American Science Struggles Through Budget Cuts

The U.S. is living through big cuts in basic research.  We’ll look at what that means for science and the future of American competitiveness.

Lorraine Gudas, chair of pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medical College, participates in a "Rally for Medical Research," Monday, April 8, 2013, in Washington. The rally focused on sequestration’s cuts to NIH funding, impacting patients, jobs, and research. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Lorraine Gudas, chair of pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medical College, participates in a “Rally for Medical Research,” Monday, April 8, 2013, in Washington. The rally focused on sequestration’s cuts to NIH funding, impacting patients, jobs and research. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

American leadership in science has been a given for most of the last century. About a third of science research and development in this country has been supported by the federal government. Funding for about 60 percent of basic research in science comes from Washington. We’ve celebrated the results, from moon shots to the Internet.

Now Washington’s cutting back, and it’s hitting American science — just when competitor nations are plowing more cash into the science frontier.

Up next On Point: On the lab bench and front lines, the sequester and more hit home in American science.

— Tom Ashbrook


Alexandra Witze, correspondent for Nature. (@alexwitze)

Paul Alivisatos, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He’s also a professor of chemistry and materials science at the University of California Berkeley. (@PaulAlivisatos)

Ann Bonham, chief scientific officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges and professor of pharmacology and internal medicine at the University of California Davis.

Barney Keller, communications director of the Club for Growth, a 501(c)(4) organization that promotes reining in government spending. (@barneykeller)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Wall Street Journal: NIH Cuts Began Ahead Of Sequester — “The National Institutes of Health began reducing research-grant payments to scientists at universities and hospitals around the country over recent months, even before the across-the-board federal spending cuts took effect…NIH Director Francis S. Collins said spending will be cut by 5% at each of the NIH’s 27 institutes and centers, including the National Cancer Institute; the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, and the National Institute on Aging. ‘Everything will take a hit,’ he said.”

The Washington Post: The Coming R&D Crash — “At its peak in 2009, the federal government funded some 31 percent of all R&D in the country, with private firms and universities financing the rest. The array of federal programs is staggering, from semiconductor work at the Pentagon to climate-change research at NOAA to clinical trials for cancer at the National Institutes for Health. About half of the spending here is ‘basic’ research and half ‘applied’ research. Yet as a recent report from ITIF explains, this landscape is set to shift now that Congress is putting strict limits on discretionary spending. If the sequester spending cuts take effect on Mar. 1, total spending on research and development will drop to 2007 levels and grow only slowly thereafter.”

Politico: NIH Director Francis Collins: Medical Research At Risk — “From his perch at the National Institutes of Health’s sprawling campus in Bethesda, Md., Director Francis Collins is eyeing the impending sequestration cuts warily. If lawmakers don’t find a way to blunt the across-the-board cuts, the government’s premier medical research center will lose 6.4 percent of its budget — a cut Collins calls a ‘profound and devastating blow’ for medical research at a time of unprecedented scientific discovery.”

The New York Times: Opinion: Laureates Urge No Cuts to Budgets for Research — “More than 50 Nobel laureates are urging Congress to spare the federal science establishment from the looming budget cuts known as the sequester, saying that research has endured years of budget reductions and that additional cuts could endanger “the innovation engine that is essential to our economy.”

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