Science Advocates Decry Trump’s Proposed Budget

Officials at scientific societies and advocacy organizations urge lawmakers to push back against proposed cuts at the NIH and other agencies.

By Bob Grant | March 16, 2017

PIXABAYThe Trump administration released its FY 2018 federal budget proposal today (March 16), outlining possible funding cuts at federal research agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and others. While Congress has yet to weigh in on the plan, science advocacy organizations are sounding the alarm.

“This budget proposal would cripple American innovation and economic growth,” Association of American Universities President Mary Sue Coleman said in a statement. “The President’s FY18 budget proposes deep cuts to vital scientific research.”

In particular, the NIH stands to receive a $5.8 billion (almost 19 percent) cut to its current annual budget. “We think it’s outrageous,” Howard Garrison, director of public affairs at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, told The Scientist. “It’s unconscionable.”

Jamie Vernon, director of science communications and publications at Sigma Xi, expressed apprehension. “This budget, at this point—which I think is early—puts certain critical programs at risk,” he told The Scientist. “One of the specific cuts that we’re seeing that’s concerning is those that are affecting the NIH and biomedical research.”

Rush Holt, CEO  of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, sounded a similar warning. “The Trump administration’s proposed budget would cripple the science and technology enterprise through shortsighted cuts to discovery science programs and critical mission agencies alike,” he said in a statement. “Investments in federal research and development (R&D) make significant contributions to economic growth and public well-being.”

But what is a science advocacy organization to do in the face of potential cuts the size and breadth of those the Trump administration is envisioning? “We are stepping up the meetings that we’re scheduling on Capitol Hill with both Republicans and Democrats to reinforce the message that medical research is critical not only to improving human health, but it’s also critical to national security,” Suzanne Ffolkes, vice president for communications at Research!America, told The Scientist. “We’re going to share as many success stories of federally funded research as possible. . . . We will also remind [legislators] about the economic benefits of federally funded research and how that has helped to revitalize many of their own communities and provide high-quality jobs.”

Given that the US Senate approved a $2 billion bump for the NIH budget for FY 2016, and that the Senate Appropriations Committee recently OKed another $2 billion budget bump for FY 2017, Garrison said he is hopeful that Congress will not pass the cuts the Trump administration has suggested. “This is a Congress that has a very high respect for NIH, and therefore I think that they will probably make the right decision and reject these cuts,” he said. “It’s my goal to make that happen, and it’s my working assumption that Congress is in agreement when it comes to NIH.”

Ffolkes said that researchers, especially those funded by the NIH, should be spurred into action by the release of this federal budget proposal. “It’s time for those scientists, if they haven’t done so yet, to immediately contact their representatives,” she said. That could mean inviting legislators for lab tours, or scheduling meetings with representatives at city, state, or federal offices.

“With this budget,” said Ffolkes, “there is a sense of urgency to step up their outreach.”

See “Science Policy in 2017

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Avatar of: Salticidologist


Posts: 56

March 17, 2017

Nothing surprising here.  I've seen universities go after large budget increases and new programs even when their state budgets are under water.  It's in the nature of altricial hatchlings to open their mouths and call out "more, more."  But at a certain point the parents throw out two and keep the two that they can rear.  Perhaps there is a different source of money that can be tapped, such as the public that spends so much money on entertainment and the good life.  Maybe "citizen science" will get more attention as the Federal Well dries up.  Even if that well were overflowing, it would not be enough.  A lot of science is done in a very expensive manner.

Avatar of: GerryS


Posts: 37

March 17, 2017

My complaint here is one I always have had.  Our leadership looks at the problem but fails to supply a remedy.  Anyone in a leadeership position could easily stand up and encourage people to donate to funds and institutions for the sole purpose of research.  I have found that a humble request usually receives responses far beyond needs.  I think that people would be very happy with a little encouragement to take up the slack in our many noble ventures.  Research is one of the common works of society whose sole purpose is to improve the lot of human existence.  This would cut the need for oppressive mega-budgets immensely.

Avatar of: mightythor


Posts: 88

March 17, 2017

I am amused by the suggestions posted here that science should be funded by voluntary public subscription (more so, presumably, than it is already through our extensive network of private charities and foundations). 

Reminds me of the old bumper sticker query: "Wouldn't it be nice if schools got all the money they need, and the Pentagon had to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber?"

It's a question of priority:  what is important to us collectively, as a culture and as a nation?

