Shutdown slams doors on scientists

Here’s my just-posted story on how the shutdown affects federal scientific programs and agencies such as NIH, NASA, NSF. The overall federal R&D apparatus is so sprawling that it’s impossible to be comprehensive in a relatively quick-and-dirty story like this. But a few key points:

1. If you’re sick, or your kid is sick, and you were hoping to join a clinical trial at NIH — as about 200 people a week normally do — you’re out of luck until the shutdown is over. People already enrolled or with appointments are fine. But new applicants are being turned away, NIH says. How does NIH feel about this? “Awful” says the NIH spokesman.

2. The Mars probe MAVEN is supposed to launch Nov. 18. It takes weeks to get these things ready to launch. If the shutdown lasts only a few days, they’ll probably be fine, but if it drags on and on, there’s a chance MAVEN may have to go into mothballs until the planets align again in two years. You can’t argue with orbital dynamics.

3. In the broad scheme of things, the discretionary budget has been steadily shrinking over time as a percentage of GDP, and along with that has been a decline in federal spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP. Right now federal R&D spending (which includes military, by far the major player in this) is running at about 0.8 percent of GDP.

Please look at this graph (and yes I needed assistance merely to post a graph to my blog — talk about someone who needs to do more R&D!!):

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

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Joel Achenbach · September 30, 2013

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