Erin Ross Feb 13
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What Trump's budget proposal means for science

President Trump sits behind a desk, surrounded by NASA staff and Ted Cruz. Trump is holding a NASA launch jacket that he has just been gifted.
Trump receives a NASA launch jacket after signing the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017. Photo: Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images

President Trump's budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 released yesterday includes steep cuts to some science agencies and reorganizes others.

Be smart: Congress doesn't need to follow Trump's proposed budget, and has not in the past. Several Republican senators have already spoken out against some of the science cuts. Last year, Trump's cuts to science were roundly rejected. But the budget proposal provides a window into the administration's thinking and highlights its priorities for the coming year.

The winners: Opioid research programs. Relevant organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Food and Drug Administration are expected to increase funding aimed at studying the opioid epidemic.

The losers: Funds for research on climate change, clean energy or environmental protection.

Note: The budget was finalized before Congress lifted the spending caps for 2018 and 2019. Trump released an addendum to the budget that added funding for many institutes where it had initially been cut. The numbers here reflect that. However, if the pre-addendum numbers were dramatically different, we have noted them to illustrate Trump's funding priorities.

The NIH's budget would be roughly equal to the 2017 budget but 2 billion below 2018.

  • However, per Nature "the 2019 budget may not be as steady as it seems, because the White House is calling for the creation of three new institutes within the NIH" and reorganizing other institutes.
  • Additional money would be redirected towards research on the opioid crisis.
  • In Trump's initial proposal, the NIH budget would have been cut by 27%.

The National Science Foundation: Proposed funding stays the same for the agency that supports basic research that is unlike to be funded by industry. Initially, the budget proposal cut the NSF's funding by almost 30%.

Department of Energy: The DOE was initially slated for a 22% cut to the Office of Science but that was mostly eliminated in the addendum. However, ARPA-E, which funds clean energy research, is slated for a cut. (The Office of Fossil Energy, on the other hand, will keep $300 million for R&D.)

NASA sees a slight increase in overall funding, but individual programs within the agency are on the chopping block, including:

  • NASA's Office of Education, the WFIRST space telescope, and five Earth science missions all related to studying the planet's climate
  • U.S. funding for the International Space Station (ISS) would end in 2024. Instead, it would be privatized. A number of politicians have already spoken out against ending the ISS.
  • A lot of the money from these cuts would be redirected to planetary sciences.
  • The budget goes all-in on NASA's SLS rocket and the Orion passenger capsule for trips to the Moon and beyond.
  • Yes, but: The funding boost necessary for Trump's return-trip to the Moon just isn't there, per Nature.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's budget would be cut by 20%. Proposed eliminations include:

  • Funding for the Sea Grant program, which funds ocean sciences research at universities around the country.
  • The National Estuarine Research Reserve System, The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, programs related to climate change and the Arctic, and NOAA's Air Resources Laboratory
  • Coastal Zone Management Grants (The program would remain, there would be no more grant funding.)

The Environmental Protection Agency would see a 25% cut.

  • Funding for Energy Star programs would be eliminated and instead run on application fees.
  • Voluntary climate programs would be eliminated.
  • Money for remediation of superfund sites would be cut by 48%
  • The EPA is supposed to take over the Department of Agriculture's rural clean water and wastewater grants, which are eliminated from the USDA's budget. As there is nothing comparable in the EPA budget proposed, it's unclear where those funds would come from.

The United States Geological Survey's budget would be reduced 21% from 2017. Programs dedicated to extracting minerals would see an increased budget, while those that study earthquakes, volcanoes, water resources and climate change would see cuts.

The CDC would see a 12% cut in funding. Some, but not all, of this would be mitigated by shifting current CDC programs to the NIH.

Department of Interior would see the National Wildlife Refuge Fund eliminated.

Conspicuously absent: The Presidential budget request does not include the phrase "climate change," except on a proposed list of programs to cut from the EPA.

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Airlines may not be the "germ incubator" you thought

Inside of an airplane
Photo: via Getty Images

The chance of becoming infected with a common respiratory virus on an airplane may be smaller than originally thought — less than 3% unless you are sitting within one meter of an infected person, where your chances rise to 80%, according to a study published in PNAS Monday.

Why it matters: There are more than 3 billion airline passengers annually, and global health officials want to learn more how infectious diseases are transmitted, particularly after reported transmission of cases of flu pandemic and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) via planes.

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Early humans innovated tools earlier than thought

Archaeologist Rick Potts squats in the Olorgesailie Basin in Kenya with various surprisingly sophisticated tools found from 320,000 years ago.
Richard Potts surveys assortment of Early Stone Age handaxes discovered in the Olorgesailie Basin, Kenya. Photo: Human Origins Program, Smithsonian

Unpredictable climate and natural disasters like earthquakes may have spurred early humans to create innovative tools and ways to communicate earlier than previously thought, according to 3 studies published Thursday in Science.

What they found: Evidence that around 320,000 years ago — near the start of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) and tens of thousands of years earlier than previous evidence has shown — early humans in East Africa may have created projectile hunting tools, developed ways to communicate using colors for mapping or identification purposes, and traveled longer distances to trade, hunt or obtain valuable materials.

"It's not just humans changing but really the entire ecosystem. It's a picture that's bigger than just the human ancestors themselves."
— Smithsonian's Richard Potts, who spearheaded the studies