Credit: Amanda Walker
To many of us in the tech world, what's been going on in Washington, D.C., over the past two weeks is largely a puppet show, only most puppets are smarter. The government shutdown may be the talk of 24/7 cable networks and Twitter, but most of us who don't collect a government paycheck aren't really feeling the effects.
That is about to change in a big way. The shutdown is having an enormous impact on science and technology, and not a good one. For example, I've been hearing from Cringesters based in Antarctica who've been trundled off the ice pack, forced to board planes and leave their research posts just a few days after arriving.
[ For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. | Check out InfoWorld TechBrief for a quick, smart take on the news you'll be talking about -- subscribe today. ]
The reason? The government contractor that runs the U.S. research facilities, Lockheed Martin, is no longer receiving funds from the National Science Foundation. Scientists have been ordered to drop those penguins and proceed to the nearest military transport.
The problem with shutting down Antarctica research right now is that right now is virtually the only time it can happen. This is Antarctica's summer: a 10-week window where people can survive being outside for any length of time and planes can take off and land. A shutdown means there's no data at all for the year 2013, throwing a monkey wrench into the reliability of long-term climate research.
Not coincidentally, the same forces behind the shutdown -- we all know who they are, even if they don't admit it -- are also not the biggest fans of either science or climate research. Funny how that happens.
Science is suffering all over
Antarctica isn't the only science research that's been pole-axed because a small cadre of Congressmen decided to hold the government hostage while their more sensible yet timid comrades are hiding in the closet. As Live Science reports, the CDC has furloughed two-thirds of its staff, which means "it will not be able to monitor current flu activity, or link outbreak information across states." Let's hope there's not an outbreak of Egyptian flu over the next week or so.
If the shutdown continues, the nation's nuclear labs will close up shop. The FDA won't be inspecting meat or dairy plants, and the EPA won't be monitoring air or water pollution. Long-term weather forecasting will be put on hold. Your taxes will still be due, but there won't be anyone at the IRS around to answer your questions. The International Space Station won't fall out of the sky, but they'll have to deal with a skeleton crew as NASA sends 97 percent of its workforce home. NASA's Asteroid Watch program is also on hiatus, so I'd suggest not venturing out doors without a titanium-plated umbrella, lest you get bonked on the head by a space rock.
InfoWorld's Serdar Yegulalp details numerous other effects on tech companies.