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Home / Science / Disruptive, disappointing, chaotic: shutdown brings scientific research up to date

Disruptive, disappointing, chaotic: shutdown brings scientific research up to date

1; December 27: Visitors gather on December 27, 2018 in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of state workers are on vacation during downtime. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount / The Washington Post)

Kay Behrensmeyer was suspected to be preparing for a three-week expedition to search for evidence from people in Kenya. Instead, on Thursday she spent her research permits, her fossil collection inventories and maps that she had assembled and annotated for weeks in a Fed Ex box, which she sent to a younger colleague of the project. Behrensmeyer, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the National Museum of Natural History, has done nothing. The federal government was closed.

In research labs and locations around the world, the one-week governmental shutdown has brought scientific progress to a standstill. Thousands of scientists are among the hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors who need to stay home without pay. It is expected that the holiday will last into the new year, which would be a great start to 2019 for American science.

"It is disturbing, daunting, deflating," said Behrensmeyer, who had planned this trip for two years. She was due to leave on Saturday, but was instructed not to leave when it became clear that Smithsonian funding would run out before reaching a budget agreement.

The partial closure by President Trump's rejection of a Mutual Spending Agreement that did not provide billions of dollars for a US-Mexican border wall also limited the scientific operations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, and the US Geological Survey. Instructed government scientists are prohibited from reviewing experiments, making observations, collecting data, performing tests, or sharing their results.

If budget deadlock extends to the New Year, scientists could harm critical research.

A federal decommissioning process can disrupt or delay research projects, create uncertainty in new research findings, and reduce researchers' access to agency data and infrastructure. , , , More resolutions and short-term extensions are not a way to run a government, "Rush Holt, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in a statement.

Alice Harding, astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center About 15,000 Refugees have been worried that rare astronomical phenomena will be overlooked – Starbursts are running with or without a federal budget – just a few days before the government closed, she and her colleagues at the Fermi Space Telescope observed a pulsar that flashed in an unprecedented manner. She endeavored to follow-up with NASA's NICER instrument in her final days of work. "But if the government is closed for more than a week, we will not get a second one," Harding said

Earth will strike crucial research windows, and only in the spring does a grain feed emerge endangered pest, the brown, marbled stink bug. Scientists need to prepare for the annual debut of the insects, and the Entomological Society of America warned the researchers to stay behind for a year. "There's a lot of incredible science happening in our government every day," said Robert K. D. Peterson, the president of the organization, in a statement. "But if the government is partially frozen, this work will derail."

The National Science Foundation's headquarters are closed in Alexandria, Virginia. About 1,400 employees were arrested, a spokesman said. "The ongoing operational and administrative activities will be minimal, unless the suspension of these activities would directly endanger the safety of human lives or the protection of property," the agency said in a statement.

The NSF is a finance agency and its closure will have a massive impact on research if shutdown lasts longer. In the last week of 2018, no review panels were scheduled to call for approval or rejection of proposals for scientific grants. Should the closure take until 2019, the panels will have to be canceled and rescheduled in January, disrupting the flow of science. The NSF does not distribute the grant payments to scientists during a standstill.

The US Antarctic Program remains operational "for the foreseeable future," according to a statement by Kelly Falkner, director of the NSF Polar Program Office.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the Department of Agriculture, is being driven by a skeleton crew. According to the USDA decommissioning plan, only four of the 399 NIFA employees report working during a standstill. As with the NSF, the NIFA funding program is rather quiet in the last week of the year – but January is a critical time for the review of grants.

The in-house scientific committee of the Agricultural Department, the Agricultural Research Service shrinks by 82 percent to just over 1,100 people. Those who are exempt from holidays will be entertained by laboratories, greenhouses and the care of laboratory animals. It collects time-critical data as well as crops and cells. The USDA decommissioning plan allows studies to continue involving individuals. The Agriculture Department did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, perhaps because the USDA decommissioning plan triggers all but 58 of the 58 employees working in its communications office.

Federal science authorities are "basically closed for today". MEP Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), who is likely to be the next chair of the House Science Committee, said in a statement on December 22. "As I noted in previous shutdowns, our competitors in other countries have made progress in their R & D investments. We have essentially closed much of our state-owned science and technology company. "

Smithsonian Museums and National The zoo, which was supported by funds from the previous year, remained open this week as planned. When the stoppage lasts in the New Year, the museums and zoo will close on January 2. All research is stopped, but staff members who feed and care for animals at the zoo and at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute are exempt.

