The United States has lost a year of scientific innovation due to the budget cuts known as sequestration. Faced with limited resources, the nation’s largest supporters of research in medicine, science and engineering have funded very little new work in the past year, focusing instead on projects already underway. New ideas from scientists in Rhode Island and around the country have been put on hold. If these budget reductions continue, the nation can and will lose its pre-eminence in science and technology.
News reports say that more Americans are in favor of sequestration because they have not seen any dramatic differences in their lives. The trouble is, the worst problems aren’t dramatic. They are slowly corrosive, and most of us won’t notice them until much damage is done. Efforts to catalyze the state’s sluggish economy through technological innovation in the Knowledge District will wither in this scenario.
Federally funded research forms the basis of many medical and technological breakthroughs. Much of this work takes place at Rhode Island institutions of higher education, including the University of Rhode Island and Brown University. Vaccine development, prosthetic limbs, better forecasting of severe weather and a reliable power grid are just some of the many results of that work. We take for granted the unrelenting progress we see in medical treatment and technology we use every day. That progress will slow to a halt if we don’t continue to fund research and development.
A stalled scientific enterprise will affect everyone. Much of the news about the effects of sequestration has focused on the furlough of federal workers and cuts to programs such as Head Start and unemployment insurance. This makes it easy for people to think they are largely insulated from the effects of the budget brouhaha. You’re not. Everyone loses when medical research slows to a crawl and technological improvements don’t happen.