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Opening Remarks by The Honorable John Edward Porter
Research!America Chair, Former Illinois Congressman

I am proud—and you should be, too—of what we have accomplished together. But the job is far from completed.

As every organization must, we need to step back and assess where we are at this point I time, and, to be candid, the picture is not pretty.

At a time when scientific opportunity has never been greater, we have had, or will have, six straight years of miniscule increases-translation, real decreases, totaling 13% for NIH. We have had basically the same miserable funding for AHRQ and for the physical science agencies. CDC in its core programs has been hit even worse.

We have had an Administration where science has had little place at its table. We have had a President opposed to embryonic stem cell research and in favor of teaching Intelligent Design. We have had an Administration that at times has suppressed, rewritten, ignored, or abused scientific research.

All of this has been devastating for the scientific community, our research institutions, and our young investigators and their families.

It has stalled our scientific leadership at a time when global challenges to America's science and technology preeminence are growing every day.

It has helped to undermine our economy, which can sustain and increase our living standards only through technology, innovation and research.

And not least, it has slowed progress toward better health, greater longevity and the well-being of our citizens.

Now, when do we get mad? When do we say, like in that old movie, Network, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore"?

I have said repeatedly elections in America have a way of sorting things out.

Already, the most fascinating primary season of my life has sorted some things out that we can celebrate. We know that the next President of our country:

  • Will support embryonic stem cell research;
  • Won't favor teaching Intelligent Design in our schools; and
  • Will respect scientific integrity and evidence-based research.

But it hasn't told us yet whether he or she will truly put science at the table, at his or her right hand, and whether research will be very high on their priority lists and reflected strongly in their budgets and speeches and policies.

Now more is at stake than the Presidency on November 4. The entire 435 seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate are also up for election.

So, what can we do in the next seven and a half months to substantially increase the probability that we will have the right person in the White House and the right people in the Congress to put research at a very high priority in the next Administration and the next Congress?

I'm talking about a lot more than voting on November 4 and paying your dues to a professional society or making a contribution to a voluntary health association.

I want to tell you exactly what I've been telling every group of stakeholders to whom I've been privileged to speak, most recently to scientists at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.

It was my honor to chair 2004 NAS Committee on S&T presidential and federal advisory committee appointments. Our report, "Science & Technology in the National Interest" should read by you, at least the Executive Summary with our seven recommendations. Or, even better, wait for the report of the 2008 committee, which I also have been asked to chair. It will be out well before the general election.

Although in early 2005, we went to see the people at the President's Office of Science & Technology Policy, presented our report and urged its recommendations to be implemented. This Administration did nothing.

So, what should you do now?

Not just your professional societies, your pharmaceutical or biotech company, your voluntary health organization or national association. Not just what should they do on your behalf. Because that can only go so far.

I'm talking about every single stakeholder in America who cares about federal investments in research.

Individually. I'm talking about you.

  • Get the lead scientists for the next Administration identified, committed and ready to go, as much as possible.
    • Find your candidate for Science Advisor to the President-your Neal Lane or Allen Bromley-as quickly as possible
    • Get the scientific community prepared to quickly weigh in for him or her.
    • That doesn't mean that will be the new President's selection, but it will certainly provide new Administration with choice
  • Get the scientific community behind the recommendations of the NAS committee.
    • You know my bias, but I'm asking for your help. The report will be out, we expect, before September. We need to get the candidates' science people thinking about the transition.
  • If possible, don't concentrate all your efforts in one political party. You never know how elections will turn out. Besides, you want both parties invested in the importance of science to America's future and committed to support science R & D.
    • Support for science should be bipartisan. Don't fall into the Rove trap and be written off.
  • Sign onto sciencedebate2008.com.
    • This is a site urging candidates to have an entire debate dedicated to science issues.
    • Even if that doesn't happen, a huge number of individuals and organizations are supporting it, which sends a message to media that science is important to the electorate and that they should be asking questions on science, too.
    • You can sign on-it takes 60 seconds.
    • Your organizations can sign on, too.
  • Pick your favorite candidate (President, Senate, Congress, Governor, state senators and representatives-I was one once).
    • Call his or her campaign, tell them you'd like to help advise the candidate on science matters and issues. They'll love it. Tell them you'd like to be the candidate's science advisor or serve on his or her science advisory committee. If they say they don't have one, tell them you'll create one for them. Chair it yourself and recruit your colleagues.
    • Get inside their campaign, then press to put science into the candidate's messages to voters. Remember, less than 3% of Members of the U.S. House and Senate have any science background. They need all the help they can get. Your help!
    • Once your candidate has won, offer to continue in your role to advise your new officeholder on science policy and funding questions.
    • Ask yourselves: Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the candidates had science advisors or advisory committees. They will, if individual scientists would step up to the plate.
  • Log onto the science voter guides.
    • Research!America has its YourCandidatesYourHealth.org - It includes all federal candidates of both parties, including candidates for President. They are asked to answer questions on their positions on research and funding.
    • PARADE magazine urges people to check our site and see if your candidates for House, Senate, and President responded.
    • Check it and see. If they haven't, call their campaign and ask them to. You have a right to know where they stand.
  • Run for office yourself!
    • It's disheartening to see so many public officials with so little knowledge of science.
    • Bill Foster, a physicist, just ran for and won the House seat of former Speaker Dennis Hastert.
    • Dr. Michelle McMurray, is running for the California House seat left vacant upon the death of my colleague and close friend in Congress, Tom Lantos. And Michelle is here with us tonight. Please stand and be recognized, Michelle, for your commitment, your courage, and your leadership.
    • If they can do it, you can do it.
    • If you can't bring yourself to do that, at least aim at a position of science policy in the next Administration or a position on a federal advisory committee.
    • In other words, act outside your comfort zone. I'm sure you think most public officials come to it naturally. Some do. Many do not. I can't tell you how nervous I was when I first started. But if you're always comfortable, you never grow.

Oh, and by the way, most importantly, your country needs you! Not to sit on the sidelines and watch, but to get into the game.

So get off your-chair-and do something outside your comfort zone and make a difference for science!

This is the most important election for science in my adult lifetime.

All of us must be creative about what we can do to make a difference for the things we believe in.

Thanks for listening to me.