A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Does Congress care if Nobel laureates of the future are put at risk?


Dear Research Advocate:

Like most Americans, we are alarmed by the ongoing government shutdown. Since the shutdown began, I have been in Georgia, Massachusetts and Ohio, speaking to business and academic leaders, state and local elected officials, philanthropic leaders, and working scientists. Everyone is outraged! Clearly, biomedical and health research ’€” already compromised via sequestration ’€” is not the only priority placed at risk by the impasse, but it is a critical one. From limiting access to clinical trials to undermining the ability to protect our food supply or investigate disease outbreaks, Americans are put at unnecessary risk when government employees are furloughed. We sent letters at the end of last week to Members of Congress and the president, urging action. We received responses from offices on both sides of the aisle: Many spoke passionately of their support for medical research; some hewed the party line; others lamented the budget impasse.

We are doing everything we can to keep the spotlight on the damage done to medical and health research when the government is shut down. When the public and its policy makers look back on the 2013 shutdown, we want them to remember which government functions most tellingly exemplified the cost ’€” fiscal and societal ’€” our nation incurs when the ability to function is derailed.

This week, the Nobel winners for medicine/physiology and chemistry were announced. Most of these winners’€™ transformative research was funded, in part, by NIH and NSF. World-class research is often supported by the taxpayer, aka our government ’€” through agencies such as NIH and NSF ’€” which is why it is such folly to put future discoveries at risk via budget cuts, sequestration and now the shutdown. At a National Press Club event hosted by the American Society of Cell Biology earlier this week, Carol Greider, former Research!America Board member and 2009 Nobel laureate, warned of the implications of continued shutdowns and budget cutbacks: ’€œA generation of innovators might be lost. We can surely do better. We must.’€

Speaking of young scientists, nearly 100 early-career basic researchers from all over the country joined us yesterday at our Research Matters Communications Workshop at the George Washington University, sponsored in conjunction with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Elsevier, the George Washington University and the Society for Neuroscience. The program focused on sharpening the communication skills of scientists. High-profile panelists and speakers provided insightful tips about how to translate complex scientific information into compelling stories for media and policy makers. The shutdown and the future of research were discussed at length, while strategies to communicate the effects of stagnant, uncertain budgets were shared. The program also included Hill meetings with Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ-12) and Kevin Yoder (R-KS-03) and a session on increasing opportunities for publication, with Dr. Yevgeniya Nusinovich, associate editor of the Science Translational Medicine journal.

This is the time to communicate your views on the shutdown and debt ceiling showdown. How is it affecting your work, your institution? Call your Members of Congress; write an op-ed, a letter to the editor, a blog post; and use Facebook and Twitter. Maybe your messages will go viral and create more advocates. That would be a significant step forward in this uphill battle.


Mary Woolley

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco