Sequestration also axed hundreds of government-funded research grants, one of the fundamental sources of science funding at academic institutions. The National Science Foundation (NSF) cut up to 600 grants, and NIH offered about 700 fewer than it did in 2012.
The cuts could be “like a slow-growing cancer,” says Steven Warren, vice chancellor for research at the University of Kansas. The most severe effects could come years in the future, he predicts, as a generation of young faculty struggles for funding or pursues more conventional, less innovative projects in an effort to win limited dollars.
On top of those woes, more immediate hardships ensued from a 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government, which began on Oct. 1 when feuding lawmakers failed to reach a spending agreement. The shutdown stopped projects midstream and postponed the beginning of the five-month research season in Antarctica, where scientists are looking into everything from climate change to earthquakes.
Putting research on hold there for more than two weeks interrupted data collection and prevented support crews from reaching their destinations, forcing NSF to cancel or delay some projects until 2014.
Congress reached a deal in mid-October that reopened the government, but the effects of sequestration and the shutdown have further eroded federal investment in science, which had already seen a 16 percent drop in the previous three years, according to Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS.
“The cumulative effects of these trends, now exacerbated by the shutdown, are threatening America’s very standing in the global scientific community,” Leshner told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee last fall.
[This article originally appeared in print as "Science: Sequestered and Shut Down."]