Last month’s sequester will further stress already stressed-out science agencies. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, whose budgets were already insufficient to allow many young researchers a decent chance to reach the first rung of a science career ladder, will have to knock out the ladder from under many of those who just made it onto a rung. The Department of Energy will be forced to furlough national laboratory employees, reduce operating time for already oversubscribed research facilities (possibly shuttering one or more of them) and cancel a passel of new projects needed to keep us competitive.
Putting American science on a diet, as the sequester and fiscal 2013 budget agreement do, is the opposite of good policy nutrition. Yet Congress will still have the chance to provide badly needed sustenance when it considers next year’s budget.
Republicans should take their cue from Cantor, who has recognized the value of science and technology for national security, medicine and economic growth. They should ignore the false assertion that the reductions already baked into the budget pie are only 2.3 percent when in reality they are 6 percent or more. Democrats, for their part, should get behind Obama’s prescription for economic growth based on a healthy innovation enterprise. Neither party should hold science captive to fights over spending and taxes. It is too important to fall victim to Washington’s political wrangling.
Michael S. Lubell is a professor of physics at the City College of the City University of New York and director of public affairs of the American Physical Society.