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Uncertain Funding Felt

Even though the Trump administration's proposal to slash some 18 percent from the National Institutes of Health budget is unlikely to occur, the Atlantic's Ed Yong writes that it still has an effect on the US research climate.

Despite the Trump administration calling for a large cut to the NIH budget for fiscal year 2018 in its "skinny budget" — and now in its more formal proposal — Congress has given the agency a $2 billion boost for the current fiscal year. Representative Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the NIH budget, tells Yong that the agency has broad support in Congress.

Still, Yong notes that there's an air of uncertainty, as the agency can't be sure that its current $2 billion increase will last. That, he says, will drive it to be more conservative and fund safer projects from well-known researchers, a move that will hurt new investigators and those with smaller bodies of work. Additionally, the proposal signals a disregard for science that may affect whether young scientists will pursue such a career.

To avoid such uncertainty, Harold Varmus tells Yong that he and other have floated the idea of a five-year funding plan for NIH, much as the UK promised last year and the US did in 1998.

"We need to have steady, predictable increases," adds Cole.