More Scientist-Hostages Uncovered

Just in case you weren’t convinced by yesterday’s post that the shutdown, following on a sequester and a recession, is doing some real damage to this nation’s scientists, science, and future, here is another link for you.

Jonathan Lilly is a oceanographer, a senior research scientist at NorthWest Research Associates in Redmond, Washington, and I can vouch that he is a first-rate scientist and an excellent blogger.  He writes in an article entitled

Stories from the front: oceanographers navigate the government shutdown

about a wide range of damaging problems affecting this field of study.  What’s nice about this post, compared to my own general one from yesterday, is that he has a lot of specific detail.

Here are some other links, demonstrating the breadth and depth of the impact:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/10/10/230750627/shutdown-imperils-costly-lab-mice-years-of-research

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/10/what-does-a-federal-shutdown-mean-for-conservation-and-ag-science/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/eliseackerman/2013/10/07/the-shutdown-versus-science-national-observatory-latest-victim-of-washington-politics/

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/10/government-shutdown-affects-biomedical-research/

50 responses to “More Scientist-Hostages Uncovered

  1. Pingback: More Scientist-Hostages Uncovered | pocket2mail

  2. The devastation the shutdown is producing on research labs all over the country is as big and wide as Katrina’s …

    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/10/government-shutdown-affects-biomedical-research/

    It is duty of all scientists to raise their voices of alert on this, ASAP!

  3. Matt, let me ask you for some advice. When my grandchildren graduate from college 100% of all federal revenue will not be enough to cover entitlement spending. We will be borrowing money to pay part of the interest on the debt plus all the money needed for discressionary spending. It will only get worse as they get older.

    Needless to say, there will be zero money in the budget for science.

    Now, should I advise them to go into science as a career? When they ask me why we let it get this bad, what should I say?

    • IMHO, any career is a lifetime decision, so, it should not be made just on a whim, and it should not be completely affected by “transient” events like this one, but I would contemplate more options, like say, to be open to a wider scope within the STEM careers and not just science.

      Other STEM careers, like engineering allow for private sector jobs as well as government jobs.

      Kind regards, GEN

    • Your point (the same one you have made again and again on this site) is not relevant. There is ZERO logical connection between a short-term unnecessary shutdown and the long-term need for budgetary reform. Nothing in my post opposes long-term budgetary reform. Why do you insist on disagreeing with me even when we agree? And don’t tell me the shutdown was needed to get Obama to discuss cost reduction. If the House hadn’t been insistent on destroying the Affordable Care Act (which I remind you is intended to *decrease* costs — it’s revenue-positive — granted, whether it works is another discussion) perhaps they could have discussed *other* ways to decrease costs.

      Furthermore, though you’ve made your argument many times, your economic analysis is nice and pat. Might it be a bit simplistic? “When my grandchildren graduate from college 100% of all federal revenue will not be enough to cover entitlement spending. We will be borrowing money to pay part of the interest on the debt plus all the money needed for discressionary spending. It will only get worse as they get older.” That is vaguely correct, if there is no reform and no inflationary spending. I do not think you will find many in Congress who oppose reform. The problem is that you will not find many who understand the word “Compromise”.

      • Republicans are using the Budget Reform argument (a valid argument) to counter the Obamacare law which is already in place.

        Republicans didn’t like the Obamacare law from an ideological perspective (it has been chastised as a socialist law), without even contemplating the facts, like say, similar laws are in place in other capitalist countries, it makes sense from a financial perspective for both the country as a whole and for citizens, and it makes sense from a societal perspective, as it offers affordable medical coverage to a larger portion of the american society that did not have proper coverage before the enactment of this law.

        Kind regards, GEN

        • > similar laws are in place in other capitalist countries,
          >it makes sense from a financial perspective

          I disagree. If you examine health care inflation rates in the industrial countries, you will find it is quite a bit higher than overall inflation. This means that in all of these countries, health care is consuming a larger and larger share of GDP.

          None of these countries have sustainable health care systems.

          • @Someguy: you are focusing on only single aspect of a wide-ranging law, where the main concern is that a large portion of the US society does not have proper medical coverage due to the high cost of medical insurance in the US.

