Saturday, February 19, 2011

Not Going To Say It

It's not like I want to say "I told you so." Really, I don't. But you might recall that back in October I warned you that if you wanted to avoid a barrage of UK-type austerity cuts in Federal government programs, it would probably be better not to vote for the GOP in the mid-term elections. It's not like I needed a crystal ball to make that prediction. Anyway, if any of you were foolish enough to go ahead and do it anyway, here's what we're looking at now. I cherry-picked just a few of the more relevant examples from the long list of cuts proposed by the House Appropriations Committee for the last seven months of this fiscal year, which all-in-all amount to $74 billion. Yeah, that's right - $74 billion. And this only takes us up to July 1st, people:

Office of Science -$1.1B
NSF -$139M
USGS -$27M
Fish and Wildlife Service -$72M
Smithsonian -$7.3M
National Park Service -$51M
Forest Service -$38M
National Endowment for the Arts -$6M
National Endowment for the Humanities -$6M
NIH -$1B

And that's only the start. When the bill went to the House for debate this week there were nearly 600 amendments filed, proposing cuts to numerous agencies and programs. These could be formally offered as the House continues consideration of the bill. As AAM pointed out in a advocacy update on Friday, several of them target museums. Amendment #471, for example, filed by Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) would prohibit the use of funds provided by the bill to fund non-federal museums. Another amendment - #35, filed by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), would de-fund IMLS for the remainder of FY11. As I just got money from them, I take that one particularly personally.
Still, however lousy things are here you can still comfort yourself that you're not as badly off as my homeland. Over there, the Prime Minister has just realized he's cut so much government funding to charities that they can't take advantage of all the exciting opportunities presented by his Big Society initiative (you'll recall that's the plan to fire people and then make other people do their jobs for free). The solution to this is to use £100m of Government money to create a Big Society Bank, to enable charities to apply for funds that previously they'd have applied to the Government for.

If you're scratching your head over that, you're not the only one - no less a luminary than award-winning science writer Carl Zimmer admitted to me last week that he was "confused by your superior system of govt." And he's smart, he is. There will also be a £200m injection from UK banks. Which will be in the form of loans, which the Government will have to pay interest on, thus enabling the banks to cash in on UK taxpayers' hard earned money.

You remember the banks, right? The ones that got us in this mess in the first place?

Use and Abuse

A friend recently sent me an amusing thread of emails from Mammal-L on the subject of IACUCs. For those of you who don't work on living animals, an IACUC, or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, is the organization within your institution that  reviews research protocols that involve the use of animal subjects and conducts evaluations of your institution's animal care. The system, which is a key plank of animal welfare legislation in the USA, was developed to deal with laboratory usage of animals, but its provisions also extend to fieldwork, including museum collecting; anyone wanting to collect vertebrates has to submit an animal use protocol for approval by IACUC. The collision of these two worlds provides ample opportunities for field biologists to complain about the lab-based eggheads that they have to deal with on the committee; I have a strong suspicion that the "eggheads" have their own roster of stories concerning bearded and gun-toting yahoos from organismal biology departmens.

What struck me most forcefully when reading the Mammal-L emails was the fact that these people, especially those from museums, should be down on their knees giving thanks for the existence of IACUCs. As I discussed last month, the day will come when someone will decide to take on the big natural history museums over their vertebrate collecting programs. When that day comes, we're going to need ample evidence that we make our collecting policies with certain principles built in - adequate scientific justification, minimization of the number of animals sacrificed, and humane methods. All the hoops, in fact, that those IUCAC eggheads make us jump through before we get our protocols approved. It still may not be enough. But without them, our days of rat and bat trapping are likely to be numbered.

Wah, wah, wah.

OK, I know I said February 1st was my last grant deadline and that after that I'd be back to posting on PoH with a vengeance. But how was I to know that I'd get asked a bunch of questions about the proposal that we submitted in December? Or that the one we submitted last April would get awarded, meaning that we'd have a load of work to do. On top of the work that I'm already doing for the workshop that got funded from the grant we submitted in August. I know I sound like an ass for complaining, but honestly - it would be far easier if I just wrote them and had someone else do the work.