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Note - This article is published through my username on behalf of some members of the Penn Science Policy Group, a newly formed organization at the University of Pennsylvania from "which interested Penn science students and faculty can engage in discussions about science policy ranging from issues in science education to US government funding battles of the NIH."  I am a member of this organization.  Some of the text in this diary is copied with permission from articles written by other members; I will cite these within the diary.  Since this article is on behalf of the group, when I offer my own opinions (either in the diary text or comments), I will indicate this as well.  The opinions in this piece may not reflect those of all members in the Penn Science Policy Group.

We hope that you will consider signing the "Speak Up For Science" Petition, which is being sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).


There is only one week remaining until the largest automatic cuts to the federal budget in history - known as the sequester - take effect.  While President Obama and the opposition Republicans battle as to who is at fault, the reality of the situation is that if a deal is not reached by next week, all branches of government will suffer an immediate reduction in funds for the rest of FY2013, and such cuts will continue until restored by Congress.  Reductions have been estimated to be between 5.1% and 8.2%, depending on department.

The sequester arose as a so-called "nuclear option" included in the Budget Control Act of 2011 that ended the debt ceiling battle during that year.  If Congress and the White House could not agree on budget cuts for specific departments by January 1, 2013, then automatic cuts to all departments would go into effect.  This date was extended to March 1, 2013 after passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

If the sequester process were to be enacted, the economic impact for the entire nation would be devastating.  As reported in the above-linked Washington Post article,  "Macroeconomic Advisers, an independent economic group, said Tuesday that sequestration would cost 700,000 jobs and push the unemployment rate a quarter of a percentage point higher than it otherwise would have been."

The impact of the sequester would hit science and medical research especially hard.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) makes up only 0.8% of the entire Federal budget, so for a very small amount of savings relative to the entire budget, the number of funded grants would drop by 25%, severely impeding the pace and breadth of research able to be conducted.

As members of the Penn Science Policy Group, we have been active in informing the general public about the many benefits of science and medical research, and we present this information below.

As stated above, funding for the NIH makes up a very small percentage of the overall federal budget.  To more drastically indicate this, see the below pie chart:

Image created by Mike Allegrezza, Penn Science Policy Group co-President.
However, even though NIH funding makes up 0.8% of the annual federal budget, the impact economically and to our nation's health is substantial.  The clear message we want to bring to the American people is this:

Research funding generates a fantastic "bang for your buck".

According to a report published by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), "cuts to federal funding for R&D over the nine-year course of the sequester will reduce GDP by at least $203 billion between now and 2021.  It also will result in approximately 200,000 fewer jobs per year between 2013 and 2016 – a 0.2 percent impact on the U.S. unemployment rate."

Stagnant R&D funding over the past few years - other than the jolt of investment funds provided by the ARRA - has already negatively impacted research.  Research!America, a non-profit advocacy group for science and medical research, released a report (warning - PDF) stating that the number of funded grants would decrease by 25% in the sequester were to take effect.

Job losses (warning - PDF) are estimated to be about 20,000 for NIH-funded positions alone.  Current graduate students like ourselves will likely be unaffected individually, but almost all of us will feel the impact in other ways, such as the loss of a lab manager or technician, or reduced supplies.  All of these consequences will slow down the pace of research, inhibit innovation, and allow other countries to leap frog us with their discoveries.

In an op-ed written to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dean J. Larry Jameson, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine makes the economic case for medical research investment, noting that:

"At a time of intense focus on the economic health of the nation, it is especially important to note the economic benefits of these efforts: every $1 investment in biomedical research generates at least $2.21 in local economic growth. This is a prime example of an investment that leads to job creation in the private sector, particularly in biotechnology."

We have detailed a clear economic impact of the sequester as it relates to science and medical research.  However, we also want to bring to attention that cutting edge research - the kind that is often not funded by industry - will suffer the greatest if the sequester is enacted.

As Penn Science Policy Group co-President Shaun O'Brien aptly notes in an op-ed to The Daily Pennsylvanian, many advancements in research would simply not have occurred if not for direct research funding provided by the NIH:

Republished with permission:

Penn is a leader for cancer immunotherapies, thanks in part to Carl June’s NIH-funded Phase I clinical trial that resulted in amazing regression of lymphoma in pediatric patients. Without the initial NIH investment, this trial would have been nearly impossible to conduct, as pharmaceutical companies deemed it too risky to invest in.

Breakthrough vaccine development has also occurred at Penn, as exemplified by Paul Offit’s pediatric rotavirus vaccine, another example of research that would not have been possible without NIH funds. Thanks to the sequester, reduced NIH funding will have a chilling effect on new therapeutic development at Penn and possibly drive away talented individuals from scientific careers.

Reduction in NIH funding would severely impact the training of the next generation of biomedical scientists and could impact the United States’ position as a leader in innovation in the coming decades. In addition, GME — or residency training — would also be hampered due to a 2 percent cut in Medicare, and thus is a real concern for Penn’s medical students and residents. This would also undercut the mission of the nation’s number one children’s hospital. The NSF, which funds researchers in the Engineering School and the School of Arts and Sciences, would also lose $300 to $500 million (5 to 6 percent) this year. Collectively, these cuts have the potential to create a lost generation of newly trained scientists, engineers and clinicians.

We highlight some of the grand advancements in science and medicine coming from Penn because we are part of that community.  But we also know that thousands of principal investigators, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and lab technicians are doing critical research all across America.  If we don't act together to protect science and medicine funding, the consequences will be dire.

Therefore, we hope that you will join us and sign the "Speak Up For Science" Petition, which is being sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

We are happy to answer any questions you may have and keep the conversation flowing.  Please recommend this diary up and share on social media!

Originally posted to mconvente on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 11:27 AM PST.

Also republished by Science Matters, SciTech, Philly Kos, Epilepsy & Seizure Awareness Group, and DK GreenRoots.

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