The Federal Government is Not Useless

There has been much haranguing about the apparent uselessness of the federal government. While I am no political pundit, I can speak about my little corner of the universe. The US federal government includes something called the National Institutes of Health or NIH, which happens to be the largest scientific research organization in the world. With a budget of over $30 billion, it spends more on research than Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Google, and Apple combined, supporting over 300,000 researchers nationwide. It also employs 6,000 scientists internally, who collectively produce more biomedical research than any other organization in the United States. What does it mean for the NIH staff to be furloughed? It means that every single day, 16.4 research years are wasted, or about three Ph.D. theses. This is likely to be an underestimate because the scientists employed by the NIH are professionals whose scientific output exceeds that of graduate students, and the quality of NIH-produced research backs this up. What kind of research will be delayed every day? You can read the list yourself, but it includes things like deciphering the genetic code, inventing MRI, and sequencing the human genome. This is not hyperbole; all these discoveries were made by NIH-supported researchers, who have received 83 Nobel prizes in total.

The US is the world’s preeminent scientific superpower, “a player without peer” as Nature recently put it. Only through profound and self-inflicted displays of stupidity such as we have witnessed during the past 24 hours will this cease to be the case.


6 comments

  1. Pingback: The Fed is Not Useless | Rocketboom

  2. Pingback: The Fed is Not Useless « Boardmad

  3. “The Fed” typically refers to the Federal Reserve Board, which is not part of the federal government at all.

    I agree, we need government. But, “the Fed” is a whole different ballgame.

  4. Oh, gosh, there are a few tiny little things funded that the government heads that aren’t a total waste (even if they don’t necessarily have to be handled by a government organization), therefore we should all open our wallets and piss ourselves in fear every second of the “shutdown”!

  5. i realize he second comment is a troll but this sentence “even if they don’t necessarily have to be handled by a government organization” particularly irks me to no end. There just isn’t in the whole wide world such a private organization that does this job, period. The incentives are generally too large for private entities to be short sighted and miss the big ideas and eventually technologies.

  6. And now the US government has the nerve to want reimbursed for the missed days!!! Yes the US government is truly USELESS.


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