Sequester causes 'brain drain' of U.S. researchers

One in five U.S. scientists have considered moving overseas to continue their research due to being hamstrung by the federal budget sequester, according to a new report called Unlimited Potential, Vanishing Opportunity, published by a coalition of 16 science organizations.

The report is based on answers to an online survey completed in June and July by 3,700 scientists from a variety of disciplines in all 50 states, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico. Of those respondents, 46 percent have laid off researchers, 55 percent know a colleague who's lost a job recently, and 85 percent surveyed believe federal funding cuts have put the U.S. at a disadvantage to global competitors in the "race toward discovery."

The report authors write that over the past 10 years, federal investments in scientific research have been stagnant and have not kept up with inflation. The sequester has "eroded our ability to invest in the next generation of scientists to carry out the groundbreaking research the U.S. is known for."  

"Tax-funded research later commercialized by American companies lead to a 1 percent drop in annual cancer deaths, saving the U.S. half a trillion dollars in healthcare costs every year," their report continues. "The information technology sector--born almost exclusively from federally-funded research--contributes one-trillion dollars annually to the U.S. gross domestic product."

In a commentary about the report published in Forbes, contributor Janet Rae-Dupree writes that the long-term impact of such a "brain drain" could be catastrophic.

"The cause-and-effect is simple," she says."If Congress continues to refuse to fund the future, the decline of America's much-touted 'innovation economy' will accelerate fatally."

Rae-Dupree adds that initiatives such as the Obama Administration's BRAIN project--funded by the National Institutes of Health and calling for $110 million in FY 2014--are too big-picture and "glitzy," and don't take into account the value of observing something scientifically over the course of years or decades.

"We need to nurture the 'what-if' questions that scientists working behind the scenes ask every day," she writes. "Innovation does not come with shrieks of 'eureka!' and piles of gold."

Despite such cuts, groundbreaking research continues to come out of the U.S. For instance, researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School and Harvard University recently determined that laser-guided surgery could improve the odds of removing all of a brain tumor by highlighting its edges. 

And according to an article published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, the cyber infrastructure used by researchers in other disciplines can be put to work to handle the "big data" problems associated with genomic research--with some customization.

To learn more:
- read the report
- read the Forbes commentary

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