A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Risky business


Dear Research Advocate:

What does the current political impasse in Washington have in common with deadly or disabling diseases? They will not cure themselves, and the harm escalates until the “patient” gets expert treatment. There is no place for miracle cures or wishful thinking. The solution isn’€™t what a given individual or party wants it to be, it’€™s what solves the problem. Right now, it’€™s by no means clear what or who will solve the problems ’€” which now include the debt ceiling as well as the lack of funding to run the government. Fasten your seat belts for more turbulence between now and October 17th.

You may have heard that the House passed a bill yesterday to fund NIH, along with several other stand-alone appropriation bills (funding it at an unacceptably low level, I might add ’€” below FY12 levels). Beyond the fact that this piecemeal, slow-walking avoidance tactic of finding a solution to the government shutdown is dead on arrival in the Senate and the White House, this “Sophie’€™s Choice,” cherry-picking approach to better health has no place in a functioning research and innovation ecosystem, and we spoke out against it. That said, it was gratifying that NIH was singled out as publicly popular and good to see the possibility of new champions emerging who recognize the importance of NIH funding during the floor debate on the bill. But make no mistake, had we and other advocates supported this ill-conceived measure, we would have been supporting the decline of science in this nation.

Speaking of risks to science and innovation, and cherry-picking, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA-07) and House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) penned an op-ed in USA Today sharply questioning the value of social, behavioral and economic research funded by the NSF, calling out specific examples in an attempt to convince readers that these types of research should be treated as a low priority for federal funding. Not only should we push back when Members of Congress attempt to micromanage science like this, we should ask whether they are truly connecting the dots between science and problem-solving. There is ample evidence that the science disciplines they demonized catalyze human progress, save lives and save money. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that nearly 100,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors. Understanding how to drive those numbers down draws heavily on the social and behavioral sciences and from health services research.

The value of the full ecosystem of science was emphasized in our recent research forum. A wonderful blog post from Bart Peterson of Lilly highlights themes from his keynote address at the event. Bart notes that research and innovation can reinvigorate towns and cities across our country with jobs and the economic activity that go with them. Unfortunately, this is sorely underappreciated, as there appears to be a disconnect between the integral role research and innovation play in the lives of Americans and complacency regarding policies in Washington that stymie both. At our forum, Bart set the stage for straight talk about the fate of our medical research pipeline and what we can do to put the wind at its back. The forum bred many insights; it energized us to redouble our commitment to win the hearts and minds of more Americans and their elected officials. We have to make the case in a way that truly makes a difference going forward and to do that, more of us have to tell our stories.

You may have a story that hasn’€™t been told. If so, get in touch with FASEB, which is offering a $5,000 prize for a video that highlights how federal agencies fund research throughout the country. Click here for more information.

Tell your story to Washington, too. We must hold our leaders accountable for letting their power struggles override their responsibility to do their job. We are their employers, after all, so let’€™s hold them accountable. We can hire and fire them. First let’€™s tell them what’€™s what. Click here to send a letter to your Members of Congress.


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