A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: 2015: Pragmatism over politics

Dear Research Advocate:

As America rings in the New Year, many of us will be reflecting on the past and making resolutions for the future. To get a feel for the numerous ways in which NIH, CDC, AHRQ, NSF and FDA contributed to the well-being of Americans and others throughout the world in 2014, click here. I hope lawmakers are taking time now to establish New Year’s resolutions and set priorities for the new Congress, which convenes one week from today. My biggest wish for the new Congress?  Pragmatism over politics. If pragmatism rules, the next Congress will shake off the stultifying complacency that is weighing our nation down and act to reignite U.S. innovation. More here.

One reason pragmatism is so crucial is that it accommodates complexity. It would be terrific if the benefits of medical research and innovation could be catalogued like books in the library, but as Norm Augustine explains in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, no can do. The quantifiable benefits of research can stretch so far into the future and be so wide-ranging that it is nearly impossible to fully capture them. And not all the benefits are quantifiable. Policymakers are understandably interested in hard data to help predict the return on federal investment, but that doesn’t mean the value of science can’t be meaningfully conveyed to them. Norm’s commentary is an important reminder that as advocates, we should be prepared to defend science against inadequate estimates of its impact. It also speaks to our role in bridging the distance between scientific progress and such human values as compassion, empathy and curiosity. Pragmatic means logical and reasonable, not “monetizable.” 

Speaking of the quantifiable vs. non-quantifiable benefits of science and innovation, around the world in 2000, an estimated 9.9 million children died before the age of five.  However, new data for 2013 indicates a dramatic 36 percent decline in deaths to 6.3 million, even amidst a growing population. As Michael Gerson shares in The Washington Post, much of these gains can be attributed to international vaccination programs. Research – both the biomedical research and development needed to produce safe and efficacious vaccines and the social sciences research needed to maximize uptake – has given us the tools to save literally millions of young lives. Is that kind of progress worthwhile?  Ask a parent.

I hope one of your New Year’s resolutions will be to continue to keep in close touch. To say that our advocacy is informed by the ideas and insights of alliance members is to understate your influence. Keep them coming!

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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