            The problem is complex, and even though inflation is a factor in any insurance business, as it is insurance, the actuarian side of this problem and its solution should be the main focus, and not just inflation, since the main mathematical approach is about risk, how to quantify it in financial terms, how to project it over time, and how to finance its coverage over time (that’s mainly what actuaries do!)

            Just like F. D. Roosevelt did as president in the 1930s, every now and then cames a time when the question of whether or not the government should or should be temporarily a major economic actor to counter certain major problems affecting society.

            I do not see nor hear many Roosevelt critics nowadays, but in the 1930s he was a major “interventional” player, along with Congress, in many sectors, like when the SEC was created to audit and control the Stock Exchanges in the US, or when the Utilities industry (Electricity generation, distribution and marketing) was heavily regulated.

            The Obamacare law has some similar elements to the regulation of Utilities, as both laws were inspired by a societal problem regarding how expensive it is to afford certain services that are required by the whole of society.

            Kind regards, Gastón E. Nusimovich

          • @Gastón: Yes, I am focusing on cost and inflation because it is most relevant here. I agree the lack of access is a serious problem. But I also assert it is critical, not only here but for the whole world.

            None of the systems talked about are sustainable. All of them will consume larger and larger shares of their respective countries GDP until the collapse under their own weight. It doesn’t matter if it’s cheaper now.

            Without significant change, you may insure people today but not a generation from now. Countries that use systems like the ACS and single payer do not have sustainable health care systems. Why would we expect us to be any different?

          • One important issue is that many countries in Europe, and Japan, have *falling* populations. This means fewer young and middle-aged healthy people to support the old and infirm. The US has a stable, slowly growing population. For the moment, our ability to be sustainable is much greater than these other nations. Of course if we make life too difficult for immigrants we might face the same problem…

          • Indeed Matt, countries with falling populations will be in serious trouble sooner. But even similar countries like Canada have medical inflation well above overall inflation. But I think you have had enough calculus to know none of them are sustainable.

            If your interested in a solution, I recommend an article written by a liberal democrat from The Atlantic, September 2011: How Health Care Killed My Father. It is by far the best thing ever written on health care policy.

            On another note, you may (or may not) be pleased to know we agree 100% on immigration.

      • Let me make my point differently. You say:

        >There is ZERO logical connection between a
        >short-term unnecessary shutdown and the long-term
        >need for budgetary reform.

        I disagree with that statement. The current offer on the table is to end the short term crisis if the President will agree to move forward on the budget reforms he has already walked away from twice.

        Politicians will only act on serious long term problems when it gets so bad they have no other choice.

        Now, absent this crisis, when will the Administration and Congress address the long term fiscal situation?

        >I do not think you will find many in Congress who oppose reform.

        I somewhat disagree with that. All support reform sometime in the future, very few support reform now when it is least painful. The President has spoken many times about reform of entitlements, but has yet to propose any concrete solution.

        Now you will come back with the ACA and I agree he views it as a reform. However, the CBO scores of the bill, even the optimistic ones do not claim it is anywhere near enough.

        Show me that the government will act on this wihtout crisis and I’ll be happy to oppose the sequester, shutdown, and support whatever ceiling you want.

      • BTW,

        >no inflationary spending

        I’m not sure what you mean by this.

        • Printing money. Devaluing the currency. It’s always part of the solution after a major debt crisis; but you don’t want it to be a major part.

          • That is not a solution. First of all, entitlement spending is indexed to inflation so the worse it gets, the deeper the hole we are digging for outselves. Medical inflation, being worse than general inflation will magnify the pain.

            Second of all, you make the inflation risk in government bonds far worse. That will have the effect of leveraging the pain even more. Let’s say interest rates are the same as they where during the last bout of inflation which is about 10% (an average, it got much higher at times). In 25 years or so when the debt is 200% of GDP, that will translate to yearly interest costs of 20% of GDP. That is about all the government ever collects in taxes. So under these conditions, 100% of all govenrment income will be used to pay interest. We will be borrowing another 20% of GDP to pay entitlements and whatever else we can get to fund the rest.

