Harvard's William Sahlman has written a noteworthy column for the layperson in Sunday's Boston Globe on why the ups and downs in funding, especially in stem cells, are so dangerous to the research enterprise. He writes:
Unpredictability inflicts a heavy cost on scientific progress, whether in domains like stem-cell research or in searching for safe alternative fuels. It damages the United States' competitive position because great projects won't be completed here, and, more importantly, great people won't do the kind of work that is necessary to make progress on our most intractable challenges.
I thought his explanation of how a lab works was quite good, especially since few people outside of academic research probably know the details.
Unstated here, though, is a deeper question: Where will the research community turn for financial stability with the federal budget so squeezed by an economic recession, the financing of two wars and a political atmosphere of fiscal restraint? And - will the next U.S. Congress be as forthcoming with NIH support as the last? We'll see.