The American Association for the Advancement of Science presented recommendations to the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee on ways to support the research community – including early-career researchers – as it faces challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sudip Parikh, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, participated as an expert witness in the February 25 hearing, “Building Back the U.S. Research Enterprise: COVID Impacts and Recovery,” examining how the pandemic is affecting STEM students, researchers and institutions and suggesting opportunities to provide additional support in response.
“We are at an inflection point,” said Parikh, who connected to the hearing by videoconference due to the pandemic. “Scientists and engineers have risen to the challenge of COVID-19, but this success has come at a price.”
Parikh spoke about the quick response of the biomedical research enterprise to understand and address COVID-19, and how the record-setting number of research publications submitted to Science journals and other peer-reviewed publications demonstrated the speed and intensity with which researchers are responding to the global crisis.
In his written testimony, he also detailed the variety of challenges facing researchers across disciplines and fields during the prolonged pandemic in the United States, from limited time in labs and delays in human subject research to the curtailing and cancelation of field expeditions.
Parikh and other witnesses cited recent findings that detrimental impacts are being most felt by those in early stages of their careers – undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers – and that existing inequities for women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields are further exacerbated by pandemic impacts including anxiety and depression, food and housing insecurity and financial hardship.
“Every time a research project is shuttered or delayed, or a promising scientist drops out of the workforce, it raises the question: What discovery or development that could have made us safer, led to better jobs, or healed the sick has been lost?” Parikh asked. “What we do now could determine who benefits from scientific discovery – in the form of better jobs and improved health.”
Additional witnesses testifying at the hearing were Felice Levine, executive director of the American Educational Research Association; Christopher Keane, vice president for research at Washington State University; and Thomas Quaadman, executive vice president in the Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Members of Congress participating in the committee hearing asked a range of questions to witnesses and referenced bipartisan legislation under consideration since last fall: the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act, which was introduced in both the House and Senate; and the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act, a bill sponsored by science committee chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and co-sponsored by ranking member Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK).
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the timing of the hearing coincides with broader public and policy discussions about the need for additional economic relief across multiple segments of American society, including consideration by Congress and the Biden administration about additional relief packages.
The broader context for the scientific community includes calls from universities and economists for more immediate research recovery in the United States and, at the same time, the need for progress in making sustained increases to the federal investment in research and development in response to increased scientific competition – and increased national spending – from other countries, notably China.
“Our failure to sustain our investment in research and development is threatening not only Americans’ opportunities, but our innovation leadership,” said Parikh. “Make no mistake, we remain in a global race for innovation advantage and we’ve been allowing ourselves to slip.”