Mass disgruntlement among scientists is growing

This popped into my inbox today, and probably into those of every other American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology member. Life made easy–no need to blog my disgruntlement–it’s all been done for me (see standard letter below). But I have to admit, they did a good job…

Dr. Caplan,

As rumors swirl around Washington that a deal to re-open the government may be imminent, the ASBMB public affairs staff has identified that the remainder of the calendar year is likely to be consumed by debates on federal funding levels and sequester. ASBMB has been a leading voice in the scientific community discussing the damage inflicted by cuts to science funding that began in 2011, and were deepened with implementation of mandatory budget cuts – known as sequester – in March of this year. The sequester of science funding has critically damaged the ability of researchers to advance their areas of study.

As was shown in a survey conducted by ASBMB of non-defense discretionary funded scientists titled “Unlimited Potential, Vanishing Opportunity,” deep cuts to federal investments in research are tearing at the fabric of the nation’s scientific enterprise and have a minimal impact on overcoming our national debt and deficit problems. I hope leaders from both parties in Washington review these findings and join with scientists to say “enough is enough.”

ASBMB offers a tool to members to make reaching out as simple as a few clicks of your mouse. Today’s call to action is different from others, in that instead of simpy writing letters to be sent to officials in Washington, we have created a system that allows you to submit letters to the editors of your local newspapers. This allows your message to be read not only by your local Representative and Senators, but also your friends, neighbors, colleagues and local officials. It is our hope this method will help spread the message supporting growing investments in science research wider than just your local Congressional office.

Click here to get started.

Thank you for your continued support and activity on this critically important issue.


Jeremy Berg

President, ASBMB

Congress’ reckless inaction on budgetary issues threatens to derail the American scientific research enterprise. Over the past seven decades, this enterprise has made revolutionary advances including sending Americans to the moon, launching the Internet and sequencing the human genome. These and many other advances were due in large part to a strong, sustained federal investment in American scientists and the groundbreaking research they conduct. However, the political infighting that has characterized our government of late is limiting our scientific progress.
The technological and medical innovations that we depend on daily were derived in the labs of federally funded laboratories at universities throughout the nation. From the invention of vaccines to the most recent advances in molecular medicine, federally funded research has resulted in a steadily increasing life expectancy for Americans. Furthermore, smartphones, lasers, global positioning systems and satellite television, for example, were derived from research funded by the federal government.

However, with inflation, the federal investment in American science since 2010 has fallen nearly 20 percent, affecting scientists and engineers in every field of research. Unlimited Potential, Vanishing Opportunity, the analysis of a survey carried out by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and 15 other scientific societies, begins to shed light on just how damaging this faltering investment is for scientists.

This survey catalogs the beginning of a downward spiral that the American scientific research enterprise will struggle to recover from. Of the 3,700 scientists responding to the survey, budget cuts since 2010 have caused nearly half to lay off young scientists or they expect to soon. Nearly one in five respondents are considering pursing their scientific career in countries that are increasing their investment in scientific research, such as Singapore, Japan, Germany and China.

Even now, members of Congress are showing little motivation to reverse these trends. The current continuing resolution being debated represents another cut to federal science funding agencies, as inflation continues to eat away at their budgets. Enough is enough. Congress is free to squabble over specific issues, but it should do so without holding the rest of the federal budget hostage. If we want to understand how the brain functions so that we can improve mental health and head off an impending Alzheimer’s epidemic, then the federal government must overturn sequestration and return to a strong, sustained investment in scientific research. If we want to improve our current fuel sources as well as discover and utilize the alternative forms of energy that will power our society into the future, then the federal government must overturn sequestration and return to a strong, sustained investment in scientific research. If we are open to technologies that revolutionize our society and how we interact with one another, then the federal government must overturn sequestration and return to a strong, sustained investment in scientific research. And it must do so now.

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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