Until this year, public funding for scientific research was a rare point of bipartisan agreement in Congress. Not so anymore. The Trump administration's budget proposes cutting almost one-fifth of research funding — $5.8 billion — from the National Institutes of Health next year. That's on top of the $1.2 billion Trump wants to cut this year.
Secretary of Health & Human Services Tom Price defended the cuts, telling a House committee they are intended to reduce the amount the NIH pays universities to cover “overhead” costs, such as lab equipment and utilities. Total NIH funding for the University of California system in the 2016 fiscal year was nearly $2 billion.
The NIH is the largest public funding source for science, supporting research into a vast array of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and mental illness.
Alex Bradley, a Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry, molecular and structural biology at UCLA, says the threat to funding jeopardizes thousands of faculty positions at research institutions around the country. The funding cuts, along with frustration about the ways in which science is often misinterpreted, pushed Bradley, 29, down a path of activism.
He is the lead organizer of the Los Angeles March for Science in L.A. on Saturday, part of a nationwide network of 400 marches (the biggest of which is expected in Washington, D.C.). As of Friday morning, L.A. march organizers have received 18,000 confirmations via Facebook.
“I was just really fed up with the way things were going and I wanted to be part of the solution,” Bradley says.
He says postdocs can toil for six years or more in labs performing the responsibilities of staff scientists on a postdoc salary, without benefits or job security.
“They're waiting for the funding structure of science to rapidly change or expand or for someone tenured to pass away,” Bradley says. “That's the job situation for postdocs these days.”
Bradley says the cuts in research funding proposed by Trump would make the precarious situation worse.
He says the march, which takes place Saturday morning, is mainly about the need for scientists to become better advocates for science, both in public and when it comes to setting policy.
The “pervasive disinformation” of unreliable sources like Jenny McCarthy, the Koch Brothers, Tila Tequila or the Texas Board of Education needs to be challenged, he says, and challenged directly in the streets
These days, the U.S. Energy Department has banned staff from using the phrase “climate change,” stealth creationism continues to be taught in science classrooms, and measles and other formerly eradicated diseases are making a comeback thanks to anti-vaxxers.
“We're doing such a bad job explaining our science,” Bradley says, “that people are starting to believe Earth is flat.”
Bradley credits the success of the Women's March as the inspiration for the L.A. March for Science. Emiliana Guereca, a lead organizer for the L.A. Women's March, is working as logistics director for the March for Science.
Bradley says he started organizing the L.A. iteration after a friend sent him an invite on Facebook to join the March for Science in Washington, D.C. A Facebook group that started with 100 members has since grown to 500,000.
A rally before the L.A. March for Science will start at 10 a.m. at Pershing Square Park. The one-mile march to City Hall is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. There will also be a science exposition at Pershing Square Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.