            In short, inflation cannot be part of the solution.

          • But my question remains: what short of crisis will motivate politicians to make the chages we both agree are needed?

          • I concur.

            Printing money without proper restraints leads to automatic devaluation of the currency.

            That is very much like one of those slapstick comedies from The Three Stooges when the meringue pie is thrown to the ceiling, sticks to it, but then it is pulled back down by grativy and falls into somebody’s face.

            Down here in Argentina we have a long experience with governments printing money like crazy to finance budget gaps, and we know that it does not work, as we will have to cover that in the future with inflation.

            There is a popular saying here that expresses this fairly well: “what is bread for today, wil be hunger for tomorrow”.

            Kind regards, GEN

          • I am still waiting for someone to answer Someguy’s question: “What short of crisis will motivate politicians to make the changes we both agree are needed?”

            They (both republicans and democrats) will kick the can down the road yet again, they will print even more money that they don’t have…they will continue to call the myriad of wasteful government programs “rounding errors” – so that they don’t have to look at them. One side will continue to refuse new taxes, the other will continue to refuse to make real cuts in spending – counting reductions in projected increases as “budget cuts” and saying that they have already significantly cut the deficit (which will technically be true – the mindless sequester forced them to spend less money that they don’t have this year relative to last year – so they “cut the deficit”). Both sides apparently “deadlocked”, but in reality both sides playing the American Public for fools, knowing that the required painful actions will not happen on their watch thus virtually guaranteeing their re-election…

            So Someguy you won’t get an answer. Because, unfortunately, the real answer is: “Nothing” – short of the real crisis that you know is coming and of course then it will be too late. Take solace in the fact that like Winston Churchill, you warned them…

  4. Bill Stidwill

    One of the things that stands out in Jonathan Lilly’s account is the need for anonymity. I find myself wondering what action might be taken against these scientists, and who might take it.

    I guess this makes Jonathan a brave man!

  5. Some guys just don’t get it.

  6. Business Continuity Planning is about to enter the experimenter’s toolkit.

  7. GEN, don’t forget that the Senate leadership used procedural trickery to get the votes to barely pass a bill that would not pass, the was designed for passage and not actually to work, and that went against all popular feeling at the time. ADA aside, we can all agree that it’s quite unsettling when one suddenly wakes up to the tenuousness of one’s gravy train. Those of us in the non-essential service industry are always at the bottom of the hill down which the proverbial material is rolling. People without jobs don’t call us. So, I feel your pain and empathize. I will feel it even more when I’m paying my unaffordable health care premium.

  8. The key point contained in the CBO long term debt projections that is relevant to this blog is:
    “In contrast, total spending on everything other than the major health care programs, Social Security, and net interest payments would decline to 7 percent of GDP, well below the 11 percent average of the past 40 years and a smaller share of the economy than at any time since the late 1930s”

    That means: 1) everything that is being affected by the shut down in government, including science spending, is already projected over the long term to fall to its lowest share of GDP since the USA grew into a major world power. 2) The real issues are problems like health care costs, not discretionary spending. 3) And, in fact current 2013 discretionary spending levels are already below the long term 11% of GDP average.

    Finally, there is plenty of waffling in the CBO analysis going forward. I suggest people read the report and the analyses of multiple economists about these issues. Nothing says we are facing an immediate catastrophe that would justify the current tea party tactics. Finally, public opinion polls suggest that these tactics are destroying the credibility of the Republican party at an unprecedented rate. For anyone that believes in the Republican take on these problems that should be enough to say this tactic is the wrong one to take. In fact, that is exactly what the experienced Republican leadership was saying from the beginning.

    • @Paul,

      As I suspect you know, one must be fully aware reading a CBO estimate. The official numbers are indeed always rosey. That’s because the member ordering the study gets to put the conditions. They usually have inflated estimates of GDP growth, ect. The classic example is the “doc fix”: the official report assumes that mandated cuts in medicare will happen as required by law even thou Congress puts it off every year.

      Far better to look at the Alternative Scenarios which assume Congress will act next year the way it has this year.

