A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Just as competitive as the Olympics, but not on the national radar screen

Dear Research Advocate,

This week’s Nobel Prize announcements are a fine reminder of how government-supported research plays a critical role in expanding our knowledge, leading not only to worldwide recognition but taking us closer to understanding and curing disease. The winners of the prize for chemistry, Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, Howard Hughes Medical Research investigator and professor at Duke University Medical Center, and Dr. Brian Kobilka of Stanford University School of Medicine both received grants from the National Institutes of Health, as did one of the physiology and medicine awardees, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka. They are among the many Nobel laureates whose important work throughout the years has been supported by the American taxpayer.

Wouldn’t it be great if candidates for election this November were talking about the Nobel Prizes? Among the responses to our voter education initiative we received this week was the telling remark from one incumbent that not only does his campaign not have a science advisor, he believes that no candidate (for the House) does! Although we know for a fact that he isn’t entirely correct, his perception is close enough to reality to give an insight into the priority level our issue has in this election. We’ll know that candidates care about worldwide recognition in science — which is at least as competitive as the Olympics — when they talk up American “wins” of the Nobel science prizes. Don’t let the candidates’ apparent disinterest in the Nobel stop you from drawing attention to the awardees’ accomplishments. Write a letter to the editor today!

Far from being a priority, research, and thus medical progress, is threatened by the specter of sequester. Research advocates must work together to convey the same message to policy makers: prioritize health research. Life Technologies, a Research!America member, has launched a new grassroots tool that makes it quick and easy to reach out to your representatives to urge them to halt the sequester before it’s too late.

We’re continuing to hear more about the local impact of sequestration, and that is a good thing if we expect to stop it in its tracks. Typical of explanations we’re seeing is that of Dr. Bill Chin, executive dean for research at Harvard Medical School, who describes sequestration as a “knife hanging over our heads … About a quarter of new grants won’t be funded and funding will be reduced for current projects working on cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease, all of which have had remarkable advances recently.” The New York Times, citing a report from AAAS, explains that federal R&D funding could be cut by more than $12 billion in 2013 alone. The article calls out the vital role of the government in incubating the new ideas that are commercialized by the private sector, leading to new jobs and even new industries. Talk about return on investment! (And we should talk about it!) Clearly, maintaining and boosting our investments in research is one of the key ingredients for repowering and revitalizing our economy.

Vice President Joe Biden will be facing off with Rep. Paul Ryan in the vice presidential debate tonight. We can expect health and health care to be part of the discussion, which provides an opportunity to connect the dots to research. As you monitor the discussion, be sure to weigh in on social media to remind the candidates that research for health should be a priority as we seek to drive innovation and medical progress.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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