Public Affairs

BPS Warns Lawmakers Against Eliminating Selected Science Projects

In July, the Biophysical Society, along with more than 140 other scientific societies and universities, sent a letter urging US Congressmen, in their need to cut spending, to avoid singling out specific programs and grants for elimination. Spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the letter was sent to key lawmakers who were preparing to debate the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2012, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation. The letter stated the undersigned oppose any attempts to eliminate or substantially reduce funding for particular research programs. Defunding specific grants or entire scientific disciplines “sets a dangerous precedent that, in the end, will inhibit scientific progress and our international competitiveness,” the group warned. “Everyone understands that legislators face tremendous challenges related to the deficit and the national economy,” said Joanne Carney, director of the Office of Government Relations at AAAS, in a press release. “But recently, selected research areas have been unfairly trivialized based on misinformation intended to challenge the scientific review process.”

Every year, Congress members and staff call out unfamiliar or seemingly odd research topics for defunding. Most recently, Senators Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and John McCain (R-Arizona) have mislabeled as frivolous important projects related to understanding addiction, global climate change, biodiversity, and antibiotic mechanisms, discrediting the peer review process that resulted in the funding of these projects. “Simply put, we need all scientists and scientific disciplines working—alone and together—to advance our knowledge base,” the letter concludes. “Allocating federal investments competitively through scientific merit review is the very process that has led this country to be a world leader in science.”

Federal Court Dismisses Stem Cell Funding Challenge

On July 27, a federal judge ruled in favor of the government in a lawsuit challenging the Obama Administration’s work to support stem cell research. In short, Judge Royce C. Lamberth dismissed the original lawsuit brought forth by James Sherley and Theresa Deisher challenging the NIH guidelines funding embryonic stem cell research. While there may be an appeal or additional action in the future by the plaintiffs, this is a very positive ruling for the Department of Justice and for embryonic stem cell research. If the plaintiffs choose to appeal this decision to the DC Circuit, they have 60 days in which to do so.

In a statement, NIH Director Francis Collins responded, “We are pleased with today’s ruling. Responsible stem cell research has the potential to develop new treatments and ultimately save lives. This ruling will help ensure this groundbreaking research can continue to move forward.”

Status of FY 2012 Federal Science Budgets

With the House and Senate wrapped up in talks about the debt ceiling, the appropriations process that would provide funding for federal agencies for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2011 has stalled. As of press time, bills funding NSF, DOE, NASA, and NIST had been considered in House committees, but only funding for DOE had been approved by the full House. No appropriations bills had been passed by the Senate or its committees.

September 2011 Table of Contents