      Yes, it does say discressionary interest will fall, but that is only 20 or so of the budget and also assumes current interest rates will hold.

      You are correct: none of the current shutdown or sequester has anything to do with these long term issues. They are indeed being held hostage. But that’s politics, line in 88 when the Democrats tacked on an unrelated tax bill to a debt limit extension.

      If you can find a way to make the administration address the critical long term fiscal mess any other way, then we can re-open the government.

      Politicians only act on things like this when there is a crisis and they have no other choice. Because I love my daughter and grandkids, I’m happy to have the crisis now so they need not have a FAR worse one.

      • @someguy. I tend to agree with the view expressed by others that much of this is getting beyond the appropriate point of the impact of these political machinations on science into what is largely personal viewpoints that are appropriate for other blogs. So, I will just make a few points and end my contributions there.
        I accept that you are among the 25% or so that approve of what is going on. I am not and do not like my scientific career was ambushed by tea party folly. I presume other hard working people that make our government spending worthwhile, beyond just soldiers, would like the respect that their efforts deserve. To be yanked by the Tea Party into this game is not appreciated by me or others.
        I’m not holding my breath for big entitlement cuts or revenue increases which would solve many of these problems. I remember the Republican attempts to hang “Medicare cuts” around Obama’s neck in the last election. Likewise, lifting the FICA cap would permanently eliminate any threat of social security insolvency. But, really this will not be approved by republicans. In reality despite your claims, this isn’t about balance, its about cuts to programs that help the poor which won’t make a darn bit of difference to the increasing health care costs and aging population that are the only real long term budget problems we face. Finally, the opposition to ACA has much more to do with ideology, than any justifiable budgetary nightmare.

  9. @Someguy: I agree with you that none of the systems is substainable in the long run.

    There are many factors affecting and compounding this problem of unsubstainability, but one of those factors is the fact that at least for the last 200 years, life expectancy all around the world has consistently got larger over time.

    One of the costs of this unsubstainability is inherent inflation: as time passes, to have to pay more for the very same item, the very same value.

    The question is:

    should society look somewhere else when confronted with this problem as the system in itself is unsubstainable, or should society “grab the bull by the horns” and tackle the problem head on, even though none of the solutions will be perfect?

    This is an open question with an open answer: the question does not naturally lead to an obvious nor clear answer.

    Kind regards, GEN

  10. @Matt Strassler: the problem with Japan is particularly interesting: the generation that entered the work force after WWII made a strong point by being really spartan in the lifestyle, keeping their savings for long periods of time in banks, while at the same time, earning more and more over time as the wealth of the country grew, also over time.

    The following generations did the same, and even though life expectancy is very high in Japan and there are many elderly citizens with high medical expenses, they have large savings to finance those expenses.

    But the newer generations want to enjoy life and spend a lot more money while still being young, instead having a spartan lifestyle so as to save lots of money for the golden years.

    Besides all this, the country has been having a rough financial situation for the last 20 years or so, and all this does not seat well with a growing population of elderly people to take care of.

  11. kashyap vasavada

    I understand Matt’s and other readers’ concern that scientific research in U.S. is suffering because of decline of Govt. and private support. Also deficit and default both are important issues. But there are plenty of other media, TV channels and newspapers available to debate such ideas. I am 100 % sure that people in power or even general public do no care at all about what a few scientifically literate people discuss on such blogs. So my request: let us get back to discussion of HEP! I believe people like me read this blog to know what is going on in HEP. I am not saying that occasional complaints about declining resources for scientific research are bad. But let us not do too much of that!

  12. @Kashyapa Vasavada
    Tea Party Fools are partying because others are not calling their bluff. It is time for sensible people to stand up and be counted.

  13. Yes and one program that needs to go is Obamacare. This all just proves that both parties suck. Diminishing our ability as scientists to do our job is the height of absurdity.

    Matt and thanks for this report and links.

  14. themodernidiot

    If we don’t have science to move us past our old, industrial dependencies, all the budget reform in the world won’t do us any good. We have to make money to spend it. Without the agricultural, health, and technological innovations we need to move forward economically, we won’t be even be able to graduate to the 22nd century. Viva la science!

