Watch: Trump's Budget Is Making America Not Great
Who Benefits from Cutting the NIH?
President Donald Trump's first budget request to Congress includes cutting 20% of the funding for the institute that supports the most basic biomedical research in the country, The National Institutes of Health. Funding to other scientific agencies, especially those focused on climate change and the environment would also be deeply affected including cuts of 40% in science programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and 26% of funding to the main research arm of the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration. The Department of Energy's Office of Science would lose $900 million, 5% of NASA's earth science budget would be gone.
These cuts are intended to offset the cost of what can only be viewed as Trump/Bannon’s plans for increased war, evidenced by a $54 billion rise in military spending. Either that or he is planning on using it for international golf resort defense and occupation. In either case, his budget plan offers the clearest snapshot of Trump’s priorities to date.
Photo: Donald Trump, showing how small his hands are.
For years the National Institutes of Health have received bipartisan support. Unless the voting public has gotten distorted beyond the point of even faint recognition, political reality dictates that no congressperson can go back to his or her home district and proudly proclaim to have cut funding for medical research into grandma’s cancer, mom’s heart disease, baby’s developmental disorders and Trump’s mental illness. The White House’s NIH cuts are likely to face stiff opposition from both parties. And it pays to remember that congress is the one who passes the budget.
Yet the question remains, if both parties support the NIH, whom is Trump representing when he cuts it? Big Pharma. That’s who.
The National Institutes of Health is based on the idea that science is a public good. It’s mission, which has not (yet?) been scrubbed from the NIH.gov website, is “to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.” If a researcher, in a university or otherwise, gets funding from the NIH she or he is required to make the data accessible to all other researchers. Cutting funding of scientific research, the results of which must be shared with other scientists for the purpose of the general advance of human knowledge, doesn’t mean scientific research will not be done. It means it will not be shared.
Scientific research is going to be done. If the pharmaceutical industry is going to keep making drugs and money, and you bet your Aciphex and Prilosec they are, they need research. If a company does its own research in house, all the information they find becomes proprietary. They will own the knowledge and discoveries they find. When information becomes privatized, it will then, of course, be monetized. Introducing a profit motive to basic medical research will result in the delay of lifesaving discoveries, skyrocketing prices for treatments, and missing discoveries altogether, since the nature of scientific discovery is that results often come from research unrelated to the goals one is trying to achieve or from the synthesis of different independent discoveries. Currently for every public dollar spent on basic research, the pharmaceutical industry benefits 8 fold. And practically all of their work has followed from publically funded work published in medical journals. Either Trump doesn’t know that cutting the NIH will hurt his good buddy Big Pharma or the industry stands to gain far more from privatizing the research process.
Representation of Trump and his good buddy Big Pharma.Can you guess who is who?
Scientific discovery and the cures that come from it will, of course be hamstrung under a private corporate research system. The corporate sector views basic research, the kind that other discoveries spring from but whose outcomes cannot easily be predicted, as highly risky. Minimizing financial risk is the bottom line in the corporate world. Without publically funded and sharable research, the public is likely to only see small, relatively low-risk iterations of the same treatments and drugs we already have on the market. So unless your cure is already out there, cutting funding to the NIH means you are far less likely to have it discovered any time soon. The less research that comes out in the literature, the less will come out of industry.
We must keep science, at least partially, in the public interest. The only way to do that is via government agency. Besides treating disease, funding science via the National Institute of Health is an investment in the training of future scientists and the creativity that drives scientific innovation, which is at least at present, is the envy of the rest of the world.
Scientists and those who believe in policy based on rational inquiry are mobilizing to resist the Trump agenda. You can join the March for Science in DC or in your own town on Saturday April 22nd 2017. Or call your congressperson on this one to let them know you believe in scientific research as a public good and oppose cutting the NIH. Or you can share this article.
Julianna Forlano is a writer, professor, host and public speaker. Find her work at JuliannaForlano.com Follow on Twitter @JuliannaForlano