In an interview with the Huffington Post, National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Dr. Francis Collins — the fine gentleman who led the Human Genome Project — explained why we don’t have a vaccine to protect against Ebola. The answer should be surprising to no one… except Republicans.
“NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,'” Collins told The Huffington Post on Friday. “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”
For medical and biological scientists, who most rely upon the NIH’s coveted R01 grant to support their research, have been warning us for years that cutting funding to the sciences is not without its consequences. It is pretty sad that only now, with a potential outbreak of Ebola knocking on our front door, that these warnings have finally reached the pages of a (somewhat) major news outlet.
The subject is too academic and, frankly, too depressing to go into in any great detail, but suffice it to say that in 2013 only 17.5% of submitted R01 applications are funded, down from 32% in 2003. The numbers for 2014 have not yet been tallied, but with January’s government shut-down and subsequent sequestration, I can assure you it won’t look any better.
The fallout from this decade-long failure to fund is manifold. First and foremost, projects worth studying — like, for instance, an Ebola vaccine — are not being funded at sufficient rates or are not being funded at all. With the Ebola situation being what it is, I don’t think I should have to explain why that is a bad thing. But there are other deleterious side effects, most of which are not discussed by the Very Serious Types when they interview guys like Ted Cruz, John Boehner or Mitch McConnell. They never talk about how the funding crisis is slowly eating away at the academic infrastructure our country has been carefully cultivating since at least the early 1940s.
The Know-Nothings like to complain about the tenure system because they think no one should be immune to firing — particularly pinko commie liberal types who eat babies and piss on Bibles while they drink wine and hate America. Never mind that tenure doesn’t really immunize a professor for dismissal (it merely restricts the reasons for which one may be dismissed… because some assholes, if given the chance, would fire professors for political reasons), the fact of the matter is tenure is not given, it is earned. And new professors are given a certain span of time in which to earn that tenure: five to seven years or so. If they do not earn tenure, they are dismissed, or relegated to a purely teaching capacity (which pays shit, by the way). Unsurprisingly, funding is often the most important factor considered when a department grants tenure to an associate professor.
No funding, no tenure. No tenure, no job.
See where this is going? Without adequate funding, Universities will hire fewer and fewer professors, fewer and fewer researchers, which will, in effect, make it even harder for us to catch up scientifically when, and if, funding rates eventually normalize.
But why spend millions of dollars funding science when we could spend millions of dollars screening people at airports (Ted Cruz) or closing borders (Scott Brown)? Got me.