  15. Tony ( Rácz) Rotz

    The deficit would not be what it is today if we had raised taxes to pay for the two wars that were considered necessary for our interests in the Middle East. Maybe its time to go back to the tax structure that existed prior to the Bush presidency, pay for the wars and have enough left to fund science.

  16. Tony ( Rácz) Rotz

    By the way. May Scott Carpenter sail on and sail upwards.

  17. Makes me glad to live in England with healthcare for all and never a Government shutdown. Expect of course, what happens in the US will have economic ripples across the world.

    Just like the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Didn’t that happen on the Republicans watch.

    • Stop you know better than any policy usually is more harmful in the near future. For example, the S&L Scandals. The hate invected against republicans is silly, It is though Blago and Rostenkowski get a pass in the media or the standard refrain that repubs do it too.
      Come on now.. you are more educated than that. Right?

      • Blagoevich, Rostenkowski? Both were convicted of corruption – but neither had anything to do with the S&L scandals. The S&L scandals were the result of both deregulation and lax regulation; we know which party favors those policies.

        As with the financial crisis of 2008 there was also plenty of blame on the officers of the institutions involved. While it’s probably not correct to point a finger at one political party over the other – I do remember the Keating Five. The Republicans went on to run one of them as a Presidential candidate.

  18. Profesor, the problem is that this report is not on fox news. As long as the Amercian public is not properly informed, the majoriity of Americans will singingly vote their own decline… out of ignorance.

    • I seldom if ever watch Fox News, even though I believe it is voice of dissent. Actually American politics are becoming inverted where it is hard to tell who is who and what they stand. I am sure they both vote on both sides of the issues. Not surprising though.

  19. Can we please stop banging on about politics, guys, and talk about physics instead? For example, does anybody want to talk about gravity? Anybody?

    • Yes. Truth is a conserved quantity in intelligent discussion carried by words The money that congressmen move through, like the Higgs field, can make words appear true. However because truth is conserved with intelligence, ignorance is required to allow their pronouncements seem sensible.

      So we have an ACA that rewards big pharm and insurers Higgs mechanism is a fair metaphor as to what happens to truth. So even though the government is shut down, it is still snooping on this with NSA.. We have to walk through endless scanners and screeners to board a plane. Fishermen for crab can’t fish because they would violate law that makes them have a permit. Huh send the crab cops and TSA home. See truth about what it means to close the government means closing those buildings and selling them. Fire every last spy, guard and beurocrat home. Posting guards to keep people out of the stuff is a shut down only if the stuff is being sold. Pat the guards and the real estate agents and ebay to liquidate it.
      The tea bangers were elected because of ignorance. That was possible because as the great phenomonologist F Gump theorized:
      “Stupid is as Stupid does….
      Or as we need discuss physics – stupidity is a conserved quantity with a symmetry to ignorance.

  20. Virtual particles are the responsibility of physicists. Virtual dollars are the responsibility of politicians. I think this is a sad example of the expression “The pot is calling the kettle black”.

    • mmm, I would say that virtual particles are due to the uncertainty principle, while particle physicists study their behaviour so as to have better explanations of said behaviours.

      Kind regards, GEN

  21. Both virtual particles and virtual dollars are disputed for their appropiateness.

  22. Once again I will point out, none of you Obama supporting, conservative hating academics living off other people’s money cared a whit when Obama, Pelosi and Reid put doctors, hospital workers, insurance agents, coal miners, LVNs, car dealers etc.. out of work. Obama destroyed my future and my medical practice 4 years ago and most of you cheered him on. I hope you all lose your jobs forever and never get another dime of other people’s money. Go get some real jobs.

  23. IMHO, there is not much to either argue or have major doubts about the objective fact that the shutdown is decimating both small and large science projects all over the country, and that the consequences to science in America will be more devastating and lasting that the shutdown itself.

    Whether or not we agree on the truth and goodness of the Obamacare Law … but that’s another story, like Rudyard Kipling wrote.

    Kind regards, GEN

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