A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Who has a stake in science?

Dear Research Advocate:

A continuing resolution to fund the federal government at just under Fiscal Year 2014 levels – it now includes supplemental funding to help combat the escalating Ebola epidemic – is on its way to the President’s desk, and members of Congress will soon be on their way home. Where does that leave us? At the very least, with something to talk about.

Today in Kentucky at the Research!Louisville program, now in its 19th year of celebrating science and scientists and engaging the broader community, I talked about the way the nation’s decision-makers have failed us all by setting our nation’s innovation engine on idle, dismissing the fundamental importance of research and innovation at the expense of our health, our national security, our fiscal stability, our economic strength, and our global leadership. And they are sending a message to talented young people like those at the University of Louisville that science is a risky career choice. Yet a “can do” attitude is very much alive here. A group of graduate students has organized a science policy outreach group, determined to bridge the gap between scientists and policymakers. This is an initiative that should be replicated nationwide!

A few days ago at our National Health Research Forum, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), himself a global leader in combating Ebola, emphasized how public health is a “best buy,” one that is ignored at our peril. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) asserted: “we need a complete transformation of how we look at science.” That sentiment was echoed by other panelists in a no-holds-barred conversation about what is right, and wrong, with the research ecosystem. Here are links to video from, news coverage about, and a transcript of, the Forum. We are taking the Forum messages to the Hill and to the public; please join us!

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences released Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream earlier this week. Aligning with Dr. Fauci and so many others, the report argues for a recommitment to basic research as a catalyst for economic growth. Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA-06), a vocal champion for research progress, attended a Hill briefing about the report, and former Congressman Bart Gordon and retiring Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ-12) spoke at events surrounding the release. They didn’t mince words. Congressman Gordon said: “If we compete on wages, which are less than $2 a day for half the people in the world, the standard of living for my 13-year-old daughter’s generation will be dramatically reduced. Or we can invest in research and innovation.” Congressman Holt asserted that we are coasting on technology that is decades old and reminded us all that “every single American has a stake in science.”

New public opinion polling on vision and eye health proves Congressman Holt’s point. At a roundtable discussion today at the National Press Club (release), experts including Dr. Paul Sieving, Director of the National Eye Institute, discussed the most recent data on eye health, medical advances in this area (fact sheet) and the aforementioned poll, which was commissioned by Research!America and the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) and supported by a grant from Research to Prevent Blindness. The poll results indicate that vision loss is a top health concern for Americans of all races/ethnicities. A strong majority of Americans across all racial/ethnic groups believe national support of vision-related research should be a priority. Every American does indeed have a stake in science.

If we want the 114th Congress to be receptive to investing in medical, health and other scientific research, we need to elect members who “get it,” articulating why they, along with every other American, have a stake in science. If you haven’t contacted your candidates or submitted a selfie, please take a minute to go to www.askyourcandidates.org. And go to town hall meetings to speak out!

Mary Woolley

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