It's like putting him in the penalty box and not knowing when to go back on ice, "said Nick Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the National Museum of Natural History and author of" Whale Spying. " Smithsonian scientist can not communicate with employees. Researchers in this field, spread all over the world, must return home. "That's really frustrating."

As of January 6, thousands of atmospheric scientists meet in Phoenix for the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society. Hundreds of these scientists work in the federal government, mainly in organizations such as the NOAA, which includes the National Weather Service and NASA. More than 800 of the moderators and speakers on the docket are federal employees. If the shutdown continues, these scientists will not be present.

At this meeting, scientists are bringing new ideas to life-saving methods and warnings, said Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. "Any delay in this research could one day cost someone's life, and that person could be you or me," Sobien said. If NWS meteorologists are unwilling to cooperate, "they are likely to cost many more lives than the absence of a boundary wall anywhere."

Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society, said the impact of the stalemate on future Progress would be impossible to calculate, "but we know that it matters."

"The interactions that take place at these meetings encourage new science and new services across the enterprise that will benefit the entire society "Said Seitter. "If any of these sectors are not represented at the meeting, progress in saving lives, supporting the economy, and building an understanding of the environment will be significantly hindered.

At least 26 events at the meeting will be affected by the federal government or absence of scientists, including events such as a "City Hall" study on global weather models, where NOAA scientists want to talk with colleagues about progress, challenges and ideas related to the new forecasting system in the United Kingdom and Europe in terms of technology and computing performance.

The student and careers arm of the conference will be severely affected – many of them mentors of this group are federal employees in NOAA or NASA, a senior Meteoro loge, in one of the National Weather Service's offices, who wanted to remain anonymous to talk openly about stagnation, said that young people's opportunities to meet with professionals and interact with professionals are scarce outside of conferences such as these.

to remove a large number of people who can meet them as future mentors, and to bring them closer to the work of the federal authorities, "said the manager. "It's hard to attract talented people, AMS and [the National Weather Association] are our two greatest ways to connect with these young people who are our future workers."

In general, the manager added, "The entire weather company is affected" when a whole sector is absent.

If the shutdown continues in the second week of 2019, it could also weaken the American Astronomical Society's winter meeting, which the organizers refer to as the "Super Bowl of Astronomy." Kevin Marvel said that two of the seven invited speakers of the meeting and About one third of the 3,100 participants are federally funded scientists who could not participate if funding were not restored.

"There could be many blank billboards, there were no verbal conversations," Marvel said. "It's just going to be a mess."

The conference is the largest annual gathering of astronomers in the United States and provides researchers with an important opportunity to meet with federal officials who serve key field instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

"Without the government scientists who get the missions up and running the telescopes," Marvel said, "you miss a lot of what makes the meeting valuable." [19659033] Despite the failure of federal funds, much astronomical research is conducted. Operational personnel for on-going space missions are considered indispensable, and the observation of ground telescopes is prepaid far enough to allow several weeks of uninterrupted research. Facilities such as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory have implemented short-term cash management measures to continue normal operation during standstill.

But a longer shutdown could extend these temporary measures to their breaking points, scientists say. Instrument operators may continue to work, but without working scientists, they have no new targets for their telescopes.

For a while, Shutdown also seemed to dampen two high-profile fields. Events: Arrival of the OSIRIS REx probe on December 31 in orbit around its asteroid Bennu. and the New Horizons probe was a historic encounter with a distant space rock called Ultima Thule, the farthest object humans ever explored, early on New Year's Day. Although scientists and engineers at NASA who perform the missions are considered indispensable and fit for work, those who carry out their acclaimed public relations efforts – including NASA TV and its 30 million Follower Twitter account – were among those who fled unpaid were.

Alan Stern, a Southwest Research Institute scientist and senior investigator for New Horizons, said the agency's lack of publicity was "unbelievably disappointing."

On Friday, NASA Administrator James Bridenstine announced that the future funding of the projects will allow coverage of both missions.

"Yay !!" Stern tweeted.

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