Fund scientific research| Letters

Members of Congress return to Washington, D.C., soon: let’s send them back with a clear message: funding for scientific research really matters.

The House of Representatives passed a spending bill in July that supports a healthy increase for National Institutes of Health funding – in keeping with similar NIH funding increases over the last two years. I hope senators will take similar action when they return from summer recess.

However, there’s a complicating factor. The Budget Control Act of 2011 places strict caps on Congressional spending. So even if Congress votes to increase research funding, they cannot unless the spending caps are raised.

Congress knows this dilemma well and has raised spending caps twice before. Please join me in strongly urging them to agree once again to a bipartisan deal to raise the fiscal year 2018 spending caps.

While the importance of federal funding of research is obvious for major research centers such as Seattle, which receives almost $1 billion per year in funding, the San Juans do pretty well, too. This year, $3,256,307 comes from the National Science Foundation, $455,151 from the National Institutes of Health, and $554,548 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. And most of that money goes to researchers at the Friday Harbor Laboratories, which is the marine research station of the University of Washington. In 2008, Osamu Shimomura received the Nobel Prize for research done at the Friday Harbor Labs between 1961 and 1988 – research that led to the discovery of the green fluorescent protein that is from jellyfish native to our waters. It has become a vital research tool allowing scientists to visualize the inner workings of living cells. Today, Friday Harbor Labs faculty and students are working on projects that will again lead to major discoveries.

It is critical that these scientists have stability in their funding. Otherwise, the research engine of the United States – the prime driver of the U.S. economy – will falter.

Further complicating matters, Congress will almost certainly have to pass a short-term “continuing resolution” late in the summer to keep the government funded past Sept. 30. But should the CR last more than a few months, it will lead to the withholding of research funds and the freezing of new projects. A better approach is to raise the spending caps. Scientific progress depends on it.

Dr. Thomas Baldwin

Orcas Island