A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Innovation today doesn’t guarantee innovation tomorrow

Dear Research Advocate:

Research!America yesterday released our recommendations for the top five science priorities the new Congress should address in its first 100 days: end sequestration, increase funding for our nation’s research agencies, advance the 21st Century Cures Initiative legislation, repeal the medical device tax, and enact a permanent and enhanced R&D tax credit. See the full press release here. Among these priorities, ending sequestration is the steepest uphill climb – but what a difference it would make for the future of health and the nation’s economy! That’s the focus of this editable message to members of Congress. Please weigh in!

Securing meaningful increases in funding for our federal research agencies will take the same kind of leadership and bipartisan commitment that propelled the FY98 – FY03 doubling of the NIH budget. A recent CQ Healthbeat interview with Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the new chairman of the House Appropriations “Labor-H” Subcommittee, suggests there is reason to hope for just that kind of momentum. During his discussion with CQ Healthbeat reporter Kerry Young, Chairman Cole indicated that he plans to establish an aggressive hearing schedule, with the goal of facilitating the bipartisanship that was long the hallmark of the Appropriations Committee. He said: “If we talk enough, maybe we find some common ground and some unusual alliances and some places where instead of being at one another’s throat, we can actually work together …” Cue research to save lives and combat disability.

Fareed Zakaria writes in the Washington Post that, “federal funding for basic research and technology should be utterly uncontroversial,” and I couldn’t agree more. However, robust federal funding is only a part of the equation. Tax and other policy reform is crucial to the vitality of domestic innovation. In his op-ed, Fareed identifies troubles faced by American start-up companies, with their number trending down alarmingly as they face so many barriers to entry. He notes that yes, American innovation is still a wonder of the world, but it is becoming less and less unique. Innovation today doesn’t guarantee innovation tomorrow. Success in both the public and private sectors relies on updating of creaky national policies to reflect the excitement and potential of 21st century science and technology.

Finally, an issue where change is crucial, but the path to it uncertain: how to prevent the discouragement and flight of still more young would-be super-scientists. Johns Hopkins University president Ronald J. Daniels takes on this issue in the most recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (see press release here). As he explains, increased competition for grant funding and fewer faculty jobs could well choke off the pipeline of young scientists needed to maintain our nation’s research capacity. Daniels’ perspective is an important contribution to a profoundly complex issue that cries out for resolution. It is likely to be on the 21st Century Cures agenda and receive considerable attention during the aforementioned Labor-H hearings. It would serve the research community well for advocates to come to consensus on solutions rather than wait for solutions to be imposed without their input.

We have a lot of work cut out for us, stakeholders in science and lawmakers alike. But at the end of the day, we are all working in the public’s interest – a starting point for agreement even when we might seem miles apart.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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