A weekly advocacy message from Mary Woolley: Advice from 1993 is relevant today

Mary Woolley
Dear Research Advocate:

What’s the “right” amount of taxpayer funding for medical and health research? What are the ‘right’ policies for science? We are asked these question regularly. The announcement yesterday by Harold Varmus that he will leave the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the end of this month reminded me that in Science in 1993, Dr. Varmus and fellow Nobel Laureate Michael Bishop, along with their then-colleague at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Mark Kirchner, set forth an 11-point prescription for science policy. It is worth re-reading their approach to a set of problems that bear a striking similarity to those we face today, e.g: “The last decade has witnessed an accelerating erosion of the infrastructure for fundamental science in the United States.” Among other recommendations, the authors called for doubling the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget.

Many research advocates are speaking out for NIH aggressively right now, including in- and outside-the-box approaches to funding outlined in a report issued by United for Medical Research (UMR). This week we saw a regular-order hearing on the NIH budget under Labor-H appropriations subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK-04) - the first such hearing for many years, a very welcome development. While advocates have not coalesced around a single funding level, the underlying theme this year is to push for real progress - and that means a significant investment. Along those lines, some advocates are calling for FY16 funding of at least $32 billion, which would be approximately $1.7 billion or 5.6 percent increase. Others are calling for a 10 percent increase or about $3.1 billion. Research!America falls into the second camp, as explained in our statement. The One Degree Foundation is also pushing for a 10 percent increase: Check out their petition here.

Ambitious goals make sense right now as Congress and the President continue to treat medical progress as the top priority it deserves to be. But while aggressive action makes sense, taking shortcuts to progress that are anything but aggressive does not. I refer again to Varmus et al, who rebut the ‘debatable assumptions’ driven by the economic woes of that day: for example, why not just spend money in a more directed way to find solutions to what ails us? The dangers of treating science as the equivalent of a vending machine (put in a dollar and out pops your Diet Coke) are updated in a blunt article by Kevin Ashton at the Daily Beast; Dr. Varmus and his colleagues have a more comprehensive view. I urge them to take time from their dedication in the laboratory to once again evaluate the scientific and scientific policy playing field and offer elected officials, the science community and advocates a 2015 action plan to “... realize the promise of science for our society.”

We are less than a week away from Research!America’s annual meeting and Advocacy Awards dinner. Join us on Wednesday, March 11 for the annual meeting (free to members; click here) and our annual awards event (click here to reserve your seat).


Mary Woolley

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The capabilities are enormous, a little bit of research can pay off quite a bit in the long run.
Paul D’ Addario, retinitis pigmentosa patient