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Congress to cut research as Facebook, Apple, Google offer big science award

As the tiresome gridlock in Congress continues on budget spending cuts, a.k.a sequestration, the question on public funding for scientific research as opposed to federal funding takes center stage. Many in the scientific community feel that the government is too unreliable in its current quagmire, because research on diseases and medical advancements are too critical to be blown around by political winds.

The number of Republicans who freely admit they don’t believe in science is seen as a major detriment to vital research across all disciplines. Private investment would be preferable, but certainly not always possible.

On Thursday, rivals Facebook and Google, joined by Apple, announced the partnership with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to bring a Nobel-Prize type multi-million dollar award to advancements in science. The reward, called the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, will focus on prolonging life by finding cures for cancer and other persistent diseases.

The New York Daily News reported: “Funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, his partner, Priscilla Chan, Google cofounder Sergei Brin, 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki and Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner, the annual Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences will award five scientists $3 million” for a total prize amount of $15 million.

Chairman of the board will be Apple’s Art Levinson, while Zuckerberg, Brin, Chan and Wojcicki will be on the board of directors.

“These scientists should be household names and heroes in society,” Levison was quoted in an AOL report as saying. “It's a lot of money, yes. But the people who make game-changing contributions are often scientists who toil without much recognition or fanfare and without much compensation.”

Any number of members on a research team can share the award, unlike Nobel Prizes, which are limited to three participants.

“Priscilla and I are honored to be part of this,” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “We believe the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences has the potential to provide a platform for other models of philanthropy, so people everywhere have an opportunity at a better future.”

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health (NIH) is bracing for a 5.1 percent funding cut if the sequester of automatic cuts isn’t staved off by Congress and goes into effect on March 1st.

Francis Collins director of NIH explained it this way in a Scientific Magazine report:

The so-called sequestration would slow scientific progress, delay clinical trials, and put a generation of young researchers at risk if NIH's $31 billion budget for this year is trimmed by $1.5 billion. Each of NIH's 27 institutes and centers will be cut by 5.1%, so research in areas such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes will be hit equally hard.

At the same time, President Barack Obama has issued a request for agencies to allow federally funded research to be publically available to everyone interested within 12 months of a document’s publication. But the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Art bill is currently languishing in Congress.

If only politicians on Capitol Hill had even a hint of the same altruistic nature as the group of rivals, who put together the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the American people would be the beneficiaries, because they deserve better than a government polarized by draconian ideology.

For more information on the award click here.

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Jean Williams, environmental and political journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.***PrairieDogPress is the media channel for keystone-prairie-dogs.com, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.