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Scientists discuss the need for science advocates in government

Scientists have a growing need for funding from the government to expand their research, but as budgets for various scientific endeavors are repeatedly thinned, the future of science is increasingly becoming a dubious one.

But the Central New Jersey chapter of the Association for Women in Science believes that science professionals have the capacity to not only participate in it, but also influence science policies that can impact society as a whole, said Kamana Mishra, president of the association.

To this end, a room full of people congregated in a mobile classroom on Cook campus on Oct. 8 to hear Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer), Princeton’s Andrew Zwicker, InnoPharma’s Navneet Puri, Rutgers’ Jeanne Herb and Daniel Van Abs, Ann Stock and Emmanuel DiCicco-Bloom speak.

One of the most official blockades that wrests decision-making ability out of the hands of scientists is the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015, a piece of legislation that places the power to determine which scientist receives what types of funds in the hands of government officials who have little to no knowledge of higher-level science.

This law abets the disconnect between scientists and legislators that enables scientific funding deficiencies, Mishra said.

But the panel of scientists who gathered at the lecture urged every science student to actively participate in preserving their interests in science and not be demotivated by lackluster funds to do any vital research over a period of time.

Science, innovation and discovery will always continue to intrigue young scientists, but how far students will be able to prioritize their research outside of politics depends on science policies, said Zwicker, the head of Science Education at Princeton’s Plasma Physics Laboratory.

The future of science depends on these young students who are intrigued, but unless they vocalize their need for research funds to government officials, the investment in science will not increase, Zwicker said.

“Students need to take the risk to talk about science in ways that are uncomfortable,” he said.

And it seems that students are not afraid to step up to the challenge.

A 2014 report from National Public Radio found that academic institutions continue to graduate an “overabundance” of biomedical Ph.D students, but that at the same time, funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) continues to dwindle.

In a May 2015 report titled “Stop the Insanity: Changing Our Approach to Federal Biomedical Research Funding,” the NIH saw their funding take a 23 percent nosedive, while China announced plans to invest $308.5 billion in biomedical research over the next half decade.

But in the United States, biomedical postdoctoral research fellows continue to struggle.

Postdoctoral research fellows are conducting their research at a “bargain price,” NPR reported, and many other postdoctorates are being trained for jobs “that don’t actually exist.”

As a hopeful solution to the funding crisis, the NIH projected to increase budget caps, and there were three bills in Congress that would allow for more substantial increases in NIH funding, or exclude NIH funding from budget caps.

The three bills, the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act, the America Cures Act and the Permanent Investment in Health Research Act of 2015, would turn back the clock on the setbacks the academic division of biomedical research experienced.

“Our task is to unite as a community, back what we feel is the most reasonable legislation to do this and then take this message strongly to Congress instead of fighting over the breadcrumbs that are left under the current budget caps,” the report said. “To do differently would be insanity.”

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