Research!America 2008 Advocacy Awards Gala

Opening Remarks by The Honorable John Edward Porter

Research!America Chair, Former Illinois Congressman

I am proud—and you should be, too—of what we haveaccomplished together. But the job is far from completed.

As every organization must, we need to step back and assess where we are at this point I time, and,to be candid, the picture is not pretty.

At a time when scientific opportunity has never beengreater, we have had, or will have, six straight years of miniscule increases-translation,real decreases, totaling 13% for NIH. We have had basically the same miserablefunding for AHRQ and for the physical science agencies. CDC in its coreprograms has been hit even worse.

We have had an Administration where sciencehas had little place at its table. We have had a President opposed to embryonicstem cell research and in favor of teaching Intelligent Design. We have had anAdministration that at times has suppressed, rewritten, ignored, or abusedscientific research.

All of this has been devastating forthe scientific community, our research institutions, and our younginvestigators and their families.

It has stalled our scientificleadership at a time when global challenges to America's science and technologypreeminence are growing every day.

It has helped to undermine oureconomy, which can sustain and increase our living standards only throughtechnology, innovation and research.

And not least, it has slowed progresstoward better health, greater longevity and the well-being of our citizens.

Now, when do we get mad? When do we say, like in that old movie, Network, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm notgoing to take it anymore"?

I have said repeatedly elections inAmerica have a way of sorting things out.

Already, the most fascinating primaryseason of my life has sorted some things out that we can celebrate. We knowthat the next President of our country:

  • Will support embryonic stem cell research;
  • Won't favor teaching Intelligent Design in ourschools; and
  • Will respect scientific integrity andevidence-based research.

But it hasn't told us yet whether heor she will truly put science at the table, at his or her right hand, andwhether research will be very high on their priority lists and reflectedstrongly in their budgets and speeches and policies.

Now more is at stake than the Presidency on November 4.The entire 435 seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of theSenate are also up for election.

So, what can we do in the next sevenand a half months to substantially increase the probability that we will havethe right person in the White House and the right people in the Congress to putresearch at a very high priority in the next Administration and the nextCongress?

I'm talking about a lot more thanvoting on November 4 and paying your dues to a professionalsociety or making a contribution to a voluntary health association.

I want to tell you exactly what I'vebeen telling every group of stakeholders to whom I've been privileged to speak,most recently to scientists at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.

It was my honor to chair 2004 NAS Committee on S&Tpresidential and federal advisory committee appointments. Our report, "Science& Technology in the National Interest" should read by you, at least theExecutive Summary with our seven recommendations. Or, even better, wait for thereport of the 2008 committee, which I also have been asked to chair. It will beout well before the general election.

Although in early 2005, we went to see the people at thePresident's Office of Science & Technology Policy, presented our report andurged its recommendations to be implemented. This Administration did nothing.

So, what should you do now?

Not just your professional societies, your pharmaceutical orbiotech company, your voluntary health organization or national association. Notjust what should they do on your behalf. Because that can only go sofar.

I'm talking about every single stakeholder in America who caresabout federal investments in research.

Individually. I'm talking about you.

  • Getthe lead scientists for the next Administration identified, committed and readyto go, as much as possible.
    • Find your candidate forScience Advisor to the President-your Neal Lane or Allen Bromley-as quickly aspossible
    • Get the scientific communityprepared to quickly weigh in for him or her.
    • That doesn't mean that willbe the new President's selection, but it will certainly provide newAdministration with choice
  • Getthe scientific community behind the recommendations of the NAS committee.
    • You know my bias, but I'masking for your help. The report will be out, we expect, before September. Weneed to get the candidates' science people thinking about the transition.
  • Ifpossible, don't concentrate all your efforts in one political party. You neverknow how elections will turn out. Besides, you want both parties invested inthe importance of science to America's future and committed to support scienceR & D.
    • Support for science should bebipartisan. Don't fall into the Rove trap and be written off.
  • Signonto
    • This is a site urgingcandidates to have an entire debate dedicated to science issues.
    • Even if that doesn't happen,a huge number of individuals and organizations are supporting it, which sends amessage to media that science is important to the electorate and that theyshould be asking questions on science, too.
    • You can sign on-it takes 60seconds.
    • Your organizations can signon, too.
  • Pickyour favorite candidate (President, Senate, Congress, Governor, state senatorsand representatives-I was one once).
    • Call his or her campaign,tell them you'd like to help advise the candidate on science matters and issues.They'll love it. Tell them you'd like to be the candidate's science advisor orserve on his or her science advisory committee. If they say they don't haveone, tell them you'll create one for them. Chair it yourself and recruit yourcolleagues.
    • Get inside their campaign,then press to put science into the candidate's messages to voters. Remember,less than 3% of Members of the U.S. House and Senate have any sciencebackground. They need all the help they can get. Your help!
    • Once your candidate has won,offer to continue in your role to advise your new officeholder on sciencepolicy and funding questions.
    • Ask yourselves: Wouldn't it be wonderful if all thecandidates had science advisors or advisory committees. They will, ifindividual scientists would step up to the plate.
  • Logonto the science voter guides.
    • Research!America has its - It includes all federal candidates of both parties, including candidates forPresident. They are asked to answer questions on their positions on researchand funding.
    • PARADE magazine urges people tocheck our site and see if your candidates for House, Senate, and President responded.
    • Check it and see. If theyhaven't, call their campaign and ask them to. You have a right to know wherethey stand.
  • Runfor office yourself!
    • It's disheartening to see somany public officials with so little knowledge of science.
    • Bill Foster, a physicist,just ran for and won the House seat of former Speaker Dennis Hastert.
    • Dr. Michelle McMurray, isrunning for the California House seat left vacant upon the death of mycolleague and close friend in Congress, Tom Lantos. And Michelle is here withus tonight. Please stand and be recognized, Michelle, for your commitment, yourcourage, and your leadership.
    • If they can do it, you can doit.
    • If you can't bring yourselfto do that, at least aim at a position of science policy in the nextAdministration or a position on a federal advisory committee.
    • In other words, act outsideyour comfort zone. I'm sure you think most public officials come to itnaturally. Some do. Many do not. I can't tell you how nervous I was when Ifirst started. But if you're always comfortable, you never grow.

Oh, and by the way, most importantly, your country needsyou! Not to sit on the sidelines and watch, but to get into the game.

So get off your-chair-and do something outside yourcomfort zone and make a difference for science!

This is the most important election for science in my adultlifetime.

All of us must be creative about what we can do to make adifference for the things we believe in.

Thanks for listening to me.

Media Contacts

Tim Haynes
Senior Director of Communications 

If concerted, long-term investments in research are not made, America will lose an entire generation of young scientists.
Brenda Canine, PhD; McLaughlin Research Institute, Montana