04/30/2013 01:12 pm ET | Updated Oct 07, 2014

In Defense of Research

Over the past several weeks, thousands of Americans have spoken out against the sequester and its devastating cuts to scientific research. A mass protest was held in Washington, DC and professors have swarmed the media with dire warnings of what lies ahead. The director of the National Institutes of Health declared that we face an "unprecedented threat to the momentum of scientific progress." Meanwhile, Nobel laureates are pleading with Congress to stop the bleeding. In the face of overwhelming public outcry, no end to these reductions appears to be in sight.

Many have taken this moment to highlight the plight of specific causes. For some, it's cancer research. For others, it's physics or cybersecurity. Yet, among these varying concerns, only one fear has captured universal attention: the fear that these cuts will impact our next generation of scientists.

While the deafening roar of the scientific community has inspired me, I've been puzzled by the lack of input from the youth at the center of this debate, the future researchers who will bear the brunt of these flawed policies. Now, I am not a Nobel laureate. I probably could not get 10 people to protest anything. But, as a student of science and a potential member of the generation to come, I feel that we need to be heard.

So, I talked to my classmates. At our medical school, nearly everyone takes their first summer to do some kind of research. Most of us have worked on projects before, but we find this time an exciting opportunity to explore new fields or finally get around to trying crazy ideas. We recently completed our proposals and depend heavily on support from federal agencies like the NIH. I asked three random friends what they planned on doing. Their answers are a testament to what's at stake: the first will test new therapies to improve sleep in veterans with PTSD; the second hopes to incorporate neuroscience into the design of better hearing aids; the third wants to study how best to save infants from hydrocephalus, a horrific neurological disorder.

These young people will shape our understanding of science. They will change the world and make us shake our heads at the primitive times we once lived in. Their plans confirm my belief that, despite our political gridlock, we are headed towards a better future. They need our fullest support, now and for years to come.

Of course, our government is under significant financial pressures, and we must make difficult decisions to set ourselves straight. Critics may point out that these cuts amount to only a few percent of current spending. They are right. The sequester will not end research in our country. It will not eliminate our thirst for innovation and knowledge. However, I am afraid that it is symptomatic of a broader decline in our commitment to science as a nation.

I will never forget starting college as an aspiring biologist, only to watch a presidential nominee ridicule animal research as a waste of money. By the time I started medical school, the next round of candidates were accusing climatologists of fraud and denying the evidence behind evolution. We ended the shuttle program and no longer launch our astronauts to probe the heavens. Investments in green energy become quips for government scandals. Our initiative to map the human brain commands less funding than a day of war in the Middle East.

Thus, to our leaders in Congress, I want to add one more voice for you to hear. I want to add one more plea that you reverse these measures that tell my fellow students and I that what we are doing is not important to our country. In times of scarcity, maintaining our commitment to research speaks volumes about what we value in the wealthiest nation in the world. It says that our children should look up at the night sky with wonder. It says that our brightest students should strive for careers in science and engineering. It says that the sickest among us should keep hope that someone, somewhere, will find a cure for their suffering. It says that we do not have to wait for our future any longer.

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