This, most certainly, is not the forum where I want to discuss politics. Yet, inevitably, politics spilleth over into the sphere of science and scientific research in the US. Last night, the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, and increased their numbers in the Senate. Ever since Barack Obama became the President of the US eighteen months back, the only agendum of the extremely partisan Congressional Republicans has been to block every move that he and his office have made. Today, an alarming report in the New York Times states that money for scientific research may be scarce with a Republican-led House.

Reports Kenneth Chang in NYT:

Federal financing of science research, which has risen quickly since the Obama administration came to power, could fall back to pre-Obama levels if the incoming Republican leadership in the House of Representatives follows through on its list of campaign promises.

In the lead-up to the Midterm elections, in which the Republicans (including the Tea Party faction) ran on promises to cut taxes without laying out a definite plan for making up the deficit – other than chanting ‘reduce Federal spending’ – the party published a document called “A Pledge to America”, which outlines the 2010 Republican agenda. In this document, the Republican party declares:

With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels…

… that is, discretionary non-military spending would be rolled back to the 2008 levels, as a result of which, estimates the New York Times report:

…research and development at nonmilitary agencies — including those that sponsor science and health research — would fall 12.3 percent, to $57.8 billion, from the Mr. Obama’s request of $65.9 billion for fiscal year 2011.

What is very alarming and potentially disastrous – is this trend, along with its accompanying projections.

An analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science looked at what would happen if all of the agencies were cut to the 2008 amounts. The National Institutes of Health would lose $2.9 billion, or 9 percent, of its research money. The National Science Foundation would lose more than $1 billion, or almost 19 percent, of its budget, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would lose $324 million, or 34 percent.

The already beleaguered field of Stem Cell Research in the US may, additionally, suffer a further blow. Not to mention, many of the newly elected Republican members have publicly expressed skepticism about the existence of global warming, and about the idea that carbon dioxide is affecting the climate, and have indicated that they strongly oppose any government action to combat it – available evidence be damned – and support measures to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as it had originally planned to commence in January.

Good sense may yet prevail – the Republican agenda document is deliberately vague on the spending cuts. However, somehow I doubt that members of this party, often seen embracing varying degrees and shades of anti-science and anti-rationality positions, would suddenly emerge as shining beacons of science and champions of scientific research.

I am reminded of a very relevant paragraph from the Science Is Vital UK website:

Investing in research enriches society and helps drive the economy. It led to our preeminent position in the 20th century, and will be vital in meeting the challenges of the 21st – whether they be in energy, medicine, infrastructure, computing, or simply humanity’s primal desire for discovery.

Who will make the Republicans understand this simple but powerful fact?

Organized and led by our very own Dr. Jennifer Rohn and Richard Grant, a finally-vocal group of scientists, engineers and supporters of science in the UK campaigned to prevent potentially destructive, proposed cuts to science funding in the UK, and it appears that the concerted representation of the scientific community has borne fruit – science budget in the UK has gotten a reprieve.

Jenny, erm… Can we borrow you across the pond? (I would plead with RPG also, but he is busy with his own designs…) The picture – as it stands now – is very dismal, with the future looking nebulous and inchoate. I am sure, the fractious US Science community could use some vocal tonic and an unifying figure. Or, am I being needlessly hyper-concerned?

The problem, of course, is even more compounded for foreign-born, non-US citizen science researchers (such as I) who are working in the US on a visa – and are, therefore, without any real voice, authority and rights. The Republican party is currently riding the wave of an anti-immigrant sentiment, and today’s news mentions that immigration legislation is now in the hands of Steve King, Republican of Iowa, a politician known for his extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric and crazy ideas. Although, generally speaking, anti-illegal immigration measures do not directly impact legal alien researchers, the indirect impact is no less important already – extended and tedious scrutiny and lack of transparency in the visa process, more frequent and difficult renewals, an overall aura of energy- and enthusiasm-sapping uncertainty that constantly hangs over the head of foreign researchers like the proverbial Damocles’ sword; pardon me, I can’t fend off a sense of foreboding that things are going to get much, much worse.