Research Plans Thrown Off Course After Government Shutdown

The Capitol Dome is reflected in the Capitol Reflecting Pool at sun rise, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2
The Capitol Dome is reflected in the Capitol Reflecting Pool at sun rise, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. The political stare-down on Capitol Hill shows no signs of easing, leaving federal government functions _ from informational websites, to national parks, to processing veterans' claims _ in limbo from coast to coast. Lawmakers in both parties ominously suggested the partial shutdown might last for weeks. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

College students, professors and other scholars have been unable since the government shutdown to conduct research that in some cases involved months of planning.

On an AskScience Reddit thread, researchers discussed how the shutdown was throwing a wrench in their studies.

One Reddit user who said they experienced the 1995 shutdown's effects as a graduate student, warned: "Anybody relying on continuing funds from an ongoing federal grant should be prepared for a SLOW spin-up and a long delay in getting your FY2014 funds, possibly 6-8 months delay even if the actual shutdown is very short."

Redditors complained that while some research can be picked up when the shutdown ends, there is field work that cannot be rescheduled. Yet, even work they could do at home online is affected, Inside Higher Ed reports:

In addition to forcing the closure of government buildings where research is conducted -- such as the Library of Congress and presidential libraries -- the shutdown was also cutting off access to myriad electronic resources on which many researchers depend. Websites that were not operational included those of the Library of Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Science Foundation, the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Education Department’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences.

PubMed, a free repository of biomedical and life science research maintained by the National Institutes of Health, was operational but a notice on the site warned users that it would not be updated during the shutdown.

One user, who said they work at the National Institutes of Health, said staff spent all morning Tuesday putting up banners on government websites to warn about the shutdown: "If those sites go down, expect them to stay down. We aren't even allowed to troubleshoot or restart anything. They made us lock our BlackBerries in our desks when we left."

With so many federal websites down, many reported on Reddit that not having access to data prevents them from doing any work while Congress continues its fight. Some researchers are setting up mirror websites to keep forms to apply for grants from the National Science Foundation accessible.

Although the U.S. Department of Education released new statistics on student loan default rates Monday, anyone wanting more information about higher education will find the National Center for Education Statistics website dark, like many other federal data websites.

Lisa D. Cook, an associate professor at Michigan State University, told Inside Higher Ed she spent seven months planning research on patenting and economic growth, but it's been thrown for a loop.

"These will be hours, days, and missed encounters I will never be able to reclaim," Cook said. "It also seems to be demoralizing for the researchers on staff whose deadlines and workload will not change, but their ability to meet them will."

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