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AAAS Raises Concerns About Disruptions to the U.S. Scientific Enterprise Amid Shutdown

AAAS CEO Rush Holt speaks out about the shutdown’s impact on scientific advancement during a PBS NewsHour segment on its ramifications on science. | PBS NewsHour

The second-longest government shutdown is impeding scientific research efforts at multiple federal agencies and research institutions where scientists pursue investigations through federal grant funding, said Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in a PBS NewsHour interview Wednesday evening.

Asked to outline the scope and scale of the partial federal government shutdown on the scientific enterprise, Holt said “thousands and thousands” of scientists are “running into delays, disruptions, [and] sometimes, ruination of their research projects.”

Such multidisciplinary research disruptions negatively impact everything from managing agricultural, environmental and space programs to monitoring the oceans, coastal areas and the weather, Holt noted.

“Suppose you are preparing a space mission, a satellite science mission. You have got a certain launch window,” said Holt, responding to the NewsHour’s William Brangham.

“Suppose you're looking at insects, and you have to look during the week in the year when they mate. You know, if the government is closed that week, and you can’t collect the data, that’s a problem,” he added.

Shuttered federal land and programs are keeping scientists from collecting samples, some required by time-series studies that are part of long-term research projects, Holt explained during the NewsHour segment focused on the government shutdown’s impact on science.

Holt also pointed to the work of scientists outside of the federal government, saying research projects supported by federal grants issued by the National Science Foundation are not immune to the impact of the shutdown because the grant review and disbursement process is now stalled.

The shutdown’s impact on agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Agriculture and NASA, has been particularly hard on science, as it also has been on the 380,000 furloughed federal workers without pay and some 420,000 other essential employees working without pay.

Beginning with the shutdown’s outset in the early morning hours of Dec. 22, AAAS has warned of its repercussions to scientific advancement. In a statement issued then, Holt explained ramifications that could hamper the contributions of science and engineering to U.S. innovation and urged Congress and the White House to work together to end the standoff.

Amplifying the point during his PBS NewsHour appearance, Holt pointed to increased unease about the standing of the United States’ global prominence in advancing scientific innovation.

“At a time when we are concerned in international comparisons about how the U.S. science effort stacks up, this is not a good time to slow down,” Holt said. “The Chinese just landed on the dark side of the moon. And we have researchers who think that they should be doing work to help national security and human welfare and safety and public health, the very things that are at stake here. They’re waiting at home for the phone call to go back to work.”

[Associated image: PBS NewsHour]

 

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Anne Q. Hoy