But Consider the Fate of Paleontological Field-Workers!

These scientific research projects are being shut down by the shutdown.

Venezuelan paleontologist Ascanio Rincon shows the skull of a glyptodont found in Venezuela, in Caracas on August, 30, 2013. Under the Venezuelan rich soil lies more than oil: paleontologists have found traces of an armadillo the size of a Volkswagen, a crocodile bigger than a bus, a mastodon of six tonnes and a saber-toothed tiger. AFP PHOTO/JUAN BARRETO (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Lucia Graves
Oct. 9, 2013, 9:55 a.m.

Count­less fed­er­al pro­jects have been sty­mied by the shut­down of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. En­ter­ing the ninth day of the shut­down, much cov­er­age has fo­cused on the im­pact on fed­er­al agen­cies as well as the cap­it­al’s monu­ments and Smith­so­ni­an mu­seums. What’s less known is that the Smith­so­ni­an is also an in­ter­na­tion­al re­search or­gan­iz­a­tion that em­ploys thou­sands of sci­ent­ists.

What fol­lows is a run­down of some of the fed­er­al sci­ence pro­grams that have been hobbled at the Smith­so­ni­an here and bey­ond.

1. Smith­so­ni­an’s in­ter­na­tion­al re­search pro­jects

Nick Py­sen­son of the Nat­ur­al His­tory Mu­seum ex­cav­ates an­cient fossils to ana­lyze the evol­u­tion of mod­ern mar­ine mam­mals. Pey­sen­on has con­duc­ted field­work on every con­tin­ent ex­cept Ant­arc­tica. His team, cur­rently sta­tioned in Chile, is do­ing 3D scans of whale, pen­guin, and seal fossils, but thanks to the shut­down he’ll be stop­ping his re­search.

“The Smith­so­ni­an is closed, due to a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment #shut­down. All Py­en­son Lab so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing cov­er­age of the on­go­ing joint Chile ex­ped­i­tion, will be sus­pen­ded start­ing 12 pm EST (noon) today (1 Oct),” he wrote on Face­book. “Also, all fed­er­ally fun­ded Smith­so­ni­an em­ploy­ees are for­bid­den, un­der pen­alty of a $5,000.00 fine and up to 2 years in a fed­er­al pris­on, from log­ging in­to their SI email ac­counts. I will be out of con­tact un­til the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment re­opens.”

Smith­so­ni­an has pos­ted a par­tial list of its pro­jects af­fected by the shut­down, in­clud­ing some that may have to be star­ted over due to gaps in sci­entif­ic data.

2. Ant­arc­tica re­search

Three Ant­arc­tica-based Amer­ic­an re­search sta­tions have been put on “care­taker” status and have ceased all re­search thanks to the shut­down, ac­cord­ing to the United States Ant­arc­tic Pro­gram. That means all staff deemed “in­es­sen­tial” will be sent down and their re­search ended.

“Un­der care­taker status, the USAP will be staffed at a min­im­al level to en­sure hu­man safety and pre­serve gov­ern­ment prop­erty, in­clud­ing the three primary re­search sta­tions, ships, and as­so­ci­ated re­search fa­cil­it­ies,” the Ant­arc­tic Pro­gram said in a state­ment. “All field and re­search activ­it­ies not es­sen­tial to hu­man safety and pre­ser­va­tion of prop­erty will be sus­pen­ded.”

USAP re­ceived its last round of cash on Sept. 30 and will run out of funds by Oct. 14.

3. Dis­ease track­ing

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion has stalled pro­grams for track­ing out­breaks of in­flu­enza, sal­mon­ella, measles, and oth­er deadly dis­eases, giv­en that two thirds of its staff are on fur­lough.

“The vast ma­jor­ity of the CDC is act­ively in the pro­cess of shut­ting down,” agency spokes­wo­man Bar­bara Reyn­olds told ABC News last week. “We’ve got­ten really good at try­ing to find out­breaks, but our strong net­work is get­ting weak­er…. This is spotty.”

4. NIH clin­ic­al tri­als

Over at the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health, gov­ern­ment re­search­ers have been barred from their own labs and told they can­not travel any­where dur­ing the shut­down. “They told us giv­ing a talk after that was a fed­er­al crime,” one NIH im­mun­o­lo­gist told Nature.

What’s worse, with about 75 per­cent of NIH staff on fur­lough, new pa­tients are un­able to en­roll in clin­ic­al tri­als at the NIH Clin­ic­al Cen­ter. That means as many as 200 people a week won’t be able to ob­tain the care they need, in­clud­ing this can­cer pa­tient, in­ter­viewed here by Wonkblog‘s Sarah Kliff.

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