By KATE ANDRIES
COLLEGE PARK, Md.Scientists are scrambling to recover after the government shutdown forced their research to go dark and cut off federal funding for weeks. And the already beleaguered scientific community fears that another shutdown in January could be devastating.
Theres certainly a lot of frustration and anger, said Joanne Carney, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences Office of Government Relations. Scientists are feeling like they were collateral damage.
Any science-related activity funded by the government essentially stopped during the shutdown. Only research deemed essentialthings like clinical trials involving the health of humans or animalsand already funded research were allowed to continue.
But, Carney said, even fully funded research was thwarted because federal data that many scientists rely on was unavailable during the shutdown.
During the 16-day shutdown, no proposals were received or distributed for peer review, no review panels were convened, no new awards were made, and no existing awards received payments, acting director of the National Science Foundation Cora Marrett wrote in a memo.
It will take months for activity at the National Science Foundation to return to normal, Merritt wrote.
The impacts were devastating, said Lee Cooper, a research professor the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, who focuses on the effects of climate change in the Arctic.
While the shutdown hampered a wide array of research opportunities, perhaps none were endangered as much as research in the Antarctic.
Research opportunities in the Antarctic are limited and the field seasonthe period of time allotted for scientists to conduct research in the regionis limited as well. While some researchers were already on their way to the icy continent, the shutdown occurred just as they began to make landfall.
Scientists were on a boat that had just arrived and they werent sure if they would be able to even unload their equipment, Carney said.
While some researchers were allowed to begin their projects once the shutdown ended, Carney said, many were told their trip would need to wait until next year.
The U.S. Antarctic Programcurrently beginning its field seasonwas forced to enter a caretaker state thanks to the lapse in funding. The NSF manages three year-round stations in Antarctica, none of which are designed to go unmanned, said Peter West, Outreach & Education Program Manager at the National Science Foundation.
They arent designed to deal with intense cold and the elements, West said. A small number of people were there to ensure that the operations of the stations were maintained.
But other than that select group of people, Antarctica was essentially closed to researchers. And it would have continued to be closed, had the shutdown continued.
Instead, West explained, the National Science Foundation focused on making sure that projects collecting long-term data sets had access to the field. After the shutdown ended, focus shifted to putting out the strongest season of research possible despite the weeks of going dark.
Despite the shutdowns end and a return to normalcy among the scientific community, fears still linger of another funding lapse come January.
Congressional leaders agreed to a deal on October 16 to end the government shutdown, but its only a temporary fix. The deal funds the government through January 15 and moves the deadline to raise the debt ceiling until February 7.
Cooper, a biogeochemist at the University of Maryland, works with other biologists in the Bering Sea in the Arctic. His workas well as the work of his colleaguesis funded by a number of agencies, including the National Science Foundation.
Though his work in the Arctic was not directly impacted by the shutdownfunding for Arctic research had already been allotted, unlike the funds for Antarctic research, Cooper saidfuture funding is still at risk.
Should the government face another shutdown, Coopers research could be among funded projects that would be forced to go dark again.
It will be fine for a little while, Cooper said. But if this grinding percentage cut in funding continues, its not a very pretty picture in the end.
Not only will the effects of the shutdown be felt long after its end, the systemic funding cuts and shutdowns send a negative image of the U.S. commitment to scientific research, Carney said.
You cant just turn science on and off like a switch, Carney said.