Home » Mary Woolley's Weekly Letter » Gathering the Will and the Evidence

Gathering the Will and the Evidence

Dear Research Advocate:

I’ve devoted part of my last two letters to gun violence research, and this one will address it, as well. It seems to me that we are witnessing in real time just why research is essential to addressing what is actually a long-standing and multi-faceted societal challenge, playing out on the streets every day, as well as in schools, concerts and churches. I’m sure all of us have read and heard assertions about what drives individuals to choose gun violence. What’s too often lacking, though, are research-based findings to back up those assertions. If policy changes are taken based on assumptions rather than evidence, we are simply throwing the dice, not identifying sound solutions. As referenced in a new American Academy of Arts and Sciences report, Research!America commissioned survey data shows a very strong public expectation that science inform policy of all kinds.

Since the mid-1990’s, annual appropriations bills have included language that creates uncertainty about the authority of federally funded agencies to conduct or fund gun violence research. Some members of Congress, including Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), have urged Congress to re-examine this language. DHHS Secretary Alex Azar told a House panel two weeks ago that he does not think that the Dickey Amendment, as the provision is known, impedes the department’s ability to conduct or fund gun violence research. Following up on this, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) has written to Secretary Azar asking for the agency’s plans for addressing gun violence. There is an opportunity right now for Congress and the Administration to not only clear up lingering confusion, but to proactively solicit the research needed to shape effective gun violence policy. If we gather the will and leverage evidence-based solutions, we can make as much (or even more) progress against gun violence than we have in addressing other public health challenges involving inherently dangerous but perfectly legal things: automobiles, swimming pools, alcohol. 

According to a recent article in CQ, we can expect to see a fiscal year 2018 (FY18) omnibus appropriations bill by March 14. A disheartening rumor is that the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee will not receive a proportionate share of the increased funding enabled by the February 9 deal to raise the budget caps, making it extremely difficult to adequately fund the vital research and public health programs within their jurisdiction. Where does that leave advocacy? Full steam ahead! Please, take a moment now to send a quick email to your members of Congress urging them to champion funding for medical and public health research and the agencies that support it.

A further concern involves the budget for the National Science Foundation. The Appropriations Subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) have been asked to use part of their allocation to increase opioid-related activities at the Department of Justice, which means the prospects for a healthy increase in NSF funding – also under CJS jurisdiction – have dimmed. The fact is, both NSF and opioid-related funding are crucially important; if we let the foundations of our economy and the groundwork for innovation falter by sidelining science, our nation cedes our ability to confront emerging and escalating threats going forward. So here’s my second ask:  Use these twitter handles to tweet at congressional and Appropriations leadership: #fundscience and grow @NSF. Put U.S. science to work for a stronger nation and a safer world. 

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Eating disorders rob individuals of their health and, in tragic numbers, their lives. Check out a recent blog post from the National Eating Disorders Association on our website!

This week is also Rare Disease week. There are 7,000+ rare diseases for which approximately 95% still lack any treatment options. The EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases is one of our honorees at our March 14 Annual Advocacy Awards Dinner. There are only a few days left to get your tickets and join us in celebrating them and all our honorees.  Also on March 14, alliance members will convene for Research!America’s Annual Meeting. The meeting will feature a keynote address by House Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) and a panel discussion on mental health research and advocacy. Register at no cost to member organizations!

Mary Woolley