Dear Commons Community,
George Will, the conservative columnist for the Washington Post on Friday, blasted our political leadership for its short-sightedness in how it has administered the sequestration of federal funds. Specifically he commented that the sequestration is depleting basic science research especially in the area of health.
“…the Clinical Center, the NIH’s beating heart, is inspiriting and depressing: Public health is being enhanced — rapidly, yet unnecessarily slowly — by NIH-supported research here, and in hundreds of institutions across the country, into new drugs, devices and treatments. Yet much research proposed by extraordinarily talented physicians and scientists cannot proceed because the required funding is prevented by the intentional irrationality by which the sequester is administered.
A 2 percent reduction of federal spending would be easily manageable. It has, however, been made deliberately dumb by mandatory administrative rigidities intended to maximize pain in order to weaken resistance to any spending restraint. Spending on basic medical research is being starved as the river of agriculture subsidies rolls on…
…For Francis Collins, being the NIH’s director is a daily experience of exhilaration and dismay. In the past 40 years, he says, heart attacks and strokes have declined 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively. Cancer deaths are down 15 percent in 15 years. An AIDS diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Researchers are on the trail of a universal flu vaccine, based on new understandings of the influenza virus and the human immune system. Chemotherapy was invented here — and it is being replaced by treatments developed here. Yet the pace of public health advances, Collins says, is being slowed by the sequester.
Collins is haunted by knowledge that the flow of scientific talent cannot be turned on and off like a faucet. Unfortunately, recent government behavior has damaged the cause of basic science. It has blurred the distinction between fundamental research and technical refinements (often of 19th-century technologies — faster trains, better batteries, longer-lasting light bulbs). It has sown confusion about the difference between supporting scientific research and practicing industrial policy with subsidies — often incompetently and sometimes corruptly dispensed — for private corporations oriented to existing markets rather than unimagined applications. And beginning with the indiscriminate and ineffective 2009 stimulus, government has incited indiscriminate hostility to public spending.”
We can thank both Republicans and Democrats for the sequester with much of the blame resting with the Congress.