Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Remember the sequester?

Apparently everyone has forgotten the sequester--everyone , that is, meaning the chattering classes. Because those it affects are too unimportant to notice (the poor, the hungry), too unpopular (government employees), or too few or esoteric (researchers and grantees).  The vast middle class is not noticing, because it's not their ox being gored....yet.

But here's a sequester check-in for you.  Government employees are now facing regular furlough days. We have friends in the civil sector of the DoD who are on furlough1 day a week, and wrestling with how to get their work done and pay their bills.  That's a 20% pay cut.   But the expectation is that they will still do all the work, even if they are technically not employed AND not paid.  Really?  How does that work?

Meanwhile, over here in the basic sciences (my own bailiwick), approved grants are taking cuts, regardless of what was approved and budgeted.  So, please, how am I supposed to pay everyone and do the research that was approved, if I don't have the money? We have been cutting back and postponing maintenance etc for years now, with the budget permanently flatlined, but now we are getting further reductions.  There's no fat left to cut.

And, of course, as I've mentioned before, one of my grants wasn't renewed, and maintaining my research team means giving up my summer salary (like many academics, I'm actually only paid for the 9months of the year that school is in session, with my summer income derived from my grants at the rate of pay established by the university).  This is being used to keep my PhD students and staff paid and at work doing basic science.

By the way, none of us is paid particularly well.  (Just as a reality check, a new-minted PhD from a top university is worth in the low-mid $40K as a starting post-doc. )  No one does basic medical research to get rich, believe me.

And fewer will be doing it.  PhD students are fleeing the profession, seeing no jobs and no future.  Current faculty with distinguished records are facing the elimination of their research, and shuttering of their labs.  Beginning faculty are losing their grip on the ladder, unable to get tenure without grants, and leaving entirely.  The dollars that have gone into their research and training are wasted.  And, the ideas that they have, the potential Next Thing, will now never happen.

Singapore, China, and India are increasing their % GDP in basic science.  But the USA is eviscerating it ,in effect saying that we don't want to know anything more and we are happy with the medical care and treatments that we have today.  Because without research, we won't be getting any more.

For a reality check on the cost of the sequester (and a counter to those who say, "no big deal") there's this article (my emphasis)
Sequestration forces the NIH to cut its 2013 budget from $30.7 billion to $29 billion. The first thing to understand here is that research is not like a service: it's hard to cut a cancer study by a little bit, because if you do, you risk destroying its value entirely. There's no way to do three-quarters of an experimental vaccine trial. ...When you cut research money, you can ask current grantees to do a little bit of economising, but past a certain point that would mean destroying the value of ongoing multi-year studies. 
What you do instead is stop initiating new research. NIH says it will give out 700 fewer grants this year.... NIH already rewarded only one out of six grant applications; that ratio has now shrunk to the lowest level ever in the history of the institutes. The budget had already shrunk 22% since 2003 in constant-dollar terms before sequestration. Ultimately, this sort of relentless unrewarding defeatism drives young scientists out of research
Naturally, House Republicans aren't planning to let this situation continue. They want to cut NIH's budget even further! The House budget resolution for 2014 cuts the funds available to the committee that allocates NIH's budget by 18.6% below the sequester level.
This makes no sense at all. ...There is no remotely coherent account of structural economic change in which top-end peer-reviewed medical research needs to be a less significant part of our economy. 
But the people who are voting to cut funding for NIH do not have a coherent account of structural economic change, or, as far as I can tell, of anything at all. These people, who incompetently run one of the most detested and least effective institutions in America, Congress, are screwing up institutions that accomplish work of tremendous value for America and all of humanity. It's contemptible.
But, hey, at least Congress doesn't have to suffer delays at the airport.

1 comment:

JCF said...

Ob-freaking-scene. Thanks for the attention-paid, IT.