing power since 2004 except for the National Science Foundation. Stein notes that without increased investment, “the nation’s role as an international leader in scientific research is at risk,” and the damage could last far into the future “as cures to diseases are left undiscovered and treatments left unearthed.”

Sequestration has had wide-ranging and devastating effects on many other programs as well. More than 57,000 children are going to lose their spots in Head Start. Low-income people are losing housing vouchers. Domestic violence victims are being turned away from support services. The home-bound elderly are missing visits from Meals on Wheels. Department of Defense employees have experienced significant furloughs. The long-term unemployed are getting reduced benefit checks.

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