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With the government shutdown, American scientific progress is disrupted

Even scientists who don’t work for the government, but receive federal money for research and grants, are among the hundreds of thousands of Americans affected by the government shutdown, now in its 19th day. That means important work and research may be put on hold, or even canceled. William Brangham talks to Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for details.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one more take on the impact of this shutdown, this time on science.

    William Brangham explores the ways research is feeling the heat.

  • William Brangham:

    There are thousands of researchers who are furloughed or working without pay at agencies like the EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

    And there are many others who don't work directly for the government, but who are also still feeling the pinch, people like the men and women at various universities who get federal money for their research. With the shutdown, the pipeline for that money is now blocked.

    With all these scientists idled, many argue that some very important work, things like the regular monitoring of chemicals, to tracking of endangered species, is also not happening.

    Rush Holt is the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He's also a former congressman from New Jersey. And he joins me now.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Rush Holt:

    Good to be with you, William. Thank you.

  • William Brangham:

    Can you give us a sense just of the scope and scale of the kinds of science that have been idled by the shutdown?

  • Rush Holt:

    Sure.

    It's thousands and thousands of scientists who are missing their weekly paycheck, but they are also running into delays, disruptions, sometimes ruination of their research projects.

  • William Brangham:

    Ruination?

  • Rush Holt:

    Well, suppose you have a timed series, and you have to get a sample every week, every month for it to work. Suppose you're doing field study and you're looking at stream creatures when the stream is at a certain level in January.

    Suppose you are preparing a space mission, a satellite science mission. You have got a certain launch window.

  • William Brangham:

    I hadn't even thought about those kinds of impacts.

  • Rush Holt:

    Suppose you're looking at insects, and you have to look during the week in the year when they mate. You know, if the government is closed that week, and you can't collect the data, that's a problem.

  • William Brangham:

    Such a remarkable array of work that we don't really think of as necessarily being government-funded work.

    I mentioned some of the agencies at the top. Are there other federal agencies or even those that are doing particular work that you know of that has come to a stop?

  • Rush Holt:

    The National Science Foundation, of course, is all fields of science.

    The Census Bureau.

  • William Brangham:

    The Census Bureau?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Rush Holt:

    Out of the Department of Commerce.

    They — there are many social scientists either that use those data or are employed to analyze those data. The weather forecasters are kept on the job. But the people who tweet the weather models are not. And, as we see snowstorms predicted in the East here, we will see whether these weather forecasters are as accurate as they might normally be.

  • William Brangham:

    Do you think that, when we look back a year or two, three years from now, that there will be a demonstrable impact on the scientific community and scientific research in the U.S.?

  • Rush Holt:

    It's going to be hard to measure, but I don't doubt it.

    It's very interconnected. But at a time when we are concerned in international comparisons about how the U.S. science effort stacks up, this is not a good time to slow down. The Chinese just landed on the dark side of the moon. And we have researchers who think that they should be doing work to help national security and human welfare and safety and public health, the very things that are at stake here.

    They're waiting at home for the phone call to go back to work.

  • William Brangham:

    Rush Holt of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, thank you very much.

  • Rush Holt:

    Thank you.

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