Scientists despair as US government shutdown drags on
Karen Osborn was supposed to be exploring hidden worlds in the Turks and Caicos, cataloguing the mysterious creatures that thrive in pools connected to the ocean by deep underwater caves. But instead of barcoding blind crustaceans on a trip she’s planned for six months, the marine biologist is stuck at home in Fairfax, Virginia. Osborn is one of roughly 800,000 US government employees who are legally barred from working, and are going without pay, during the federal shutdown that began on 22 December.
Because her position at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC is classified as “non-essential,” Osborn cannot do field research, access her lab or even check her work e-mail until politicians reach a deal to fund the government. While her collaborators from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and Texas A&M University in College Station collect data in the Turks and Caicos, Osborn is spending time with her family — and waiting for bittersweet updates from the Caribbean.
As the shutdown hits the two-week mark with no end in sight, its effects on science have begun to compound, leaving many government researchers weary, worried and demoralized. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has suspended reviews of grant proposals indefinitely, and is likely to delay panels scheduled to judge applications for postdoctoral fellowships in early January. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has taken widely used weather and climate databases offline. And at NASA, the shutdown threatens to disrupt preparations for upcoming spacecraft launches.