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Maybe it's because I happen to have a dog in this fight, but I am quite (and I hope reasonably) frightened of the fall-out were the sequester to actually take place.  I've read here at the DK (here and here) that the Left should be using the sequester as leverage.  In that the effects of the sequester would be less harmful to the Left than to the Right. There is evidential reasoning, namely in that defense cuts will be relatively higher (compared to non-defense cuts) under the sequester than any other proposal that could come to pass. Also, the sequester protects certain entitlements such as the two big Ms, food assistance, and some student aid.  However, I am writing this diary to highlight some of the dangerous elements of the sequester, which stymie biomedical researchers, particularly in novel and cutting-edge fields.

Federal funding for biomedical research has already been handcuffed for the past few years due to the lack of budget.  Since Congress has not passed a new budget, and instead has operated off of a continuing appropriations resolution (or CR; see: our Congress is dysfunctional), the ability of funding agencies to issue new awards has been severely limited.  This is because when a budget cut comes to the NIH (or NSF, or AHRQ, or ...), many of their future dollars have already been encumbered from previous awards.  These agencies cannot very well go to previously awarded investigators (who have already acquired students and are often paying technicians, post-docs, and consultants) and tell them that their funding is being stripped.  So as a result, the VAST MAJORITY of spending cuts impact new awards. Which types of applications are up for new awards? Well, it almost goes without saying: novel research! This includes cutting-edge medical procedures, experimental drugs, novel biomaterials, improved equipment, etc.  And furthermore, when funding for new awards is restricted, the agencies tend to go with applications which are more conservative, thus insuring that their limited dollars will be fruitful.  But often-times the applications with the most reward are those with the most risk, thus further reducing the genesis of highly novel biomedical research.

I'd like to garnish this important notion with some relevant facts below the orange twist.

* The sequester would cut $3.9B (or 8.2%) from biomedical research.  

* In the NIH alone, this would result in 33,000 jobs and an economic decline of $4.5B (yes, biomedical research is a productive industry, meaning more value is created than is put into it).

* In the NSF (alone), 20,000+ jobs would be cut - these are primarily researchers, students, biomedical engineers, and technicians.

* Cancer research would be cut by $2.5B+

* The CDC (the folks that track health epidemics, issue alerts, stockpile medical supplies) would be cut by $0.5B

* The FDA (the folks that monitor the food you eat, the medicines you take, and the devices your doctors use) would have their budget cut $0.3B

* New awards at the NIH would be decimated by more than 25%, thus stifling novel biomedical research

* Many clinical trials (including those that are partnered with industry) will come to a halt, thus preventing new treatments from coming to market

Please, tell your congressperson (and liberal friends), "We need cures, not cuts!"


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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for highlighting this -a few clarifications (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pollwatcher, fuzzyguy, Anne Elk

    First, I think you overstate or misstate the novelty/innovation component of the new grants.  Lots of new and innovative work is done with grants that have been in place for many years and through many renewals.  Your 100% correct that with shrinking funding, there's been a shrinking in the risk Study Sections (review panels) are willing to take on new investigators and less than mainstream research.

    Second,  I couldn't find the stats off hand, but a significant number of "new" grants (as you characterize them) would be competitive renewals.  You're right that a lot of the funding is already baked in with the large number of funded multi-year grants.  But a lot of those grants come up for renewal each year and typically such renewals are at an advantage, making the odds of getting a first time grant even lower.

    I'm not out of the grant game after nearly 40 years.  I actually liked writing them because they forced me to think clearly about the work.  Now, it's a crap shoot weighted against you because what used to be noise in the system (reviewer bias, in particular) is now an important determinant of scoring.  I feel for people new to this.  Even without the sequester the status quo is pretty bleak.  Indeed, I fear we are losing a generation or two of scientists.  Good luck.

    The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Bertrand Russell

    by accumbens on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 12:30:56 PM PST

  •  to put this in perpective (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fuzzyguy, Anne Elk

    These cuts are on top of the funds lost when the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA/ "the stimulus") expired, which included $10 Billion dollars in additional funding for NIH.

    Because of these cuts and the issues the diarist mentions, the "pay line" for NIH grants shifted dramatically in the last few years. This is the fraction of research proposals deemed scientifically worthy of funding which actually receive money. That has gone from about 25-30% as recently as 2005-6 to what's looking like 7% for 2013 This means 3/4 of people who ordinarily would have gotten funded will be unsuccessful.

    The Pentagon is burning through roughly $200 to 300 million every 24 hours for the war in Afghanistan or $4 billion dollars every 13 days. That's the sequester.

    The entire NIH budget is $30 billion annually, and the National Cancer Institute receives $5 billion per year. This is about 150 days of war in Afghanistan.

    These cuts are deep and unnecessary. We are paying for these unnecessary wars in our own blood and that of our children.

  •  The Sequester will do huge damage to many (0+ / 0-)

    programs.  I'd gladly take more means testing of Social Security and Medicare than to go through the draconian cuts that are going to happen if the Repugs simply do nothing and get the huge cuts in government they've been trying to get.

    Cuts in global warming research, ALT-E research, physics, NASA, NOAA...

    These cuts are going to have a FAR greater impact on the country's future than the minor changes that could be proposed for Social Security and Medicare.

    •  make that "most" programs (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The way the sequester law is written, the agencies cannot cherry pick where the cuts go. The cut is across the board in the most literal sense. It means everyone gets a haircut--or a limb removed, rather than targeted cuts to spare important programs. These days, most grants are heavily weighted to personnel $$, and flat funding for the last 7 years has meant that cost of living increases have been absorbed by the grantees at the expense of other parts of their budget. While there have been salary freezes at many institutions because of the economic crisis, that is not universal and the brakes are coming off as things recover. Cutting a fraction of a person is simply not possible, nor is cutting pay usually an option. When all your federal money is being cut, the sequester gives very little flexibility to move a few dollars to another funding source to prevent losing key people, especially if you only have one. A very real consequence of this nonsense is going to be layoffs.

  •  The NIH budget already makes grants (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    something of a lottery. As one who regularly reviews grants for NIH, I find it an increasingly weird and fantastic exercise in picking the top 9-10% of applications for funding. What's the difference between a ninth percentile and a twelfth percentile? You tell me. I seriously proposed to program officials that they just randomly pick names from a hat for all of the grants that score in the top 20%. That would be less tedious and fairer than what we do. If we want a healthy research establishment, we need to triple science funding.

    I do know one thing though. Lots of us older folk are looking to retire pretty soon. Unfortunate but that's life in a rich country where intellectual work is not valued very highly.

    For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

    by Anne Elk on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 03:34:17 PM PST

    •  Hear. Hear. (0+ / 0-)

      What people fail to realize, and what I am trying to illustrate with the numbers above, is that the commitment to triple biomedical research funding would be done without any significant impact on the Federal budget. Instead, what I'm afraid of is that the right will throw a hissy fit, and today's levels of Pentagon funding will become the new norm, even after the wars are ended.

      •  So true. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It's infuriating that we have a huge freak out over a 10% cut in a $650 billion budget for defense when all we need is less than $50 billion for research. Just sickening. And don't even get me started on the Farm bill!

        For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

        by Anne Elk on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 09:16:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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