Here’s How The US Government Shutdown Is Damaging Science

National Radio Astronomy Observatory closed due to Government Shutdown, October 2013 under Obama. Emily Barney/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Postponed Projects And Lost Data

Countless projects have been put onto the backburner during the shutdown. For some, this is a major inconvenience, but others are claiming the shutdown could cause irrevocable damage to their work. 

As just one example of postponed announcements, the World Magnetic Model (WMM) – a “map” of the Earth’s magnetic field – was supposed to be released on January 15, but it's been postponed until at least January 30 due to the ongoing government shutdown. This means that the latest WMM, as well as many other vital datasets, are being withheld from researchers, the public, and businesses that rely on them. 

Countless pieces of research could also potentially be ruined, especially if time is of the essence. For example, Nature News reports that the world’s longest-running study of predators and prey, which tracks wolves and moose on Isle Royale in Lake Superior, could now be damaged. The project has been added to every winter since 1958, but the researchers fear they are running out of time to collect this year’s data.

“We could weather a few days’ delay without losing too much, but every day after that costs a lot. At some point, the scientific continuity is lost,” Rolf Peterson, a wildlife ecologist at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, told Nature News.

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Space

Satellites aren't quite falling from the sky, but the shutdown has even spelled bad news for space exploration and astronomy.

Many US telescope facilities are quickly running out of reserve funds and might soon cease their operations. According to Space.com, these facilities include the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Green Bank Telescope, and the Very Large Array. Furthermore, an eye-watering 95 percent of NASA scientists are out of work for now and unable to carry out their timely research.

Last week saw the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Seattle, however, a number of prominent speakers and guests were not able to attend due to the shutdown. That meant that their data was not publically announced and numerous projects remain unveiled.

“In the same week that the Chinese government lands a rover on the far side of the Moon and the US sends a probe to the furthest object ever visited by humanity scores of scientists at all career levels are being prevented from attending our meeting,” said Kevin Marvel, the astronomy organization’s executive officer, according to the Associated Press.

On top of all this, it’s feared that the mess will inspire some of NASA’s brightest brains to jump ship towards the ever-growing private sector.

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