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The Obligation for Biologists to Commit to Political Advocacy

Thomas D. Pollard

1Departments of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University, PO Box 208103, New Haven, CT 06520-8103, USA
2 Departments of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, PO Box 208103, New Haven, CT 06520-8103, USA
3 Department of Cell Biology, Yale University, PO Box 208103, New Haven, CT 06520-8103, USA

The work of most biological scientists depends heavily on governmental funding, and this support stands in competition with every other program that receives government funds. Historically, biologists took for granted that politicians would provide adequate funding, given the virtue of advancing human health. Complacency was the norm because the budgets of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) generally increased at or above the level of inflation during the second half of the 20th century, and the budget of the NIH doubled between 1998 and 2003. Unfortunately, funding has stagnated since 2003, so taking inflation into account, the purchasing power of the NIH budget has declined about 20% over the last decade (AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), 2012; also see for regular updates.)

Times have changed for the worse for two reasons. First, the global economic recession has done real damage to science. Weak tax revenues and growing deficits have led politicians to compromise funding for research in spite of the established benefit of basic research for stimulating economic growth. The situation in the United States for 2013 is particularly dire. The failure of Congress to adopt a deficit reduction program in 2011 resulted in a fall-back option called sequestration, which may reduce federal funding across the board by 8% on January 1, 2013. If this comes to pass, we face widespread unemployment in the biological research community and the loss of many valuable research programs. Second, although US citizens still hold science and scientists in high esteem (Masci, 2009), some politicians use ideological opposition to scientific findings (evolution and climate change to cite two examples) to take anti-science positions.

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