A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Science Awards Should Inspire Advocates to Speak Out to Candidates

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate:

With Kavli, Janssen, Lasker, Heinz and Nobel announcements made at this time of year, we all have an opportunity to salute scientific accomplishments, and also focus more public attention on science. The Kavli prizes were awarded in Oslo last month and the Lasker awards a few weeks later. And this week, three Nobel prizes were announced. These include the Nobel for Physiology or Medicine, to Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi “for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy.”

Just two weeks ago today, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Ohsumi when Janssen Pharmaceuticals awarded him the Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. A panel discussion following the award presentation emphasized the importance of communicating science more effectively to non-scientists. It was gratifying to hear distinguished scientists making the case for effective science communication that wins public understanding and support, and doing so with a passion equal to their passion for science!

The very next day, at the awards ceremony hosted by Research!America member, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, Dr. Sean Carroll, evolutionary biologist, prolific author and Director of the Education Department at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, delivered an engaging keynote address, providing a lesson on how to convey the power and beauty, the ‘essential-ness’ of science. Dr. Carroll, himself a great storyteller, noted: “...stories of scientific discovery, they are our literature, they’re our music, they are the gifts that keep on giving thrills for generations for as long as we keep telling them.”

The Heinz Award, honoring the late Senator John Heinz, was awarded this week. One of the winners is Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. Her groundbreaking research into Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress on children’s health led to a revolutionary change in the way we care for children who have been exposed to trauma. Listen to Dr. Burke Harris’ TEDMED talk for more about her work.  

In the spirit of a particularly rich science awards week, accompanied, for the first time I can recall, by calls for more and better science communication and advocacy, Research!America has announced the first four of our 2017 awardees: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, Dr. Phillip Sharp, Institute Professor at MIT, Dr. Leland Hartwell, Nobel Laureate and director of the Center for Sustainable Health at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, and the Lupus Foundation of America. We are proud to salute advocacy right along with scientific excellence. 

One can only hope that, with the heightened attention to scientific accomplishment right now, we might hear more from the presidential candidates about the importance of science and innovation as a national priority. Two terrific op-eds, one by University of Kansas Chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little and one by AAAS CEO and Research!American board member, former Congressman Rush Holt, as well as National Academy of Science President Marcia McNutt, confront this issue head on. And if you need further motivation, read Vicki Wilson’s moving story. She knows better than most why we must select candidates who place a high-priority on research. I urge you to help ensure science is addressed during Sunday’s town hall-style presidential debate. Vote for questions that focus on research and innovation or submit your own. And don’t forget to check out our interactive map to see whether your congressional candidates have weighed in!

Earlier this week Research!America hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on oral health, a public health and fiscal issue that is too often overlooked. Read a recap here. Oral health is a factor in stroke, diabetes, cardiovascular disease -- the list goes on. A surge in research is needed if we are to adequately address oral health-related illness affecting tens of millions of adults and seniors in particular, including those who lack access to comprehensive oral health care. Here’s a telling data point (the product of health economics research, which we need more of, by the way): every dollar spent on Medicare coverage for oral health care would reduce federal health spending by about $9.00.


Mary Woolley

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Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.
Abraham Lincoln