SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

September 17, 2013

Column: Budget cuts cripple science, medical research

(Continued)

While sequestration is affecting the current status of programs, it also is affecting the future in ways apparently unforeseen by lawmakers who crafted the legislation in the heat of Beltway partisanship.

Researchers and administrators who spoke with Inside Higher Ed, an online journal, said they already are seeing a brain drain in biomedical research that could continue for many years.

“The real tragedy is that we are irreversibly losing good people,” Karl Matlin, professor of surgery and vice chairman of research at the University of Chicago’s department of surgery, told Inside Higher Ed. “Young people don’t look at this as a desirable profession.”

Matlin’s views are shared by Thomas Michel, a professor of medicine and biochemistry at Harvard Medical School: “I fear that we’re going to be losing a generation of bright young scientists who might take their talents in other directions. I’m seeing it already in the choices that people make as they complete their clinical training now, but it’ll trickle down to people in graduate school and undergraduates.”

Another problem caused by sequestration is that young scientists will not have funds to conduct research that could help them along their career paths. Why would they stay in a profession in which they cannot advance? “In the end, you’re weakening young faculty members’ ability to get their research off the ground, and in doing so, you’re potentially weakening their tenure case,” Jonathan Dordick, vice president for research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said for Inside Higher Ed. “It’s tough enough anyway.”

You would think that because science and medical research are vital in untold ways to America’s health and wealth and general well-being, members of Congress would be wise enough to stop automatic cuts in these fields before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Researchers and agency administrators certainly hope so. Many believe, however, that current U.S. politics has little regard for science and medical research. Deficit reduction is all that matters.

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Reach Tampa Bay Times columnist Bill Maxwell at bmaxwell@tampabay.com.

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