A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Two Resolutions

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate,

Happy New Year!  As I contemplate my list of New Year’s resolutions, I know there will be additions even after January 1st. I look forward to the wealth of opportunity for positive change in 2017. 

My first resolution is to engage -- and encourage and assist other stakeholders to engage -- with our elected representatives in  2017. The new year and the new President and Congress will bring changes we can count on, but outcomes that are unclear. For instance, the President-elect has placed significant emphasis on strengthening our nation’s infrastructure. One clear weakness in that infrastructure shows itself when infectious disease outbreaks threaten the public health. In a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald last week I wrote about the importance of establishing a standing fund that empowers first responders to act quickly in the event of pandemics and other public health emergencies. These emergencies are inevitable, but costly in lives and dollars; by reducing delays we can reduce those costs.

Assigning public health a high priority is part of a broader challenge and opportunity, one that may feel new, but is in fact ongoing. We must create an environment in which policymakers and the public value, and more importantly, deploy science to create a better world. In her recent article in Nature, Nancy Baron applauds scientists for beginning to engage more with the public and our nation’s leaders. It’s as much about public accountability as information sharing. Baron writes, “It is time for scientists to take social responsibility and to be recognized and rewarded for doing so.” It is exciting to watch scientists becoming advocates in larger numbers, but is even more exciting to participate in helping the social norms of science evolve to embrace public outreach and advocacy. 

What’s the best way to proceed?  Putting evidence to work, of course! The Rita Allen Foundation has captured the essence of a recent National Academies report on the research of science communication quite effectively, revealing the no-longer obscure insight that persuasion is about reaching the heart before the mind. Facts do not speak for themselves! See also Michael Shermer’s brief piece in Scientific American, which among other points emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and respecting different viewpoints, and understanding how people process scientific information in this digital age. All of this is solid, useful information, but it will not be put to work by many scientists without a change in the recognition and reward structure that is the underpinning of academic science. My second resolution for the new year is helping make that key change happen. I know there are others who are committed to this change as well. Let 2017 be the year!

While rumors continue to fly, there have been no official announcements regarding the appointment of a science advisor. The same holds true for other key science-related posts. I hope the President-elect and all our elected officials will include in their New Year’s resolutions plans for strengthening the nation’s scientific enterprise in order to advance policies that help to catalyze private sector innovation, provide the resources essential to drive medical progress, global economic competitiveness and true health security for our nation.
To conclude where I began, the new year is the time to deepen existing relationships and build new ones with decision-makers who, like all of us, want to deliver on the promise of hope for patients and families sooner, rather than later. I wish you a healthy, safe and happy New Year and I look forward to continuing our good work together.

Mary Woolley

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