Editorial: Trump’s proposed cuts to research institutions hurts scientific progress

Sixty percent of research project funding at the University comes from the federal government. Trump's proposed budget could change that.

Lab technician Mark Mulivahill works in the Center for Drug Design with assistant professor  Christine Salomon in a lab in theVFW Cancer Research Building.

Daily File Photo

Lab technician Mark Mulivahill works in the Center for Drug Design with assistant professor Christine Salomon in a lab in theVFW Cancer Research Building.

Daily Editorial Board

The Trump administration has proposed disastrous budget cuts to various research institutions in the United States, namely the National Institute of Health (NIH), and various subsidiary institutional bodies. Budget cuts for other non-medical institutions, like the National Science Foundation (NSF) have been largely unclear. Part of the rationalization of the Trump administration was to cut unnecessary funds.

These budget cuts would directly hurt research efforts at the University of Minnesota. Sixty percent of external funding for research projects at the University comes from the federal government — that $788 million dollars is spread across more than 1,600 research projects. The proposed cuts to NIH would sever nearly 20 percent of the funding needs nationally.

This comes at a time where the pivotal roadblock for research is already funding. Academic research’s mission is to explore the mysteries of the physical world — but remain unfettered by corporate and profit-oriented interests.

Treatments for various diseases and deeper understanding for various phenomena have come from the scientific rigor that the research community has offered. By defunding and disinvesting from the institutions that offer the infrastructural support for many research laboratories across the country, the Trump administration is directly assaulting the fibers of innovation that thread scientific and medical progress.

The impact that this will likely have is two-fold. First, it will drive research labs to pursue corporate collaboration. In industries related to medical treatment, many companies like Medtronic, Boston Scientific and Abbott, play an important role by acting as the intermediaries between scientific research and translational implementation and packaging ideas and research into marketable products.

However, collaboration with corporations for medical research raises important ethical concerns — many of which would go unaddressed simply because researchers wouldn’t have any other option.

Driven by corporate incentives, accountability and transparency could fall. Part of federal funding ensures that the outcomes of research are shared with the public — after all, public tax dollars and funds are at play when funding labs. With corporate backing, other structures would have to be in place to hold labs accountable in publishing their results and being transparent about the outcomes of studies they conduct.

The second potential impact is that this move will drive students away from research-oriented careers. Already, a career in academia does not pay well. Many postgraduate students in the research community have trouble finding jobs. Faculty who cannot publish their work often could lose their position in many top-tier institutions, given a publish-or-perish climate. Decreased funding hurts this already pervasive issue further.

The reality is that this move will hurt us. It’s imperative that scientists voice their concerns about the cuts to the administration and work with willing partners in the current government to bring about substantial change in current policy making.