Thank you, Dr. Murphy.
It's a privilege and an honor to be here. I extend my compliments to everyone engaged in the important work of the SALK Institute. Special congratulations to Jerry Kohlberg, chairman of the board of trustees, who will be honored after dinner. I've been hearing about the impact of your leadership, just as the research under way today at SALK moves forward, in keeping with its illustrious history.
It's a fact that research changes the history of health and well being. Many people alive today do not know what an iron lung is - and that's not all. Many physicians have never seen a case of smallpox, tuberculosis or malaria. AIDS is no longer a sure death sentence, nor are most children's cancers. In addition, many preventive measures that save lives and enhance quality of life that we take for granted and regard as common sense today were not always so, for which we have basic biomedical research to thank: consider childhood vaccinations and adult flu vaccine and a protected blood supply.
Meanwhile, the era of personalized medicine has been ushered in thanks to extraordinary contributions like that of Dr. Tony Hunter's basic research that provided the groundwork for the revolutionary cancer drug Gleevec.
The fact is that today's treatments and preventions are based on yesterday's research. Research will lead us to tomorrow's treatments and cures, as well, if we give it a chance. The fact that basic research takes a while to pay off shouldn't daunt the non-scientist any more than it does those who personally pursue this valuable research.
Several years ago we conducted focus group sessions, asking people in various parts of the country what they thought about research. In response to a question about whether and why it is important to invest in basic research, the proprietor of a dry-cleaning establishment in Columbus, Ohio, memorably said, "I'll tell you why basic research is important to me - it's because I believe in possibilities."
"I believe in possibilities..." - doesn't that say it all about American values, American spirit, American determination and accomplishment? A better tomorrow is just over the horizon... This gentleman is far from unique. We know from public opinion polls that have been commissioned for 25 years by the National Science Board, and over the last 15 years by Research!America, that most Americans - on average, three-quarters, depending on the year, agree with the following statement: Even if it brings no immediate benefits, basic science research which advances the frontiers of knowledge is necessary and should be supported by the federal government.
The public is more excited than ever about the potential for research (more so than our federal government). Here in California you are well aware of the momentum that built two years ago when the case was made for investment in embryonic stem cell research that may - some day, even if not tomorrow - lead to cures for debilitating diseases that claim the lives of too many of our family and friends. In this context particularly, you may hear, and may feel yourself, concerns about over-promising. I want to talk about that for a moment because I believe that there is little or no evidence that expressing confidence in the eventual success of research has in any way undercut public support, nor do I feel it is likely at this time.
The fact that the "war on cancer" did not in fact eliminate cancer within its initial 20-year time frame doesn't mean that significant progress wasn't made, nor have people subsequently backed away from their commitment to its eventual conquest. It all goes back to that American belief in possibilities, as well as to the importance of regularly reminding the public why we're conducting research and that we are in it for the long haul. Americans have sustained their support for important national goals before - think about the long years of the Cold War; or of the decades it took to complete the national highway system. Americans are most definitely supportive of science over the long haul, and they are most definitely supportive of scientists.
Public opinion polls - ours and those of others - demonstrate just how much the public trusts and esteems the science community. In a very recent Harris poll, six occupations are perceived to have "very great" prestige by at least half of all adults - firefighters are at the top (63%), doctors (58%), nurses (55%), scientists (54%), teachers (52%) and military officers (51%). By way of contrast, the list includes nine occupations that are not so well perceived. The lowest prestige ratings go to real estate brokers (6%). Members of congress weren't listed. And not only do polls show very high public regard for scientists, they show strong public support to pay for more research through, believe it or not, tax dollars. In an August 2006 national poll, 63% of Americans said they would be willing to pay an additional dollar in taxes if it would be spent on additional medical research. In the same poll, 55% agreed that increasing U.S. funding for medical and health research now is essential to our future health and economic prosperity. The public is ahead of its elected officials on this - Washington has not in fact, been increasing funding.
In fact, the primary trend is that the U.S. investment in health research is not keeping pace with the costly toll of disease and disability. The portion of the total health dollar allocated to research has decreased from 5.8 cents in 2004 to 5.5 cents in 2005, with a further downward forecast for 2006.
This is a trend we cannot ignore, and one we must reverse. With strong concerns among policy makers and the business community that U.S. global competitiveness is at risk, we cannot afford to cut back on investment in medical, health and scientific research. Rather than cut back on research funding, the nation's leaders must act to capitalize on years of proactive investment and expand the country's health research capacity. To remain at the forefront, we must invest more aggressively in science, provide incentives for R&D and increase support for math and science education. That means we need to find new money or re-align our national priorities.
As Newt Gingrich has repeatedly said to advocates for research: "It's not about the money. There's plenty of money. It's about making your case and making it relentlessly." We simply have to make the case more aggressively and insist that research become a higher national priority. As Gingrich has said, if transportation or agricultural subsidies, for example, get larger increases than research it's because the research community has failed to deliver its message. It's not because there isn't enough money. After all, NIH is only 1% of the federal budget at this point.
There's another way to emphasize that if we, as a nation, decide something is worth having, we will find a way to pay for it. Let me give you some "social math" examples - ways to think about big sums of money in more accessible terms:
Americans spent $23.2 billion in online shopping during the holiday season in 2004. That sum would fund the National Science Foundation for more than four years. We spend more on athletic shoes than cancer research.
Fast-food industry revenues reached $125 billion in 2005. That sum would fund the National Institutes of Health for more than four years.
