Government Shutdown Causes Slowdown In Scientific Research

Originally published on January 9, 2019 6:32 pm
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We're going to talk now about one consequence of the partial government shutdown - a slowdown in scientific research. Three major scientific conferences are taking place this week, but absent from the gatherings of meteorologists, astronomers and climate scientists are hundreds of government scientists whose work is crucial to those fields.

For more, we're joined by Keith Seitter. He's executive director of the American Meteorological Society. It's holding its 99th annual meeting in Phoenix this week. Welcome to the program.

KEITH SEITTER: Oh, it's nice to be here.

CORNISH: So there are scientists there from all over the country, but does the atmosphere actually feel different? Do you notice some empty chairs?

SEITTER: It does feel different. It's still a very energetic meeting. There's still terrific science that's being presented, but we are missing one component of our community, and that's the government scientists who are typically an important part of this meeting.

CORNISH: How are they important? What kind of work do they typically do, and for what kinds of agencies?

SEITTER: Most of the people who are missing from here are from NOAA, and many of them from the National Weather Service. But we're also missing many of our colleagues from NASA and a few of the other government agencies that are affected by the shutdown. So it's a broad spectrum.

And an important component of this is that our community depends on a really strong collaboration between the folks in the private sector, the academic research community and the government. And it's a huge loss for our community. It's a loss for the scientific work that's being done. And it's an enormous loss for the country itself.

CORNISH: Can you describe any specific presentations or panels that had to be canceled as a result of the shutdown?

SEITTER: There actually were several panels having to do with how to better prepare for severe weather events, dealing with air pollution and health issues. There are a lot of presentations that are happening here that really directly impact the health and well-being of the general population and how to deal with those issues.

So, certainly, the lack of ability for those presentations to occur means that the scientists who normally would be here taking advantage of those and using that information in their own research, really, are not able to do that.

CORNISH: Scientific research is a long game, right? Does it really matter to have a shutdown of a few weeks? Does it have a significant impact?

SEITTER: It does have a lingering impact because a lot of this work is work that's ongoing at such an incredible pace right now that interrupting that really sets a lot of that work back. And also, just recovering from the lost opportunities for people to get together, it's going to take some months to really be able to rebuild some of those opportunities in new and different ways.

The other aspect of this that I think is a lingering impact is government research labs and government opportunities really look for the best and brightest of those in our community who are entering career paths. And right now, we're in a position where a lot of students are at this meeting, a lot of people who are going to be looking for jobs soon. And they're seeing an environment where it may not be, you know, the most attractive career path these days to go into government service, whereas in the past, those were considered some of the best jobs and really were very competitively sought by the best and brightest within our field.

So that's, I think, an impact that may linger for years.

CORNISH: Keith Seitter is executive director of the American Meteorological Society. Thank you for speaking with us.

SEITTER: Happy to do so. Thank you.

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