How the US Gov Shutdown Is Affecting Academics

by | Oct 11, 2013 | regular

In the last couple of days we have had the (unfortunate) opportunity to learn how the partial US Government Shutdown is affecting some of our Authors, Reviewers and Academic Editors. We thought it would be instructive to share some of their experiences.

Niklaus Grunwald

Niklaus Grunwald is an Academic Editor for PeerJ and has formerly served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Phytopathology journal. He works for the USDA Agricultural Research Service and as such his lab is closed due to the governmental shutdown. Fortunately he has an Oregon State email address, otherwise we would not even have been able to contact him via email…


PJ: For your personal situation, what work has this delayed or damaged?

NG: Your question relates to several aspects of managing a lab. The shutdown significantly and negatively impacts visiting scientists, employees and research. I have 3 Oregon State graduate students, one postdoc and one biological sciences technician working in my group. A colleague of mine has a visiting scientist who was in the last two weeks of his stay and now had to wrap up without finishing his work putting his whole trip in jeopardy. None of these folks are on furlough, yet they cannot enter the lab to conduct their work. They are basically victims of collateral damage of the federal shutdown. 

Regarding research, the 10-day furlough mark is starting to have significant impacts on my research program. Research that was in progress such as experiments that needed to be evaluated now, are completely lost. We will have to repeat these experiments evaluating disease on plants which will set us back several months at best.

PJ: Have you heard of, or experienced, any reviewing or publication delays because of this shutdown?

NG: Yes, I have federal colleagues who are on furlough that are not responding to email. They are on furlough and are basically unavailable as reviewers or editors until the furlough ends. 

PJ: You are not originally from America, I believe.  What have your international colleagues made of this shutdown?

NG: I was actually born in Venezuela to a German father and a Swiss mother. I grew up bilingually speaking both Spanish and German and have lived in Venezuela, Switzerland, the US, and Mexico. My European colleagues do not really comprehend what is going on and think this situation is ridiculous. It is hard to convey the dynamics of our government. The bitter partisanship we are witnessing is hard to explain and has to do with very special circumstances that I do not want to go into here. 

PJ: How long must this go on for, before irreparable damage is done to your own situation? And what will that mean?

NG: The damage in our case is incremental. We have already lost experiments that take weeks or months to perform because we cannot evaluate the final progress. If the furlough continues we might lose 6 months or maybe years of research depending on the specifics. I am particularly concerned about the impact this is having for the graduate students in my lab that need to progress in their research. As the furlough continues we are losing valuable cultures collected from around the world that are in many ways irreplaceable as we cannot visit these places again. To be honest, we are already feeling the impact and as the furlough continues things will progressively get worse.

Africa Gómez

Africa Gómez is a PeerJ author of “Multiple global radiations in tadpole shrimps challenge the concept of ‘living fossils’” based in the UK. She was about to submit the final revision of her latest PeerJ paper when the shutdown impacted her. Fortunately, she was still able to get her work into the world, via our preprint server, however the formal publication of her article is now on indefinite hold until she is able to deposit in GenBank. She has been tweeting some of her frustrations:



AG: In our case, our PeerJ manuscript was pending obtaining accession numbers for a sequence dataset. We submitted the sequences on the 1st [Oct.], of course not anticipating that GenBank would be affected by the shutdown. Although we got an automatic receipt that the file with the sequences had been received, a message on the home page the NCBI site states:

“The information on this web site remains accessible; but, due to the lapse in government funding, the information may not be up to date, and the agency may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted. For updates regarding government operating status see”

Unfortunately, we have two other papers that are also affected in the same way, as we ended submitting a batch of sequences around the same time (really bad timing!). Even if I was aware of the shutdown itself and its economic implications I would have never anticipated that the shutdown would affect us so directly and so quickly at the other side of the Atlantic.

PJ: In addition to these two examples, we are aware of several other reviewers and Editors for PeerJ who are not permitted to access their email and so are unable to process submissions. Clearly the impacts of the #shutdown are widespread within the scientific community…

Get PeerJ Article Alerts