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A Timely Reminder of What Research Is Good For

Website forecasts budget cuts’ effect on university research


One way to demonstrate the value of federally funded university-based research is to gather up videos and text stories about rewarding research and put them on a website for all to see. That’s the rationale behind Science Works for U.S., a new website launched last week by the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and the Science Coalition (TSC), whose combined members represent 200 of the nation’s leading academic research institutions.

The three groups feel an increasingly urgent need for appreciation of the value of federally funded research before January 2, when the automatic budget cuts called “sequestration,” AKA the fiscal cliff, will significantly reduce available funding. The website states that although the “estimated reduction in research funding ranges from the hundreds of millions of dollars for large, research-intensive states to less than $10 million for smaller states, every state will experience a significant impact given the catalytic effect research universities have on local and state economies.”

The website includes links to research activities and videos, news articles detailing the effects of various cuts, and a state-by-state breakdown of how much research money would be eliminated, specifying the federal funding agencies and the schools affected.

BU, which received $318 million in federal funds for research in 2012, recently became a member of the AAU and contributed content to the site.

AAU spokeswoman Ann Speicher says the three organizing associations sent an announcement about the site’s launch to the staff of both political parties on Capitol Hill, to government agencies that fund research, and to the Obama administration.

“We see the [site] as complementary to other efforts to ensure that policymakers in Washington understand how destructive the sequester would be to important federal programs, such as university research,” she says.

Speicher says the American Association for the Advancement of Science estimates that in fiscal year 2013, the sequester could cut $2.3 billion from the National Institutes of Health, $456 million from the National Science Foundation, $362 million from the Department of Energy Office of Science, and $1.2 billion from the Department of Defense Science and Technology.

Earlier this month, BU President Robert A. Brown cosigned a letter to the Massachusetts congressional delegation from universities and health organizations warning that sequestration would cripple the Bay State’s academic research and economy.

Speicher believes the state-by-state breakdown of research cuts presented on the site may grab the attention of lawmakers, who are responsive to the needs of their home states. “The website works with our letters to the administration and to Congress, visits to Capitol Hill, and op-eds to make that point,” says Speicher. “In fact, cataloging the potential effects on universities by state—with numbers—brings the impact home to Washington policymakers in a way that general statements do not.”

President Obama and congressional leaders are trying to negotiate a deal to avert the automatic cuts and tax increases.

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

2 Comments on A Timely Reminder of What Research Is Good For

  • Aristotle on 11.29.2012 at 7:06 am

    For many hundreds of years research was conducted by scientists without much in the way of government funding. Of course those same scientists also did not have to deal with much in the way of the government regulation that drives up the cost of research either. Much of that same government regulation is based on the results of research by our own colleagues in academia by the way. Oh what a tangled web we weave when we have a conflict of interest.

    I do believe that necessity is the real mother of invention however and that any budget cuts will have unintended positive consequences on how research is performed and leading to leaner more focused labs wherein better quality work is done with much less waste.

    • Nathan on 11.30.2012 at 2:45 pm

      Elegant sounding arguments, poetical arguments are fine, but it is the rough hard slogging of scientific pursuit that leads to real invention.

      A an unscientific claim that “we can do better with that” sounds nice but it is just that, an unsupported claim.

      – – –

      How appropriate you posted under the name Aristotle, for Aristitle held back the advances of physical science with his hoeneyed words.

      Around 340 B.C. Aristotle said he didn’t believe in the theory of Atoms because you would be putting a restriction on the gods. If the gods wanted to divide an element to something smaller than an atom, they could. The concept that God or gods had unlimited power was quite popular and it kept people from accepting the idea of atoms (something indivisible) for about 2,000 years.

      In addition Aristotle introduced the fifth element that he said all heavenly bodies (Sun, moon, and stars, etc.) were made of. He also said the fifth element could turn cheap metals into gold and cure disease and old age. This started alchemy, the pursuit of the 5th element.

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