Trump's priority is belligerence.  Science, with its nagging insistence on empirical facts and its obsessive testing of hypotheses, is at best unnecessary, and often an inconvenience.

Avatar of: True Scientist

True Scientist

Posts: 59

Replied to a comment from mightythor made on March 17, 2017

March 17, 2017

Trump's priority is not belligerency by itself. To protect science based on empirical facts and hypotheses testing, as well as our culture and a nation he must to be belligerent. Thanks God, he is. Trump is the last chance for America to be great again.

Avatar of: JMinCA


Posts: 10

Replied to a comment from True Scientist made on March 17, 2017

March 17, 2017

First, define your words "our culture".  Whose culture?  #45 certainly is not defending MY American culture.

Second, show (a graph will suffice) just exactly when America ceased to be "Great".  Make sure you define "Great".

#45 and his administration, as well as his supporters, are trying to re-enact a fantasy America they think existed in the 1950's.  Unfortunately, it wasn't so great for anyone other than white males.  If they try to take this country backwards, we will lose out in the end to more innovative contries. 

As for defending our nation, #45 is doing a poor job of that.  This new budget, with its emphasis on military armament, will do nothing to stop a terrorist attack.  How many terrorists will be stopped by new expensive submarines?    

Since you like empirical facts, how about the many studies that have calculated the likelihood of an American being killed by a terrorist? Personally, I am not worried--I have a much greater chance of dying in a car accident..  I am thousands of times more likely to die of an avoidable medical error or a car crash than from a terrorist attack.  Go ahead and cower in your bunker, and cede the future to other countries. 

March 17, 2017

A 5.8 billion dollar cut to NIH is an outrage.   Scientists improve our lives in so many ways....medically, economically and more..... and their efforts improve our quality of life enormously and  the progress provides a rathonale to continue to support the many disciplines - especially in the medical fields. 

As a Ph.D. scientist who spent most of her career in academia I advocated for better oversight of spending ....such as from NIH grants.  I was in fact a witness to waste fraud and abuse but there was no agency in place to safely report it. Take one look at the website "retraction watch".   I am apalled at how much waste, fraud and abuse is reflected through the increasing index of retracted peer reviewed manuscripts - that report erroneous data or tha are plagiarized. The oversight necessary is not beyond the capacity of our government.  The ORI (office of research integrity) was created for this purpose but in my opinion it has failed in many respects and remains weak in the enforcement of policy.   The universities protect the fraudsters because it is not in their Interest to return or lose grant money. (and that ORI can force them to do)...some universities take 70% overhead on each grant.  Science whistleblowers are punished severely and many lose their careers as whistleblower protection at universities is also very weak.  Scientists can police themselves but require the support of both the universities and the government to do so effectively.   Billions can be saved if this is done correctly by our government and we would need not worry about buget cuts because the money saved would be better distributed amongst the capable and honest scientists who deserve it.   Again check out retrraction watch to comprehend the magnitude of questionable data being disbursed in reputable peer reviewed journals.   NIH grant money supported that research.  If we adopt strict integrity policy and if we as scientists police ourselves properly there should be no need for journals to retract published manuscripts.  

If the proper oversight is in place there should be no rationale for any budget cuts to the NIH!



Avatar of: True Scientist

True Scientist

Posts: 59

Replied to a comment from JMinCA made on March 17, 2017

March 17, 2017

Our culture is the culture of the country in which we all reside, presumably legally. If you singled out yourself and YOUR American (?) culture from the culture of this nation then you have no say and no standing in this discussion. We should not care much about opinions of those who do not belong.

The degradation of American greatness did not happen overnight, it was a long process thanks to continuos efforts of Democrats and numerous newcomers, free lunch lovers. America was great because it managed to survive all this blood-sucking.

Wether you like it or not, prosperity and greatness of this country have been created predominantly by white males who worked harder and more productive than anybody else in the world. The surplus produced was big enough to permit looting for many years after. America did become a fantasy land that rest of the world was dreaming about. Restoration of that status will not result in any losses in the end, quite an opposite. I wonder what more innovative countries do you keep in mind? China? Muslim countries? I have a lot to say about them..

I am amazed by strange and twisted logics on the issue of terrorism. Following its lines, it appears that we do not have to worry about terrorists attacks and killed innocent people till the rate of deaths reaches the level of traffic accidents, then we may start talking about it... Do I have to remind you that every single life is precious? You personally have not been killed yet, but you might have been if you were somewhere nearby San Bernardino on that day.

