The shutdown has certainly hurt morale and productivity at federal agencies. A U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist told us, “It seems time to consider other ways of paying my salary, if the government puts so little value on science.” Overall, scientists feel as if policy makers don’t appreciate the need for sustained, reliable investment in science. That hasn’t always been the case. In one of his inaugural addresses Dwight Eisenhower praised the “genius of our scientists” and discussed how scientific progress ensures our prosperity. But since the end of the cold war, political polarization has gotten worse and the long-running partnership between science and democracy has become strained.
Federally funded science allows us to do things as a country that we could never do alone. But the threat of shutdown, combined with inconsistent funding from Congress, leaves America’s scientific enterprise in the lurch.
Scientists aren’t members of just another interest group—they’re public servants in whom the country has invested considerable time and resources. When policy makers sideline science, they’re also sidelining our safety, health and ability to understand the world around us. Looking at the results of the shutdown, they should realize that this is an experiment not worth repeating.