Cutting science funding destroys Maryland jobs

November 18, 2010|By Andres De Los Reyes

In its "Pledge to America," Republicans in the House of Representatives proposed to roll back discretionary federal spending to 2008 levels. In the wake of the recent midterm elections, the American Association for the Advancement of Science released a report indicating that if the Republican-led House followed through with this proposal, it would lead to nearly $3 billion in cuts to the National Institutes of Health and more than $1 billion in cuts to the National Science Foundation.

These cuts would significantly reduce the number of research laboratories in the United States able to maintain their research facilities and pay their personnel. For example, relative to fiscal year 2010, these cuts would result in the National Science Foundation being able to fund in excess of 1,400 fewer funding requests from research laboratories all across the United States.

Maryland, with its many research facilities, would be profoundly affected by such cuts. The state's research laboratories can be found not only in each University of Maryland System campus, but in the NIH headquarters in Bethesda, in publicly and privately funded hospitals across the state, and within private universities such as Johns Hopkins. Many thousands of Marylanders are employed in these labs.

In a recent opinion piece in the journal Nature, Dr. David Stuckler of Oxford University points to empirical data highlighting how government policy can have both beneficial and quite deleterious effects on public health. Reducing science funding undoubtedly would result in increased public health burdens, both in the short and long term. However, given our current employment conditions, an additional, significant issue to consider is what kind of burden such funding reductions would immediately have on the work force.

Much of scientists' research costs typically involve funds to pay research personnel to assist in carrying out their work. These personnel include full-time laboratory technicians who deal with the minutiae of the day-to-day operations of the study. They include post-doctoral researchers receiving training on the project so that they may soon transition into carrying out their own independent research. These personnel also include graduate students who work on the project as part of their enrollment in an advanced-degree program (e.g., master's or doctoral degree). For graduate students on the payroll, scientists often budget additional funds to subsidize or fully capture the burden of tuition costs for the degree program to which the graduate students are enrolled.

If Congress cuts funding for scientific research, there will be at least three harmful effects on employment and the economy. The first is the potential for ongoing projects to have their funding reduced, which may lead directly to project personnel losing their jobs. The second is the potential for future projects that would have received funding to no longer be eligible for it, resulting in fewer jobs being created. The third harmful outcome is the burden that these cuts would have on state budgets, particularly for graduate student education.

Many scientists are employed within doctoral programs in their area of expertise. If these scientists do not receive funds to conduct their work, then the burden of the tuition costs for graduate students involved on the project fall on the budgets of the states. That is, universities often rely on state budgetary funds to remit tuition costs for graduate students when federal funds are not available to cover these costs. When the federal government cannot provide science funding, state governments — most of which, like Maryland, are experiencing their own budgetary troubles — will be left with additional economic burdens.

At a time when unemployment numbers are unacceptably high, reducing science funding would cut jobs for thousands of research personnel currently employed to work on scientific research in the United States. These research studies are being conducted in all 50 states. They are being conducted in our hospitals, public and private universities, and private sector research centers.

If we cut science funding, we will add to unemployment numbers across the work force.

Andres De Los Reyes is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland at College Park. His e-mail address is adelosreyes@psyc.umd.edu.

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