What is the value of science and technology? Not very much, according to the latest budget proposal from the Trump administration. Whether it is due to President Trump’s inability to comprehend the complexity of the work being done by scientists in America, or simply because he realizes facts produced by the research will negatively impact businesses, one thing is for certain, the new president is not a fan of scientific research.
Many science programs in America will be taking a huge hit due to this proposal including programs listed below:
Trump’s vision of the budget sounds economically reasonable, less money for science means more money for other programs such as national defense. However, like many other people, Trump does not realize the impact of basic research on our day-to-day lives.
The NIH will soon experience a reduction of 20% in their overall budget under the Trump administration. Most of the NIH’s budget currently goes towards funding research in health care and universities across the country. For many scientists in biomedical research, this funding provides money to pay salaries, purchase equipment, and train prospective PhD students; ultimately allowing them to conduct cutting edge research. As the years go by, it has become increasingly difficult for scientists to receive funding for their projects. The graph below shows that the amount of NIH funding has plateaued in recent years resulting in a decline in the number of proposal successes. Because of insufficient funding, many interesting and potentially impactful questions are not being investigated.
Unlike the work done in pharmaceutical companies, the research conducted in basic biomedical research is not the kind that will produce a tangible, marketable product. Instead, it allows researchers are able to gather data about the impact of certain substances on organisms, investigate new physiological properties, and uncover new effects of substances being used currently; all of which contribute to improving our quality of life. The scientists then publish the results, whether they are good or bad in order to provide an impartial and objective truth.
Pharmaceutical companies are conducting research with a motive in mind: creating a product that will generate profit. They may resort to tampering data in order to force the numbers to produce a desired result, limiting the sample, ignoring issues with control group participants, and eliminating samples that do not conform to their desired result can achieve a more desirable result. In these companies, the production of a single drug can take up to 10 years of research and cost millions of dollars. Thus if a drug is found to be useless at the last stage of testing, the researchers will be under intense pressure to change the data or leave it unpublished in order to maximize company profit.
As governmental funding for basic research decreases, an increasing number of researchers are forced to turn to industries to fund their work. Industry funding can have dire consequences on the data that is obtained. A 1996 study on the effects of nicotine on cognitive performance revealed that nicotine or smoking improves cognitive performance. However, it is important to note that these scientists were also funded by the tobacco industry. Funding by the industry imparts bias to the researchers, and affects the honestly of their work and results. This means the results are no longer impartial because if the findings from the study don’t look good for the funder’s bottom line, it does not get published.
Health care professionals use the data and conclusions generated by researchers in order to make decisions and treatment plans for their patients. By asking researchers to rely on these alternative means of funding, millions of health care professionals may end up receiving “alternative facts”. Patients may be prescribed useless, or harmful drugs which could have been avoided had the professionals been provided all the accurate and unbiased data.
The Trump administration’s budget proposal is not only shortsighted, but it also fails to recognize the critical role of biomedical research in saving the lives of millions of Americans. Good science cannot happen unless it is divorced from corporate interests. It is a matter of pursuing a finding, instead of a pursuit of knowledge. This budget cut will push scientists to seek alternative means of funding. This not only compromises results, but it also compromises the health of all Americans.
Written by: Tiffany Ni
Tiffany is currently in her third year of undergraduate studies at Western University and serves as one of UAEM Western's Report Card Leaders