An Utter Shutstorm For Science

An Utter Shutstorm For Science

If you go to the website for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this appears.

If you try to access the page for the National Science Foundation (NSF) as well, you get this.

In my spare time, I like to do marine mammal research, and NOAA happens to have a lot of useful data. I’ve also been considering a PhD after I complete my master's, and the NSF has one of the best fellowships possible for those seeking that path. In fact, if you’re reliant on information from the NSF, the National Institutes of Health, NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control, or any of the myriad of other government agencies that responsible for large swaths of scientific funding and research, this shutstorm will probably leave you frustrated.

The shutdown is harming agencies that form the backbone of American science.  

If you are a government scientist as opposed to being in industry or academia, life is even harder. NASA has furloughed 97% of its workforce. If you don’t like the EPA, you’re in luck, as they are undergoing massive furloughs as well. With the onset of flu season, the Centers for Disease Control due to the shutdown will be incapable of tracking this years flu bug.  Besides losing access to information about funding, and hamstringing government scientists, this seriously impacts access to data. By reducing access to data on everything from GIS layers to public health information that is usually housed by government agencies, it harms the ability of scientists outside government to do their work.

Government support for science in the U.S. is paramount. While research can be supported by academia (which is undergoing its own issues) and industry, the majority of scientific funding comes from the government. This is especially true in non-applied research. Are you interested in questions regarding how the universe formed? How about animal behavior or evolutionary biology? These and many other topics are very cool. They are the kind of things that people respond to when they watch science shows. They also don’t tend to make a lot of money, and thus are not usually funded by industry. I don’t come across many hard line economically libertarian scientists, and let's face it, would the free market be interested in investing $10 billion in building a large hadron collider?

This situation has hampered industry as well. If you work in biotechnology, and wish to get a new drug to market, there is a long process going through the FDA to ensure that the product is safe. I’ve seen this up close as my first job out of college was working in quality assurance at a new (and I will note awesome) biotech company that had a new drug it was bringing to market. If you are looking to bring a new pesticide to market there is a similar process with the EPA. Is your company gearing up to build scrubbers for the new coal plant regulations? Your life just got more difficult.

Scientists do not tend to be political beings. While we may have our issues that have gotten caught up in the gears of the political machine (climate change, vaccinations, environmental protection amongst others), for the most the pursuit of knowledge is what drives us. Those who are holding up a budget deal in congress need to consider the unintended consequences of their actions. Science is an incredibly important part of America both culturally and economically. While we talk about national parks and monuments being closed, there are serious consequences that the scientific community is facing.