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Scientists must combat ‘intense, sustained budget pressure,’ AAAS hears

Scientists need to combat the “intense, sustained budget pressure” that the weak economy and historic budget deficits have placed on federal funding for science programmes, experts said at a leadership seminar convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

On 7 December, AAAS reported that Mary Woolley, Research!America’s president and CEO, noted that many programs in the federal budget are facing cuts. But research funding is particularly at risk because most lawmakers on Capitol Hill are unfamiliar with science. She said policymakers “don’t even know how to think about it and talk about it,” and the science community needs to publicly articulate its importance.

AAAS said former Republican congressman and current chairman of the board for Research!America, John Porter, echoed Woolley’s sentiments at the forum, urging scientists to become more active in political campaigns to help inform candidates about scientific issues and to raise such topics during campaigns. He said research and science programmes are “competing for the smaller and smaller amount of money that is available to fund them.”

Meanwhile, at least one famous scientist—infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institutes of Health’s, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—is speaking out. During a 5 December congressional briefing for the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, a coalition spearheaded by the Association of American Medical Schools, Fauci warned that cuts to federal funding could have a negative impact on future advances and on the number of researchers and physician scientists who enter the field of infectious disease research.

NIAID has an operating budget of $4.8 billion but its funds could be cut given the current political climate in Washington, DC, according to Fauci. “One of the problems with decreased funding or even flat funding for the NIH and its impact on biomedical research is that given biomedical research inflation, a flat budget itself is really a cut,” he said.

“You have a dual negative effect because you can’t, first of all, fund as many fundamental basic research grants as you want…and what you have is investigators, particularly young investigators, who would get discouraged from entering the field of biomedical research,” Fauci added.