“Stepping into the political arena was a big change, and a big sacrifice. I don’t want my team to suffer because of my outside interests, so I have to give up leadership of my research team,” he says.
“If I’m successful in the election, I’ll have to give up my clinical trials – these are my ideas that I want to see to fruition. It’s hard to let them go, but I have to do this.”
Despite Congress’ rebellion, Trump’s continuous threats to science funding are keeping Westin awake at night. It’ll be one of the key messages he hopes to hammer home during the election, because in his mind, if people stop caring about research, then people will begin to die faster and more frequently.
If Trump gets his way, the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be slashed by 24 percent by 2018, a shockingly draconian cut. He requested an 18 percent cut for the 2017 budget, but Congress defied his wishes and boosted funding to federal science across the board. The NIH got an extra $2 billion.
“I’ve received NIH funding. I’ve gone through that process, and know about the extremely low funding rate as it is,” Westin notes. “I know the consequences of dramatic cuts in those funds.”
He tells us that research careers and labs just get shut down, and some of the world’s smartest and most innovative researchers have no choice but to move on to other centers, other jobs, and even other countries.
“It’s hard to rebuild that,” he laments. He considers any effort to damage America’s ability to safeguard its healthcare as a “threat to national security.”
Westin will be running against Republican Congressman John Culberson in the 7th district of Texas, assuming he’s successful in the Democratic primary.
Culberson is an attorney that ran for politics right out of law school, and at present, he’s the chairman of the appropriations committee in the House – NASA and the National Science Foundation, America’s most significant science funding agency, are both under his jurisdiction.
“He always says he has a long-standing love of science, and that he loves to look through his telescope,” Westin says, pointing out a few of his past interviews with pro-science outlets.
“He says he’s a self-taught scientist. He has also said that he took one science class in college, an astronomy class, and he found it so basic that it was boring.”