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Nobel laureates lobby Congress to prevent fiscal cliff fall

Twenty Nobel Laureates are urging lawmakers on Capitol Hill to work together to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff” next month. The term refers to the package of tax increases and spending cuts that will be triggered if Democrats and Republicans fail to reach a budget agreement.

As part of a letter-writing campaign initiated by the Coalition for the Life Science (CLS) earlier this month, the laureates lobbied congressional representatives on the importance of federally funded research and what the planned funding cuts would mean for science agencies.

The fate of the National Institutes of Health’s budget is of particular concern to the laureates. They noted that the agency will face an 8.2 per cent across-the-board cut starting 1 January, if Congress and the Obama administration cannot reach an agreement by the end of this calendar year.

“This potentially very deep cut to the NIH as well as to all other federally-funded science would negatively impact job creation and seriously jeopardize the long-standing leadership position of the US in research and innovation,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Robert Horvitz, who shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine and is a CLS board member, said in a 10 December statement.

“Past support of the NIH by the United States Congress has enabled the American scientific enterprise to rise to world leadership in the physical and life sciences,” added Stanford University’s Paul Berg, co-recipient of the 1980 Nobel chemistry prize. “It is also why Americans have dominated as recipients of the Nobel and other illustrious prizes.”

Overall, the Nobel winners expressed concern that cuts to NIH will stifle discoveries that improve health, save lives, and drive the US economy. They also suggested that laboratories would shut down, scientists would be laid off, and local businesses that support research would close.

The director of the CLS, Lynn Marquis, said the campaign arose from a shared anxiety about the future of the nation’s leadership in scientific output and innovation.

“We felt strongly that voices from the scientific community needed to be heard and the nation’s Laureates provide a unique voice that adds gravitas to the debate in Washington,” she stated.