Science funding and the election
As the presidential race continues, the economy remains on the forefront of key issues to be discussed. Yet, just as pressing are the candidates’ policies on science and innovation. America’s scientific research cuts across all sectors and is instrumental to its prosperous future.
Both President Obama and Governor Romney have voiced different visions for the future of the U.S. scientific enterprise. President Obama has been largely a friend to Science and Innovation. Some of his key scientific policies included improving science education through revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and lifting the ban on human embryonic stem cell research.
Romney, on the other hand, remains the wildcard. Many members of the scientific community worry that if Romney wins the presidential election, it could result in a drastic shift in the U.S. government’s approach to scientific study and research. They fear that the Romney-Ryan ticket will reduce the overall budget for research and shift its emphasis– moves that could potentially hinder economic growth.
“If Gov. Romney is serious about his budget and spending proposals, then circumstances will be dire for medical or biomedical researchers who rely on funding from NIH, CDC, or any other federal source. “We could witness the greatest retrenchment in federal support for scientific research in the nation’s history” wrote John McDonough, director of Harvard School of Public Health’s Center for Public Health Leadership.
Recently, the Romney campaign has stipulated that the Governor realizes that innovation is crucial to American prosperity. In the presidential candidates’ online science debate, Romney stated his support for “robust government funding for research”.
Yet, Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s federal spending plan-also heavily endorsed by Romney- tells a different story. If carried out, Ryan’s plan could cut spending on non-defense related research by 5 percent, or $3.2 billion, below the 2012 fiscal budget. Long term, Ryan’s small-government approach would reduce government funding for research and development to historically small figures.
Both Ryan and Romney claim that their economic plan supports “basic research and development.” In reality, it would drastically reduce spending in applied research and projects, leaving them to the mercy of the private sector. Science advocates worry that this might also include clinical trials sponsored by the National Institute of Health for therapies from which the drug industry would be unlikely to profit.
It is hard to predict how Ryan’s budget would affect the NIH, the single largest funder of basic research, as it makes up a relatively small aspect of the budget’s health category. The health section of the budget is greatly influenced by Conservative assumptions on how health care reform will play out. Despite uncertainties, the White House has already estimated that the bill could cause the number of NIH grants to shrink “by more than 1,600 in 2012 and by over 16,000 over a decade.” Ryan, though rarely a champion of Government Research Centers, has repeatedly supported the NIH, even lobbying for increased funding in 2000.
It is unclear whether the Romney-Ryan ticket will be friend or foe to scientific innovation and research in the U.S. Before November 6. Americans must continue to press Romney and Ryan about their views on science’s role in America’s future. As voters, they deserve a clear understanding of how their policies will shape the future of science before they can make an educated choice on the future leader of this country.