US Government Shutdown Spells Trouble For Its Scientists and Research Work

With no access to federal funding, labs struggle to continue research works.
Pankaj  Thuain

The US government shutdown entered its 23nd day on January 13, with US President Donald Trump showing no intentions to go back on his demands for a wall between Mexico and the US. Apart from the 800,000 federal employees parting with their paychecks, the shutdown also seems to have taken a big toll on the scientists, thousands in number, as there is no federal funding reaching them. 

The delay in receiving these funds is not a positive sign, as without funding, the lab directors may not be equipped enough to admit graduate students to their labs for the upcoming academic year. Not to forget, the growing number of applications which are yet to be reviewed by NSF employees.

The most recent federal budget announced for fiscal year 2018 was $176.8 billion in total for research and development. Going by the past allocations, we can safely assume that around $103 million should have been awarded to the research groups across US till January 11, 2019.

The various agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) are responsible for reviewing financial grants, which are funded by the federal government. These funds are then awarded to the scientists at universities spread across the country for research purposes.


In the wake of the shutdown, around 700 federally employed scientists had to skip the annual American Meteorological Society and the American Astronomical Society meetings that happened last week.

Despite all these roadblocks and hindrances, science in the US is still active. It has not come to a halt altogether. Even in these tough times, some have refused to discontinue their efforts to take science forward. There are some researchers, including many at the National Weather Service, who have chosen to continue working even in the absence of pay. Moreover, there are private sector research funds as well that have enabled some scientists to go on with their resrach works, without worrying about the shutdown.

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The shutdown has apparently lead to not just individual labs, but also the international groups of researchers losing out on the funding they need to carry out their researches. Atleast four out of 20 primary scientists who are with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report in the US, are at the receiving end. They are just not in a position to work with their international colleagues.

Apart from the above mentioned implications of the shutdown, critical information collection initiatives have also got disrupted. It is not possible for researchers to compare temperatures of 2018 to previous years, without NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration support.

Conclusively, one can still safely cliam, basis data from the year 2017 that points out that atleast half of all basic research, which is essentially not for practical application purposes, is funded by the US government. Hence, if the shutdown situation in the US continues the way it is right now, it doesn't look like a beneficial sequence of actions for the science and research community in the country.

Via: Quartz

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