Indiana University Bloomington

IU feeling pain of government shutdown

  • Oct. 16, 2013

By Jon Blau

Biologists at Indiana University were looking forward to a visit from Mary Lilly Thursday, a leading researcher on cells and reproduction from the National Institutes of Health. They had bought the plane ticket and everything.

But with the government shutdown, government representatives were grounded, too. Lilly isn’t coming.

Across IU, in science departments, in particular, the shutdown has created a domino effect for faculty and students. They might have been waiting on the lecture that’s been canceled. Grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health is on hold.

James Goodson, a professor of biology, has a student who doesn’t know if she’ll be able to take a position at Cornell University because funding for her postdoctoral work in neuroscience may be unavailable. That’s just one example of delays in funding, which Goodson sees as delays toward clinical trials and finding cures to diseases.

Ten years down the line, there might be a two-month span where a cure might have been available if it weren’t for this shutdown.

“Congress is killing people,” Goodson said, “and I don’t think they care.”

Many faculty members at IU, including Goodson, actually sit on grant funding committees for agencies such as the NSF. Roger Innes, a biology professor, was scheduled to take a flight at the end of the week to review applications. That meeting has been canceled, meaning those dollars won’t be going anywhere. Researchers don’t even have access to application materials on the NIH website, Goodson said.

The simplest tasks have become complicated, as well. Steve Chaplin and members of the IU public relations team, which touts the work of university scientists, can’t access pictures from NASA’s Mars mission; those online galleries are shuttered.

Research has, in some cases, come to a halt as the government remained closed heading into a third week. But professor Brian Calvi reiterated that this only comes after previous cuts to scientific research.

Calvi, himself, was supposed to have a grant reviewed by the National Cancer Institute on Oct. 7, but that grant review committee didn’t meet, either. At the same time, the institute, because of the sequester and other cuts, could only fund about 9 percent of its grants last spring, he said. Many biology professors had grant applications waiting for approval Oct. 5, and the longer the shutdown continues, the more likely the domino effect could reach the next application deadline in February.

The cancellation of the Lilly trip was just another annoyance in a long line of frustrations for IU scientists.

“The cancellation of Mary Lilly’s trip is a tragedy,” Calvi said via email. “More than that, she, like other NIH scientists, is locked out of her lab, for some ruining years of work.”

The shutdown, the sequester and the previous recession have already wrought lasting damage on science research, Goodson said. Students have left the field, he said, because of a lack of money and application processes for grants that make some willing researchers wait as long as two years before they have funding.

“We aren’t talking about this shutdown breaking a process that was great to begin with,” Goodson said. “The U.S. will not stay at the forefront of research and development if we can’t get to research funded in a shorter time frame. It’s just ridiculous.”

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.