A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: No Longer the Envy of the World (Part 2)

Dear Research Advocate:

Yesterday I learned that China is offering to pay full freight for students from developing countries who are interested in receiving their university degree in China. China is also, as you know, investing hand over fist in research and development, life science research in particular. Juxtapose China’s science, STEM education and science-diplomacy policies with U.S.policies: we don’t seem to have them!  And contrast their funding strategy with ours: we’re disinvesting while they’re planning to outspend us within the next five years.

So why does it matter where science is pursued? Why does it matter if the U.S. focuses on other priorities for awhile or forever, given the way we’re going? You can fill in the answer as easily as I can. We need jobs; innovation produces them. We need to cut the deficit; tackling chronic disease is imperative to that goal, as is a healthy industrial base — and without innovation, neither is possible. And so on and so on.

The question is how to wake up policy makers to the havoc they are wreaking on our nation. As regards to the big picture, there is a glimmer of hope in that a group of Republican lawmakers have sent a letter to the Budget Conference Committee asserting the need for a return to an actual appropriations process so that government funding will once again reflect American priorities. Consequence-blind, across-the-board cuts (aka sequestration) are not the only threat to research, but they are the biggest. Appropriating, rather than bickering, is a good first step toward prioritizing R&D funding. A second letter, initiated by Research!America ‘s 2013 Whitehead awardees Senators Bob Casey and Richard Burr, and signed by 33 Members representing both sides of the aisle, urges the Conference Committee to assign NIH funding the priority it deserves.

Our goal is that 100 Senators would sign such a letter and that it would cover much more than NIH funding! Realizing such a goal for all members of Congress is what motivates us in our election year voter education work. We will soon launch our 2014 national voter education initiative with inside- and outside-the-Beltway strategies designed to ensure that both voters and candidates know that Americans’ way of life depends on research and development, which in turn depends upon a governing process that works. The people who report to Americans should do right by them, putting research and innovation to work to find the solutions to the nation’s ills; dismantling our innovation infrastructure and discouraging the talented women and men who make use of it is taking us in the wrong direction as a nation.

Thanksgiving is approaching, and one of the many reasons to give thanks is that I am blessed to partner with visionaries with the drive, dedication and talent to reverse the decline in U.S. science. Research champion Paul Rogers said, “Without research, there is no hope.” You are literally keeping hope alive, and for that I am so grateful.

Grateful and asking for your partnership once again. Please add your voice to the growing chorus promoting Public Health Thank You Day (Monday, November 25th) and heeding its message. The York (PA) City Bureau of Health director, Barbara Kovacs, was outspoken in her letter to the editor of the York Daily Record honoring the unwavering efforts of public health professionals to protect our nation every day. The Beaufort County (NC) Health director, James A. Madson, weighed in with his letter to the editor as well. The Vanderburgh County (IN) Health Department will be hosting a Health Fair to provide free screenings for all residents. Please follow their lead and host an event — large or small, it will matter — or write an LTE, press release or social media post. Our online toolkit will help you craft your Public Health Thank You Day messages. And speaking of critical public health work: If you weren’t able to join last week’s event surrounding Chagas disease research and development, check out PAHO’s full video coverage of it here. Chagas isn’t some remote threat to our nation; it’s one of many emerging challenges that we rely on our public health infrastructure, as well as our talented scientific community, to confront and defeat.  We can’t take the public’s health for granted for another day.

We’re taking a few days off next week to spend with family. I’ll be in touch again the first Thursday of December. A Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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