Let me return to our public opinion polling to talk about some of the data that's less positive for research. For example, we asked Americans to give the name of a scientist. Very few could do so - any guesses? Albert Einstein is first with 30%, followed by unnamed researchers/experimenters/doctors in general with 17% , and your own founder Jonas Salk was named by 3%. 34% could name no one or said they didn't know, didn't remember or otherwise refused Only one percent named a living scientist - James Watson or Stephen Hawking.
We're kidding ourselves if we believe that researchers are well-known by the public! In addition, 62% of the public can't name a place - any place - where medical research is being conducted. These findings underscore the need to re-think how the research community is presenting itself to the American public. We must commit to putting a human face on research everyday and everywhere we possibly can. That face, by the way, is your face - the people who conduct research and the people who lead and are the trustees of research institutions. Yours are the faces that must become known and connected to research.
Let's turn to politics - just when you thought there would be a respite, it is only going to ramp up! We have all heard a great deal about Illinois Senator Barak Obama recently. Now that the election is over we're going to hear even more as he and other potential candidates position themselves for the Presidential campaign ahead. In his book and in his speeches, Obama speaks of the "audacity of hope" - he speaks about the distinctive qualities that make Americans American; about a belief in possibilities that is sometimes called the American dream, or the frontier spirit.
Although it is not explicit, he could well be speaking about research - which, more than anything else in this great country of ours, epitomizes the "audacity of hope." I think that the possibilities of research today are more than enough reason for us all to be more "audacious" in our advocacy for research.
And we need audacious advocacy because at present, funding for research has been hit hard. Last year, the NIH received its first actual cut in 30 years. Federal research funding for 2007 may not look any better. Is this all we can expect in the near future, or is there light at the end of the tunnel?
I believe that there is more than a little light at the end of the tunnel. All those newly elected, or re-elected members of Congress are looking for that light. They know that if they fail to work together to accomplish a meaningful agenda in the next Congressional session, they will not be re-elected! I think that our cause, the cause of research for health, is the perfect non-partisan, publicly popular issue that Congress can rally around. The benefits of ramping up investment in research are multiple - it's good for health, it's good for economic development, it's good for keeping the costs of health care in check.
How will it happen that the new Congress takes on increased support for research? I have a number of thoughts on that, starting with the importance for everyone here in getting engaged. Research!America's Chair The Honorable John Edward Porter, a moderate Republican who served in the Congress as chair of the appropriations subcommittee that spearheaded the doubling of the NIH budget over 5 years. During those years frequently implored his supporters in the science community, saying, "I'm lobbying you to lobby me and especially my colleagues - they don't hear often enough from their own constituents back at home that research is a priority."
Mr. Porter now adds: "The science community must reach out to Congress and build bridges"... Referring to the leveling off and cuts to federal funding for research, he continues: "you can change the image of things to come, but you can't do it sitting on your hands!" If he were standing here tonight he would challenge each of you to take action now to ensure that members of the lame duck Congress keep the promises they made before the election.
By promises, I mean the promise made by the Republican leadership in the House to match the commitment of the Specter/Harkin Senate Amendment to add $7B to the LHHS appropriations bill-some portion of which (some say $1B) would be used to increase NIH's funding. The current Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Jerry Lewis, is from a district not far from you and he is key to the lame duck session's appropriations decision for NIH. I urge you to be in touch with him and urge him to think BIG.
Whatever the outcome of the lame duck Congress, we all have work to do in the new Congressional session that will get under way at the end of January.
We are determined to learn from history and turn things around, as we must do. We saw in the mid-1990s that bad news can be turned into good, and bad numbers into better numbers-and even pacesetting ones. We need to inspire policy makers and the public about the future of science, research and America's global leadership.
Scientists and business leaders can effectively demand attention. When they talk, people - including elected officials - really do listen. And when scientists and the business community partner with patient groups, success is even more likely. Patient advocates who refuse to "just be patient" can and do effectively challenge elected officials to act. People fighting for research to cure AIDS, breast cancer, juvenile diabetes and Parkinson's disease, among others, illustrate the power of advocacy.
No one has done more in this election cycle to capture the voting public's imagination and determination about the potential of research than Michael J. Fox. His compelling voice, coupled with unified advocacy by stakeholders in and for the research community has been very effective, as was demonstrated by the all-out effort to double the NIH budget and by passage two years ago of Proposition 71 and now the passage of amendment 2 in Missouri. Building on, it's time to unify everyone in the research community and make an aggressive case for passage of expanded embryonic stem cell research nationally and for substantially increased investment across the board for the sciences.
That's what advocacy for research is all about- many people who care about research making their convictions clear to their elected officials. It starts with you, who are most committed to research. You are an integral part of the light at the end of this tunnel. Investment in research hangs in the balance - but you can change the image of things to come. You can help make the future a bright one for research and researchers, and the American public that wants research to succeed - and sooner rather than later.
By supporting SALK and being associated with it, you have a good deal to be proud of-world-class research and world-class research leadership. NOW is the time to add advocacy to this list, make it world-class advocacy and be proud of it.
What you all stand for, what you are working so hard to accomplish, is worth doing. Research and advocacy to catalyze and integrate advances in science, to promote health and quality of life is worth the effort! It's a goal we can achieve and we can afford. I urge each of you to be persistent, to become leaders and champions for research, and to allow me and my colleagues at Research!America, to share the journey of audacious advocacy with you.