JHSPG receives Research!America grant

We are excited to announce that the Johns Hopkins Science Policy Group was awarded a grant from Research!America to fund bipartisan engagement efforts in advocating for and promoting science and evidence-based policy!  

We plan to use these funds to reach out to local candidates of all parties running for office and urge them to keep evidence-based policies in mind.  We also will be organizing events to showcase all the cool, useful research being conducted in Maryland to remind our fellow citizens and our representatives why science is essential to a healthy populace and democracy.  Stay tuned!

- Richard Sima

The Republican House tax plan threatens students, science, and society

https://medium.com/@jhscipolgroup/the-republican-house-tax-plan-threatens-students-science-and-society-90cb8fff52f6

Last month, the House of Representatives passed its tax reform bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Clearing this first legislative hurdle presents an imminent threat to the lives of roughly 145,000 graduate students and could cripple the future of scientific research and innovation in the United States.

As doctoral students in the biomedical sciences at Johns Hopkins University, we receive a living stipend of roughly $30,000 as well as a tuition waiver in exchange for the research and teaching we perform. While we currently pay taxes on our stipends, the tuition waiver is not considered taxable income because none of that money actually ends up in our pockets. The House tax bill would classify this tuition waiver as taxable income. At Hopkins, graduate tuition exceeds $50,000; if this sum were also taxed, the effective tax rate on our stipend would more than quadruple and exceed the tax rate paid by people earning in excess of $500,000 a year. While certain institutions (including Johns Hopkins) can shield their students from this attack, many students will face a tough decision: either take an unexpected and severe pay cut or abandon their doctoral education.

Unfortunately, a tax on the tuition waiver is only the first of many provisions that collectively harm graduate students. The House bill also eliminates the student loan interest deduction, removes the Lifetime Learning Credit, and imposes an excise tax on university endowments. Taken together, these measures compound the burden on students and educators across America.

When we entered graduate school, we accepted that we would sacrifice potentially higher-paying jobs in order to pursue the questions and problems that we are passionate about. This passion drives us to work long hours improving our collective understanding of the world and discovering new tools and technology that benefit all of humanity. Though we are willing to give the energy of our young adult lives to these pursuits, we also need to care for our families and our futures. Our decisions to pursue the opportunities afforded by graduate education are influenced by our individual privileges as well as familial, institutional, and social support. Students who begin with less navigate a more delicate balance between their pasts and futures than those who can rely upon dependable support. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will disproportionately burden those who begin with less, subsequently exacerbating the racial and socioeconomic inequalities already present throughout our nation. This tax bill would make higher education financially challenging for all but the wealthiest of students. These new taxes run counter to the ideal of meritocracy at the heart of science and America.

The resulting brain drain stemming from this financial barrier to entry will have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences for research and our country. As current and former graduate students, the five of us are conducting research on a wide variety of topics, including: the molecular mechanisms underpinning premature aging; how bacteria affect mosquito transmission of viruses and parasites; how neurons connect with one another in the cortex; the structure and function of a cancer-causing biological pathway; and, how the brain predicts the sensory consequences of movement.

Our ability to work on these important scientific problems would be stymied by this tax plan. According to a 2016 poll conducted by the nonprofit science policy group, Research!America, a majority of Americans agree that “basic scientific research that advances the frontiers of knowledge is necessary”. Graduate student researchers are an indispensable force that drives both basic and applied scientific innovation. The research we conduct also spurs economic growth; every dollar invested in National Institutes of Health research funding produces $2.21 in goods and services within just one year.

The amount of revenue gained from taxing graduate students is a pittance to the federal government, but will be keenly felt by those affected. In the long-term, scientific progress will be stalled, economic growth hampered, and new cures for diseases delayed. The costs to students, science, and society are far too high to justify passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

An amendment to the bill to remove the harmful provisions on higher education was made prior to the House vote on the tax reform bill. However, this amendment was voted down along party lines. Protecting the values of higher education and our nation’s future should not be a partisan issue.

  • Richard Sima, Kaitlin Wood, Leah Cairns, Jenny Carlson, and Chanel Matney are graduate student and postdoctoral researchers at Johns Hopkins University. They are also executive board members of the Science Policy Group at Johns Hopkins, and can be reached at jhscipolgroup@gmail.com

September 27: Public Comment deadline for new EPA regulations

I. What is the overarching issue?

The 1972 Clean Water Act gave the federal government authority to limit pollution to both major bodies of water (i.e. Chesapeake Bay) and to streams and wetlands that drain into those bodies of water. However, in 2001 and 2006, two Supreme Court decisions resulted in legal confusion on whether or not the federal government has the authority to regulate smaller streams, headwaters, and wetlands.

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Diversity in Clinical Trials

by Leah Cairns

You might assume that once a drug has gone through the long process of FDA approval, it is safe for anyone to use. For some people, however, that may not be true. Women and ethnic minorities have historically been underrepresented in clinical trials [vi], and as a result some drugs may be less effective or even dangerous for them to use. 

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Science Funding in Turmoil

By Valerie Cohen

Science funding is currently facing an unsteady future, under President Trump’s proposed federal budget. While the full details of this budget will not be released until May, we do know that stark cuts will be made to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With a 17.9% reduction to the NIH budget and a 31% reduction to the EPA budget, cuts in operations for both agencies are a foregone conclusion. While careful spending is instrumental to government operations, the damage that large cuts would have on these agencies could be challenging to overcome.

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A Researcher’s Guide to the Cancer Moonshot

By Leah Cairns

One year before leaving office, then President Obama and Vice President Biden announced the Cancer Moonshot, a new initiative to drive cancer research forward by achieving 10 years’ worth of research in 5. They envisioned a combined effort by the government, private industry, researchers, physicians, patients, and philanthropies to cure cancer. Experts have since weighed in with recommendations on how to achieve this lofty goal, and funding mechanisms for collaborations and research are in place. This brief overview is meant to provide researchers with an idea of the goals and the funding mechanism of the Moonshot, and to guide a researcher who is interested in policy in finding opportunities for advocacy.

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21st Century Cures

By Andrew Pike, Ph.D.

On December 13, 2016, former President Barack Obama signed a bill known as the “21st Century Cures Act” into law. The bill had strong bipartisan support and passed both houses of congress with nearly unanimous consent. This bill covers a broad range of health related topics from tackling the opioid crisis and encouraging novel drug discovery to increasing access to mental health care. Many of these changes had been under consideration for some time, and address long-standing health care issues. Others, such as the “Cancer Moonshot” and “BRAIN Initiative” have appeared more recently and represent the projects spearheaded by Vice-President Joe Biden and President Obama, respectively.

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