Home » Mary Woolley's Weekly Letter » Champions and Challenges

Champions and Challenges

Dear Research Advocate,

This is a week to applaud science heroes, very much including Dr. Francis Collins, who announced he will be stepping down as Director of the NIH by year’s end. Although we will no longer have the benefit of Dr. Collins’ extraordinary leadership at the helm of NIH, we have no doubt that his powerful voice (including the singing part!) will continue to be heard.

As Ellie Dehoney noted in a Bloomberg Law article: “The biggest concern is how any Administration could possibly fill the shoes of such an extraordinarily effective leader and advocate.” Key qualities to be sought in a new NIH leader are set out in Chapter 4 of a report entitled Beyond 2020: A Vision and Pathway for NIH, authored by UCSF Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy Keith Yamamoto, PhD, and a committee of which I was a member. When you have a moment, sample the other recommendations of the report as well.

Speaking of science heroes, the Nobel Prize announcements this week provided an invitation for people worldwide to celebrate and reflect on the way curiosity, discovery, and innovation in science accelerate human progress (read our press statement).

On the Hill: As we all know from the barrage of media attention to missed deadlines and differing perspectives between and within political parties, Congress is struggling to move forward against strong political headwinds. Fortunately, it appears there will be a legislative fix, albeit short-term, to prevent our nation from exceeding the statutory debt limit. We anticipate a patch that lasts until December or early 2022.   

Meeting vs. Beating a Deadline: December 3, 2021, is the deadline attached to a Congressional Resolution (CR) flat funding the government until a new spending package can be negotiated. That date should not be misread as a new metric for appropriations success. We urge you to join our organizational sign-on letter to congressional leaders asking them not to wait until December, but to assign urgent priority to completing the FY22 appropriations process.

Every day our nation is tethered to an outdated budget we squander opportunities to advance the public interest. Sam Baker at Axios noted this morning: “Six months after every American adult became eligible for a vaccine, the virus’ death toll in the U.S. is still roughly equivalent to a 9/11 every two days.” Long COVID-19 is further perpetuating the suffering and cost of the coronavirus, and COVID-19 is just one of the significant health challenges our nation faces. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that treading water could ultimately sink us. The deadline to sign on to the letter is COB next Friday, October 15.

Focus on Mental Health: This is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and Monday is World Mental Health Day. According to NIH, nearly 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental illness. Want to become more informed and involved? The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers several ways to raise awareness; our fact sheet series (updated in partnership with the Lasker Foundation) covers several mental health topics; and our National Health Research Forum featured this brief talk by Olympian Laurie Hernandez and these comments by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, both addressing key mental health issues.

Mental health concerns us all, including those on the front lines of public health. Yesterday, the Public Health Communications Collaborative sponsored a webinar entitled: “The Public Health Workforce: Morale, Mental Health, and Moving Forward.” Whether or not you are a member of the workforce, watching this terrific discussion is worth your time.

Alliance Member Meeting Recap: Yesterday, we heard from Lee McIntyre, Research Fellow, Center for Philosophy and History of Science, Boston University, who discussed how to productively engage with people who hold different views from our own, particularly around the role and value of science. His research indicates that having a positive impact is less about expertise and more about demonstrating humility, patience, and respect. This builds trust over time and invites future conversations, which can lead to changes in beliefs. Watch the conversation.

Upcoming, Closed-Door Alliance Member Meetings: 

If your organization is a Research!America alliance member:

  • Join us on Wednesday, October 13, 2 p.m. ET, when Jane Bigham, MPH, Senior Health Policy Advisor, Senate HELP Committee, will speak with us off-the-record about Senate HELP Committee Chair Patty Murray’s (D-WA) vision for bolstering pandemic preparedness.
  • Join us on Thursday, October 21, 11:30 a.m. ET, when we will have another off-the-record discussion on pandemic preparedness, this time with Grace Graham, Chief Counsel of the Health Subcommittee for House E&C Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).

If your organization has not yet joined the alliance but you would like to attend these meetings, please contact Katie Goode at Kgoode@researchamerica.org. Unfortunately, we must otherwise ask you not to register for these member-only meetings. 


Stay well, stay safe, and stay connected.


Mary Woolley