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Happy New Year!

No, I’ve not converted to Judaism; today is the first day of the US government 2009 fiscal year. And I get to go to work this morning. Funding for my lab is not immediately disappearing, though it is not completely secure since there is no Federal budget and we’re on a continuing resolution until March 9. Last spring we’d been under threat of closure, with doors to be locked October 1.

Because, you know, agriculture isn’t important to a strong nation. We can import cheaper stuff from China.

Science is safe for the moment, at least our tiny corner of it, but I’m very concerned longer-term. McCain has a favorite campaign joke, even used in the recent debate, about 3 million dollars spent on studying bear DNA, used to illustrate the waste and stupidity of earmark spending. It seems to always be science projects that take the heat – last campaign it was a study on swine manure. I guess that appeals to the American anti-intellectual streak, and science projects don’t directly affect people, or can be made to seem that way. (I bet the folks downstream of the hog farm would disagree!) ((If we imported all our pork from China too, we wouldn’t have a swine manure problem.))

McCain, though having made cracks about the $3 million bear paternity suit all over the place, couldn’t even be bothered to get the facts right. It’s a $4.8 million dollar project (over 5 years), but what’s $1.8 mil among friends? The study is a USGS project, and less than a quarter of the funding was from an earmark. Which, by the way, McCain voted for.

My favorite bit, though: the study was pushed by conservative Montana ranchers, and Republican politicians. The objective of the project was to use DNA from fur samples to get an accurate count of grizzlys in the region. It’s much easier to collect fur than actually tag and track bears, and using DNA techniques lets the scientists accurately identify different samples from the same bear. Demonstrating that grizzly populations have recovered would make it easier to get them off the endangered species list, so ranchers could shoot them, and oilfields in Montana could be opened for exploration. Very Republican scientific goals, don’t you think?

The Republicans have been messing with science – funding or not funding research for political reasons, gagging scientists with unacceptable views, generally forcing research to serve a political agenda. If McCain is elected in November, that will only continue. Funding for domestic programs will continue to be cut (non-essential domestic programs, meaning anything that isn’t Social Security). I don’t give my agricultural research lab good odds of making it through the next four years in that situation. We’re already suffering. Our budget hasn’t increased in the past few years, despite mandatory salary increases and increased costs of maintaining a building. All those extra expenses come out of the research money, leaving less and less to actually do the work.

Still, today there’s money, and the doors are open, and we’ll keep doing our jobs. For the curious, mine is studying pasture plant diversity and management, helping farmers use the right plant species mixes in place of artificial fertilizers and other management inputs.

Since the deadlines were all yesterday, here’s a final update:
Thing 1: done.
Thing 2: Stage 1 is done.
Thing 3: done.
We will not speak of Thing 4 or Thing 5.
Thing 6, unknown before last week: done.

All in all, not too bad, if requiring of far too many 70-hour weeks.

3 Comments on “Happy New Year!”

  1. #1 Mary from Minnesota
    on Oct 1st, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Hello! First, thank you. I’ve been reading the rss feed since the exploding knife incident and I so enjoy your posts! Second, I work in the arts and I thought WE were considered the waste and stupidity of government spending! Our fiscal year starts July 1 and am hoping to still be here next July 1 – fear is now that our funding for this FY will be pulled back. I feel your pain. I understand how important your work is, as well – Maslow’s Hierarchy and everything!!! I’ve been around this government funding for 15 years and feel I’m getting a little burned out by the crisis after crisis, and doing more, and writing grant applications and reading them (see I DO feel your pain), and then doing the extra work on top of my original duties when my grant apps get funded. Sorry I’m not much of a commenter – usually my shyness prevails but this time I just had to say I HEAR YOU GIRL! HANG IN THERE! From, Mary

  2. #2 Phiala
    on Oct 1st, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Hi Mary! Thanks for commenting – I like to know that my words aren’t disappearing into a tiny black hole somewhere. :) Really, I do know that people read this, but getting comments is just wonderful.

    Oh, I know that arts gets it even worse than we do in many ways. It’s a rotten system in so many ways (and in so many meanings for rotten). We need to make sure, somehow, that ALL the components of a well-rounded society can flourish. That’s arts, and science, and sport, and industry, and commerce, all of it, without the greed and short-sightedness that has crippled so much of what we as a country (world?) are doing of late.

  3. #3 Laura
    on Oct 2nd, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    “What? Funding for smart, creative, inquisitive minds? Tommyrot. We can all be well-rounded in the same way.”

    So now that it’s your New Year, do you get to play with lots of string this weekend? I hope so. :)

    And, in case other inquiring minds want to know, how about an update on SOAR?