A Sequestration Lamentation

Two years ago, Congress stumbled upon what it thought would be a great way to ensure that it did something about the federal budget deficit:  it passed a bill with so many future spending cuts, a bill that was so thoroughly obnoxious, a bill that would hurt so many people, that everyone knew they’d have to go back and fix it before the law took effect.

Well, it turns out that nothing is too obnoxious for the United States Congress, so earlier this year, cuts known as “sequestration” went into effect.  Essentially, with a few exceptions, almost every part of the U.S. budget has to be cut two percent.  That’s why there was all that fuss about air traffic controllers a few weeks ago, and you’ll be hearing more mini-fusses just like it in the near future because Congress is currently showing very little interest in undoing its own obnoxiousness.

But you just knew, you had to know, that some people and institutions that feed off the public teat weren’t even going to wait for the cuts to take effect to whine about them.  Demonstrating that a high degree of education is no protection against making an ass of oneself in public, one of the whiners is a fellow named Jonathan Chernoff, who goes by the title of “chief scientific officer” for the Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia.

According to Dr. Whiner, er, Dr. Chernoff, Fox Chase – and the world – will be horribly, irrevocably damaged by cutting federal funding of medical research an earth-shattering two percent.

Yes, a whole two percent.

In an extended whine to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chernoff bleated about research labs that will have to reduce their staffing, brilliant PhD research scientists who will have trouble finding work, and the prospect that this tiny blip on the radar will end up “driving a bunch of young people out of science.”

Really?  He’s whining before his institution has been deprived of even a single thin dime?  And he thinks that people who’ve spent their entire lives preparing to work in medical research will walk away to become what, a Starbucks barista, the first time they fail to land their dream job?

Really?  Or is this just a case of premature lamentation?

Here’s another perspective.

The young scientists who lose their jobs will be the bottom two percent of the young people pursuing careers in science.  Science will survive their loss.

The research projects that go unfunded will be the bottom two percent of all those that request federal support.  Science will survive their loss, too.

In recent years, a lot of people and a lot of institutions have had to find ways to do more with less, or to do the same with less.  There’s no reason the Fox Chase Cancer Center should be any different.  It’s a run-of-the-mill institution that’s not even the best at what it does in the city in which it’s located and recently had to find a bigger and more successful institution to rescue it from its own shortcomings.  Now, its leaders need to do what the rest of us have been doing all along:  suck it up and figure out how to do their job without all the whining.

And if Dr. Chernoff isn’t smart enough to figure out how to do that, maybe Fox Chase could save a few bucks on his salary and find someone else who can.

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