Mary Woolley's Weekly Letter: Words and Deeds

Mary Woolley

 

Dear Research Advocate,

There was great excitement among advocates this week when rumors began swirling that the Senate “Labor HHS” bill may include a $3B increase for NIH. However, it is unclear whether this funding level will hold and what the bill provides for other key health and research priorities. On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee postponed consideration of two funding bills, including Labor-HHS. Congressional Leaders may seek passage of a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that prevents a government shutdown but freezes the federal government in place while the House and Senate try to finalize FY20 funding.  

While a CR is better than a government shutdown on October 1st, stop-gap funding measures (one CR often leads to serial CRs) contravene the public interest in myriad ways -- none more compelling than the chilling impact on research. As just one example, consider that this is suicide prevention week: the very notion of stalling research that could help address what is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States is, in itself, chilling. (This resource from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention features eye-opening information and suggestions for action to combat this escalating public health challenge.)

The bottom line is that this is no time to let up on advocacy. When decisions are in flux, it’s critical to speak up, on email or Twitter.

We are now in the season of science awards, including the 8th Annual Golden Goose program. This recognition was designed as a way for the research community to demonstrate the power federal funding has to drive innovation “by highlighting examples of seemingly obscure studies that have led to major breakthroughs and resulted in significant societal impact.” (The name of the program invokes memories of Senator William Proxmire (D-WI)’s attention-getting monthly “Golden Fleece” award of the 1970s and ‘80s calling out wasteful government spending of various kinds.)  

The Golden Goose 2019 award to Dr. Fred Bang and Dr. John Levin is illustrative. Their work, supported over many years by the NIH, U.S. Public Health Service, and Atomic Energy Commission led to the creation of the Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) test, which tests for bacterial endotoxins using horseshoe crab blood. The LAL is now widely used to screen IV fluids, implantable devices, and injectable drugs for bacterial endotoxins. Band and Levin’s research helped solve a big problem, saving many lives, money, and time.  

For good or otherwise, the language we use to describe and make the case for science factors into its future, and by extension, the future of our nation and world. The title of a research project may be the only thing a policy maker sees. “You only have one chance to make a first impression,” as the old saying goes, and it applies to science as it does to everything else. A terrific Washington Post article by Dan Zak pivots from climate change to a very thoughtful exploration of effective use of language in the public and political sphere. It’s worth a read. 

Communicating science in an effective manner is something we all strive for. A new post we released on the history of NSF emphasizes the need for robust funding for this important science and research agency; we urge you to use it in your advocacy, and to let us know how it is received so we can make it even better!

Our National Health Research Forum, “Straight Talk,” highlighted the importance of leadership and strong partnerships as key factors in assuring that research and innovation in both the public and private sectors have every opportunity to thrive. Here is a link to the livestream and recap of the event. Among many outstanding leaders, we were pleased to welcome Dr. David Skorton, the new President and CEO of AAMC. Dr. Skorton highlighted the need to invest in gun violence research as a public health issue, a point he reiterated in his right-to-the-point USA Today op-ed

For our alliance members, I hope you have seen the invitation for the September 23 meeting with staff from the offices of Congresswoman Diana DeGette and Congressman Fred Upton to talk about a new 21st Century Cures “2.0.” Please email Jacqueline at jlagoy@researchamerica.org for more information.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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Luck shouldn't play a role in why I'm alive.
Laurie MacCaskill, a seven-year pancreatic cancer survivor