We won't have the future to cede to any country if we do not support and appreciate all the efforts of current acting President. he is right, America should come first.


Avatar of: James V. Kohl

James V. Kohl

Posts: 516

March 17, 2017

Theorists failed to link what is known about biophysically constrained RNA-mediated protein folding chemistry to the physiology of reproduction in species from microbes to man. The cut may be reactionary.

This report attests to the fact that billions of dollars have been wasted, because evidence of microbial life was NOT found in fossilized rock.

Biomimetic mineral self-organization from silica-rich spring waters

Will someone besides Roger Penrose explains why microbial life evidence in fossilized rock was not part of Schrodinger's approach to "What is LIfe?" If so, will they do it before Penrose tells them how his views vary from the views of George Ellis.

Will funds be provided to The Penrose Institute before more funding is provided for pseudoscience? Until we learn the answer to that question, I will remain relatively certain that many people are fed up with pseudoscientists because they failed to answer this question.

"How often do we still hear that quantum effects can have little relevance in the study of biology, or even that we eat food in order to gain energy?"(Roger Penrose 8 August 1991)

Avatar of: OutBox17


Posts: 8

March 18, 2017

Actually the budget cuts should be bigger. There is so much crap in academia that it is hard to believe what is true or false. Scientists falsely believe that everything they do is ‘novel’. Past history shows there is nothing to be discovered. Everything is an incremental improvement of existing methods, processes, products, apparatus, technologies, programs etc. Yet universities are clogged with scientists, useless 'discoveries' to be ‘patented’ and zero productivity for the benefit of humanity. We keep repeating this nonsense every century. I bet if someone starts analyzing data from old biomedical science publications, the amount of copied, repetitive and nonsense hypotheses and empirical data are going to be humongous. Scientists only care about long term support to perpetuate forever their existence in their labs without producing anything but a bunch of low quality work and publications. For scientists quantity is what matters and not quality. They have to produce their publication quote to survive or leave. They should put part of their own salaries and not the public to support their own 'research'. I bet if scientists were forced to do that, their scientific work would be entirely productive, meaningful, and with applications for the benefit of humanity. Yes, budgets should be deeply cut and mediocrity should be eliminated.

Avatar of: Kathy Barker

Kathy Barker

Posts: 44

March 22, 2017

These responses show how out of touch with people the science organizations are. From whom do they want to take their money for research? From health care? Education? 

Cut the military. Over half the discretionary budget already goes there. If you really want to work on racism, feminism, and science for all people, is is really possible But science derives great power from the military. This is exemplified perfectly in Ffolkes' statement, who emphasizes that national security will be hurt if the biomedical research budget is cut. Well it is a stretch, but it is a technological military and scientists are part of it, and that prevents them from even thinking of their part in growing the most militaristic military that ever existed in the world (see today's New York Times for the numbers.) There is a severe conflict now, as the science organizations are touting their desire to align with people, yet they partner and belong to entities that have enforced racism and violence. War is the ultimate expression of racism.

I am so glad to see that the young scientists are thinking about issues that have been considered unscientific and paltry by the research and scince world. This could be a chance to decide what kind of science we want to do and who should benefit from it. 

Replied to a comment from OutBox17 made on March 18, 2017

March 23, 2017

Your response demonstrates your lack of knowledge regarding research efforts over the past decades. "Nothing new to be discovered" is an especially egregious accusation.  Please explain the "not newness" of the polymerase chain reaction and the CRISPR/Cas9 system for starters. And please do let us know about your publication record and grant success which allows you to speak with such authority.  Lastly, the iterative steps that you decry, for example,  allow scientists to modify parent drugs (already "discovered"), such as antibiotic,s to be one more step ahead of resistance evolved by bacteria and once more clear these infections in patients.  You need to do more research before you post such erroneous, un-evidenced allegations.

Avatar of: True Scientist

True Scientist

Posts: 59

Replied to a comment from Dr. Melanie T. Cushion made on March 23, 2017

March 24, 2017

The original post was not about definition of a new discovery but about necessity to cut wasteful spending. Speaking about "newness" - both PCR and the CRISPR/Cas9 system are not dramatically new discoveries but rather succesive collaborative steps (look at the latest patent quarrel). Why do you think that only previewed and approved publication records and grant success allow anybody to speak with any kind of authority in that kind of discussion? It is public money that you are wasting, by the way.

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