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Open Letter to the Congress and President of the United States

Nobel Laureates and science community leaders comment on harm to American science from the shutdown

February 16, 2019 | Mary Elizabeth Connors

In response to the 2018 - 2019 partial government shutdown, prominent members of the scientific community have written an open letter to the U.S. President and members of Congress, alerting them to the damage already caused and the dangers further shutdowns pose to the scientific enterprise. The letter was signed by 19 Nobel Laureates and 20 leaders of scientific organizations across many disciplines, including American Physical Society President David Gross and CEO Kate Kirby.

Released as the threat of another shutdown was looming, the letter underscores the long-lasting and widespread impacts to the scientific community from closing down the government. “The disruptions caused by the shutdown have consequences that will extend well beyond the shutdown”, the letter states, “with the potential to affect many aspects of our society, including our economy, security, health, and international competitiveness.”

The letter cites America’s long history of supporting science, stating “Our past global scientific dominance fueled the technological innovations that have made our economy the strongest in the world” however, “our scientific leadership is threatened by other countries whose investment in research is growing more rapidly than our own.”

For a record-breaking 35 days, federal agencies and nongovernmental institutions alike experienced severe disruption. Federal scientists were furloughed or working without pay, while nongovernmental scientists were unable to access necessary funding and communicate with their collaborators. The effects of the shutdown may be felt in the coming years as some young researchers question their future involvement with American scientific activities.

In addition to halting ongoing research, the shutdown also prevented new initiatives from taking effect, such as the recently passed National Quantum Initiative Act, which is designed to support U.S. research in quantum innovations.

That so many leaders in research came together to sign the letter demonstrates the high levels of concern felt by many members of the scientific community towards recent U.S. science policy. The letter concludes by urging the president and lawmakers to consider these issues in the future, stating “Continued strong support for science benefits us all.”

The author is a Science Communications Intern at APS.

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