Budgets Versus Culture War and What That Means for the War on Science

Chris Pickett of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology notes the difference between rhetoric and budget allocations for science (boldface mine):

For instance, while on the Hill, we asked legislators to support a funding level of $32 billion for the NIH and $7.6 billion for the NSF for fiscal 2015. Concurrently, a “Dear Colleague” letter initiated by U.S. Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Susan Davis, D-Calif., was circulating in Congress, also urging appropriators to allocate $32 billion for the NIH. Out of the 435 members of Congress, this letter garnered 190 members’ signatures: 165 Democrats and 25 Republicans.

However, this bipartisan support was short-lived. Not too long after the McKinley-Davis letter was submitted, the U.S. House passed a budget resolution that would balance the federal budget in 10 years, in part by slashing nondefense discretionary programs. Federal science-funding agencies, such as the NIH, are part of the NDD budget and certainly will be cut if this budget becomes law. Unfortunately, 22 of the 25 Republicans who signed the McKinley-Davis letter requesting an increase in the NIH budget also voted to cut the NIH budget via the House budget resolution. All House Democrats opposed the budget resolution.

This is just another example of Congress saying it supports the NIH but subsequently doing little to back it up.

This isn’t “Congress”, it is Congressional Republicans who are the problem. They control the House, and unlike the Senate, there are very few procedural rules Democrats can use to influence the outcome. That should be stated quite clearly–the Democrats were on the right side of the issue.

And the usual suspect is to blame–the erroneous belief that the federal government needs to balance budgets:

As I’ve noted before, this has ramifications for science funding too. If we wanted to, we could double NIH funding. Arguably, if we don’t change how and what the NIH fund, we could wind up right back where we are today, with too many investigators chasing too few dollars, just at a larger scale. So maybe we shouldn’t increase funding that much until we figure out how to do it better–but that’s a completely separate policy debate. Operationally, as long as we have enough scientists and scientific materiel, there’s no reason why we couldn’t double NIH funding (remember: could and should are different).

So let’s stop worrying about deficits and start worrying about real problems (here’s one you can worry about). Unemployment, underemployment, and stagnating wages, along with a decaying infrastructure, that’s what we should be worrying about, not federal deficits denominated in currency the U.S. government controls.

If scientists don’t start understanding that money by itself can not be a limiting resource, we’re going to end up being pitted against other worthwhile things–and what’s the point of improving human health through better medical interventions if we simultaneously weaken it by making children hungry? We can’t let conservatives divide and conquer based on some simplistic misunderstandings.

Conservatives and conservative economics are the problem here. Until we recognize that the War on Science isn’t just a cultural war (TEH DARWINISMZ!!!), but it is also rooted in conservative ideology and policy. Not that any Republicans of import read the blog (I think), but if they are curious as to why so few scientists are Republicans, they should read their own budget proposals.

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1 Response to Budgets Versus Culture War and What That Means for the War on Science

  1. Robert L Bell says:

    What I find curious is that the NIH is potentially slated for 32 billion while the NSF has to limp along with only 7.6 billion. Neither of those numbers is adequate to support a world class research system, but the NSF funding is an absolute disgrace.

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