12,000 Labs at Risk of Closing Due to Sequestration

Sequestration. A word that has driven fear into the hearts and wallets of many Americans following the recent national election. In the United States federal budget, the sequester or sequestration refers to budget cuts to particular categories of federal spending that began on March 1, 2013 as an austerity fiscal policy (see Wikipedia for a more detailed explanation).The sequester is expected to cut approximately $85.4 Billion dollars during the 2013 fiscal year. Major programs such as Medicare and Social Security will be greatly affected, but how will the cuts affect the life science industry and academia? Will every day researchers feel the effects of the huge reduction in the national budget? According to those in the “know,” sequestration is a word to fear among life scientists.

Burrill & Company, recently reported that the NIH is expected to lose $1.6 Billion in funding and have the number of grants it issues reduced by 2,000. Considering that the NIH awards 50,000 grants a year or 300,000 researchers, this 4% cut to their funding budget may mean that 12,000 labs will have to search for a new source of funds or risk losing their projects.

The Coalition for the Life Sciences has accentuated the effects of the cuts even more by pointing out that In eight states, cuts will exceed $100 million. According to the coalition:

Labs will shut down, scientists will be laid off, and local businesses that support research centers will close

A very scary thought indeed!

Several weeks ago, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski and NIH director, Francis Collins, discussed the potential impact of the sequester in a video that can be seen on the NIH website. Collins told the audience that sequestration will have far reaching negative effects on the great work that the NIH does in every state around the US. Francis pointed out that the effects will not only be felt by the scientific community, but by pateints and families who look forward to ground breaking research in the hope that it will ultimately find a cure for their particular disease.

Not everyone however, will be disappointed by the effects of sequestration. The popular blog, Retraction Watch , whose business it is to report on bad science, expects that drastic reductions in research budgets will lead to corner cutting by scientists who have less money to work with and an upswing in retractions being reported among the scientific community.

So what can you do about it? How can you help save your lab from being affected by sequestration? Now that the elections are over and sequestraion is in full swing, lobbying our politicians and letter writing campaigns may be your best hope. The Coallition for the Life Sciences recomends sending a letter to Congress and has provided a sample template for you to use.

What are your thoughts on sequestration? What have you heard from your colleagues and PIs about the looming impact of sequestartion? Please share. We’d love to hear the word “on the street.”

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16 Responses to “12,000 Labs at Risk of Closing Due to Sequestration”

  1. Phil says:

    First, this is not a huge cut. In fact, it isn’t a cut at all but a reduction in projected spending increases. Secondly, the “cuts” are being passed onto the lowest levels of government, those who actually produce the “products” and work with civilians. These “cuts” could easily be absorbed in other ways, such as eliminating half of the Washington beaurocracy, but Obama instructed departments to make them in the most painful ways possible, which was exposed weeks ago. Reducing projected future increases should not in any way affect the ongoing operations of any department.

  2. David P Norby, PhD, CQE (ASQ) says:

    Simple math from the numbers provided ($1.6 billion/2000 grants) indicates that the average annual award per grant is $800,000. If each grant was reduced by 4% to satisfy austerity, that would be an average of $32,000/year/grant. That’s a lot of money and would definitely be felt, but would not cripple the research enterprise.

  3. Joshua B says:

    The situation is bleak indeed. I’ve been in higher ed/biomedical research for 12 years and have never witnessed such malaise. Institutions are withering, research labs are closing, established mentors are retiring, young scientists are unable to acquire funding despite mounting pressure from center administrators, skilled scientists and associates are leaving the field all together and emerging science students are choosing alternative paths. Equipment is aging and salaries have not kept up with inflation during the past decade. Attendance at national meetings is half the previous year and late breaking science is already in print. Who would choose a career in science with such an uninterested public?

  4. IC worker says:

    -The continuing resolution restored the 1.6 billion to NIH.
    -Keep in mind that a significant portion of that money goes to IC’s which are grossly overfunded relative to academic labs so any future cuts will be felt more by those outside of the IC’s.
    -Yes it is a bleak future for science funding outside of IC’s.

  5. Ed says:

    As upset as I am about sequestration, this posting seems to contain a misleading misinterpretation of the numbers that doesn’t meet scientific scrutiny.

    The “12,000 labs” value seems to be calculated from 4% of “300,000 researchers”. There are many researchers in a lab. I’d estimate that the 50,000 total NIH grants go to 20,000 to 30,000 laboratories (often more than one grant per lab). Plus, for now the NIH plan seems to be to cut the size of grants rather than the number of grants.

    We can’t allow misleading scare stories like this to provide ammunition to those who support sequestration, who could take this posting and cite it as how weak the arguments are. There are enough strong arguments for better support of US science that we shouldn’t countenance weak ones like this.

    • Joshua B says:

      Pay lines in all institutes are down by 60%. Therefore the number of grants being awarded are significantly reduced.

  6. Dawn says:

    This scare story certainly got me to read the article, but the facts are distorted and I certainly don’t expect the NIH cuts to close 12,000 labs. I think the bigger picture is that cuts are being made to NIH, NASA, and department of defense funding as a whole. This hit on science as a whole is the bigger issue, and it has been ongoing for some time.

