On Tuesday, July 10 over 2,000 Canadian scientists staged a mock funeral on Parliament Hill protesting “the death of evidence” that would result from proposed budget cuts to research funding. Participants marched through central Ottawa behind a large coffin and a woman dressed as the Grim Reaper. Many of the protesters wore white lab coats and carried signs condemning the proposed cuts and Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.
The procession was organized in response to Parliament’s decision to close several research programs including the Experimental Lakes Area, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory and the First Nations Statistical Institute. The new budget bill also proposes major funding cuts to other basic environmental research programs.
“It is completely shocking,” says Jim Elser, an aquatic ecologist at Arizona State University in Tempe, about the closing of the ELA. “It is sort of like the U.S. government shutting down Los Alamos or taking the world’s best telescope and turning it off.”
Maybe it’s time for U.S. researchers to take some pointers from our neighbors to the north. There are very real threats to research funding looming in the not-too-distant future. U.S. researchers don’t want to end up as mourners in a funeral procession that takes place AFTER funding cuts are made.
Could U.S. research funding agencies be facing the same fate? It’s possible. In his FY2013 budget request, President Obama asked for flat funding for the National Institutes of Health, which represents a 3.5% cut in funding after cost of inflation is included. There are other proposals in Washington that could cut NIH funding even further. Sequestration, an automatic budget cut if Congress can’t agree on a spending plan, would cut NIH’s budget an additional 7%. The FY13 budget passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would likely lead to deeper, more severe cuts to domestic spending programs, including the NIH. Is there a way to stop the “funeral” before it even starts? Yes, but only with YOUR help!
Let your members of Congress know that federal funding for basic research is critical for the health and economic future of the U.S. and participate in the ASBMB 100 Meeting Challenge! Volunteer to meet with your members of Congress over the summer recess when they are at home in their districts. The ASBMB Office of Public Affairs can help you schedule you meeting and provide all the necessary materials to show your Congressmen the importance of sustained federal funding for basic research. Email Ben Corb to volunteer.
Several attendees at the Canadian protest said it was the first time they could remember Canadian scientists demonstrating en masse. Jules Blais, professor of biology at the University of Ottawa, said he was encouraged by the turnout on Parliament Hill. “I think what this shows is a turning point – that Canadian scientists are no longer going to stand quietly by and let the government basically destroy our ability to provide and collect evidence.”