    There isn’t unlimited money, and a budget is about priorities. The increased social programs (cell phones, food assistance, unemployment benefits, healthcare expansion) come at a cost. The sad reality to me is that the government is paying people to stay home on unemployment instead of paying them to go to work in the lab and contribute to humaninty. I want to see our next generation dreaming about how to change the world and go to the stars. I see too many of them now thinking about how they will get by.

  7. Tom says:

    The facts are that sequestration is adding to an already stressed research environment in which paylines have plummeted (6% currently for NHLBI) and labs are shutting down. Projects that are clearly good projects and would have been funded are falling through the cracks which means wasted money and effort on ideas that will likely never be published and will be lost. It isn’t just a small cut, fixed costs remain the same. We are losing a generation of scientists. We’ve long since fallen over the financial cliff, we are just waiting to see if impact is fatal

  8. Ego driven research says:

    I was among those whose lab closed during the re-aligning of NIH funding during 2008. I now work as an underpaid contractor for those that are flush with funding, the intramural programs. They have not felt the degree of loss that those above the very low pay lines have experienced. There is more pain to come, of that you can be certain.
    I’ve gone from publishing in the highest impact journals to being someone’s lackey for the sake of just getting by.
    Too many projects are being funded on the basis of cronyism and bad data, not on their individual merits.

  9. Ashraf says:

    In our cancer center 3 young investigators just added 3 RO1. Don,t scare. Keep doing good work. You will be funded.

  10. Klaus says:

    Why don’t they cut that from indirect costs. It seems I have to pay for computers services and to have pictures hung on the wall or anything repaired. Everyone says the place is too cold, I guess we are not paying for heat. If they took indirect costs,I would have cover only the electric bill. The dean’s trips to Japan and other places might have to be paid out of his pocket.

  11. Postdoctoral scholar says:

    I am a postdoc in a public research institution. I used to be republican. I will never vote for a republican at any level of government ever again. I won’t let my children do science either; the erosion of the American scientific enterprise is eroding constantly, with H-1Bs, J-1 being imported to do science here at low wages, and with research budgets being slashed because of unnecessary wars, pork projects, and federal/state employee pensions. Republicans want to keep our nation in the stone age because of their religious constituents, denial of global warming, and heavy reliance upon corporations, where most get their political donations from.

  12. The loss of funds through sequestration is bad enough. But what I think is worse is that NIH continues to fund numerous labs that have been involved with scientific misconduct. As one professor I knew put it, “Once you achieve altitude, the system will protect you.” In my experience, he has been proven correct repeatedly with respect to NIH and ORI. There does not seem to be as much selection against people doing bad “science”(or lying, actually) as there is against potentially talented researchers trying to get started.

  13. Serpont25 says:

    Well, my lab is among the 12.000. Funding is gone, employees are being laid off, knockouts are being frozen, instruments returned, experiments suspended. Soon we will be history…..

  14. Roberto Bueno says:

    Don’t worry guys… we’ll all have jobs but not in America but offshore. The United States have been planning and enacting a series of policies first to create a bubble of skilled labor through:

    1-Recent doubling of NIH budget,
    2-Continuous output of PhD, MD, master degree graduates from universities,
    3-Influx of young foreign scientists through NIH fellowships as long as they meet the 5-year graduation cap).

    But at the same time the U.S. has been implementing globalization through a series of Free Trade Agreements in order to integrate & interlock the economies of the G8, G20, BRICS with the Third World and protect patents through TRIPs. So fast forward to the point where the American science labor market bubble is so bloated that is about to burst. At that point, it would be intuitive to pull the trigger on austerity. As an example, take the 2008 mortgage debt crisis which was deliberately engineered as nicely shown by Charles Fergurson’s documentary “INSIDE JOB”. More crises will deepen austerity, to weaken the little guy (small banks, small businesses, erode the middle class) and strengthen ‘too-big-to-fail banks’ and big corporations with plants and businesses offshore. When that happens, and when we’re jobless for months, desperate to pay bills and keep our homes, or send our kids to college, then we’ll take any job offshore mostly training scientists in Third World. These people will work hard to create the drugs, biologicals, devices and all the commodities that we’re currently developing at taxpayer expense to make it later appear in big pharma’s pipelines. The system is set up for that, remember the Free Trade Agreements and patent protection laws are there for a reason. International banks will be ready to lend money, and powerful international courts will rule and will take lawsuits from big corporations against countries who refuse to comply. That’s the future folks. Smile!.

    In fact, everything will look very much like the maquiladoras across the border with Mexico (http://youtu.be/vRuY3dww6Gk ). We will be underpaid but skilled laborers. It’s the plan and it’s working wonderfully. If you like what I wrote or you want to attack me, please drop me a line to [email protected]

  15. Aly says:

    I’m a 3rd year PhD candidate at an ivy league institution under a well-established mentor. Our government grants were retracted, we are fighting with the university to stay afloat, and our promising research proposals are being rejected. I once thought my project could make an impact in my field, and now I’m considering leaving with an MS to work in education and public policy. FUNDING is the main reason I am struggling to do impactful research. Our lab has none, and I have been unsuccessful in obtaining personal fellowships and research grants (mostly because I have no publications - but how am I supposed to publish without the money to finish my work!?). It was once my dream to have a productive career in research; but now I am struggling to find reasons to continue my PhD.

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