Friday, February 27, 2009

Unofficial State of the Union

Then Democratic presidential-nominee Barack Obama in Concord, NH. Photo by Emily Norton.

President Obama's unofficial State of the Union on Tuesday had multiple mentions of issues important to the science, health, technology and research communities (including an early shout out to labs and universities!) What stuck out to those of us here at New Voices?
"The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and our universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth."
Emily's response to President Obama's speech to Congress as she reads through the transcripts.

The President's speech to Congress Tuesday night was reminiscent of his hope-infused eloquence during the election campaign. He laid out a strong message for Americans, acknowledging the challenges that the country must face, but also a strong willingness to confront the problems head-on. It seemed like he understands what average Americans are experiencing, with statements like “I promise you -- I get it” and “[m]y job -- our job -- is to solve the problem.” His commitment to advancing science and reforming health care was evident throughout the speech. The full transcript is available here.
"We've also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history — an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine and science and technology."
FlyGal’s take is untainted by TV pundits because FlyGal watches speeches on C-SPAN!

The speech managed to be sobering and inspiring – not an easy thing to do. The president managed to quell everyone’s (well- at least my) fears about the economy while steeling us for the hard work ahead. His focus on the long-term instead of immediate goals and his plans on reforming health-care and investing in education are hugely encouraging.

He was right on target when he talked about the current economy being knowledge based. Not only is it knowledge based, it is also intensely science and tech. oriented. Having a strong foundation in the sciences is, as he mentioned, no longer an option but an imperative. This hopefully bodes well for a renewed focus on the state of science and science education, especially in K-12. Our future as a prosperous society depends on the investments we make in the next generation of scientists and engineers.

It is heartening to hear that his recovery plan is just step one. Policy wonks on the left have been clamoring for just this kind of government intervention for a while now.

isn’t a dirty word in the White House anymore.
"Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American, including me, by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And—it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that's one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control."
Heather's take on the Republican response from her rather comfy couch.

I want to say up front that I like Bobby Jindal. He was a solid representative in the House and is doing as good a job as anyone could cleaning up the political situation in Louisiana. When I saw he was giving the response to President Obama's speech, I was pretty pumped.

His oratory aside (and to be fair, it is hard to follow someone with the oratorical skills of the president), the thing that struck me most was his attacks on "wasteful spending" like monitoring volcanoes. With all due respect Gov. Jindal, I wasn't even born in May of 1980, but I know why we monitor volcanoes. Not to mention one of our 50 states is entirely made of volcanoes. That funding might be wasteful in Louisiana, but hurricane tracking technology is pretty wasteful to most states.

Can't we all agree that developing technology to help reduce deaths and injuries due to natural disasters is a national priority?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

How To: Subscribe to Your Favorite Websites

To stay informed takes a LOT of time. Reading, watching, and listening to news, scanning blogs, being aware of pop culture ... we know how important it is to be "in the know," but finding the time to fit it into our schedule - that's something else altogether. Luckily, technology has a solution: RSS aggregators.

Aggregators bring all the news that's important to you TO YOU. No more visiting 10, 20, 30 sites a day. See everything new, at once, in one place. Worried about finding the key items? Almost all aggregators have filters.

But wait, what's RSS? This video, courtesy of Common Craft, shows you what RSS is, how it works, and how to get started.

Let us know if you have any questions and remember to subscribe to New Voices!

This is Part 1 in the New Voices series on helpful technology for science communicators and advocates.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Scientific Spokespeople

On Monday, John Tierney of the New York Times had an interesting piece on scientists as advocates. I've included some commentary below, but would really like to hear what you think of this piece. Full article available here.
Most researchers ... like to think of themselves in one of two roles: as a pure researcher who remains aloof from messy politics, or an impartial arbiter offering expert answers to politicians’ questions. Either way, they believe their research can point the way to correct public policies, and sometimes it does — when the science is clear and people’s values aren’t in conflict.
Neither of those two roles mentions scientists as proactive advocates, which seems remiss since we know they exist.
“Some scientists want to influence policy in a certain direction and still be able to claim to be above politics,” Dr. Pielke says. “So they engage in what I call ‘stealth issue advocacy’ by smuggling political arguments into putative scientific ones.”
Which can be an easy trap to fall into, especially when one political group tends to be more receptive to scientific arguments than another. All the same, I don't believe the majority of scientists intentionally do this.
... scientists could do more good if, instead of discrediting rivals’ expertise, they acknowledge political differences and don’t expect them to be resolved by science. Instead of steering politicians to a preferred policy, [they] would use their expertise to expand the array of technically feasible options.
This is a huge issue. Scientists themselves fight progress when they push against positions or ideas that aren't 100% proven. It reminds me of an episode of the West Wing (The Hubbert Peak) where representatives from different alternative energy industries meet with Josh and basically debunk the value of each other's energy sources (solar, water, wind, etc.). I appreciate that good research involves proving what things don't work as often as proving what does, but from time to time, finding common ground and agreeing on something (anything!) would be better for the greater scientific community.
Yet research into this strategy has received little financing in past budgets or the new stimulus package because it doesn’t jibe with the agenda of either side in the ...debate.
There will always be some level of politics in funding (and publication of research for that matter), because any governing body is going to have priorities. Anyone who has a brilliant plan for fixing that structure should definitely let the world know!

For a different take on this article, check out the Knight Science Journalism Tracker post.

This is Part 1 of the New Voices series on being a spokesperson for science. In Part 2 of this series, we'll cover some gold standards for being a successful spokesperson for any issue.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Upcoming Town Hall Meetings

Old Town Alexandria Town Hall, by Tom Harris

We want to thank those of you who are regularly reading New Voices with great local opportunities to get out and advocate. So we narrowed down the upcoming town hall meetings based on some states with high readership this month. If your representative isn't mentioned below, let us know and we'll see if we can find upcoming events in your district.

Representative Pete Stark (CA-13th)
Telephone Town Hall
9 - 11 a.m. Saturday, February 28
Call-in information available here

Representative Joe Courtney (CT-2nd)
Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield
2 p.m. Saturday, February 28
More information

Representative Alan Grayson (FL-8th)
District Office in Orlando
11 a.m. Saturday, February 28
(this is an open house, not a town hall meeting)

Representative Charlie Dent (PA-15th)
Roseto Borough Hall in Roseto
10 a.m. Friday, February 27

Representative Moran (VA-8th)
TONIGHT 7:30 - 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 24
To participate in this town hall meeting, call (877) 229-8493+12765

Representative Rick Boucher (VA-9th)
Five upcoming March meetings

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tickets, Popcorn, Science?

In honor of the Oscars, we thought we’d do a little shout-out to science in the movies.

Hmmm, that’s odd you might think, since so often science is portrayed heinously wrong by Hollywood. Not to mention Hollywood “scientists”, with images ranging from evil and calculating to the stereotypical geek to weak and easily manipulated by business interests.

Good news! In an attempt to decrease scientific bumbles in films, the National Academy of Sciences has partnered with Hollywood to offer the services of scientists and engineers through the Science & Entertainment Exchange.

The Science & Entertainment Exchange pairs writers, directors, producers, and set designers with science, medical, and engineering experts so that technical details are accurately portrayed in movies, TV shows, and even video games. (What a neat job opportunity for all you scientists out there!) This collaboration is important, because movies and TV programs reach a broad audience that is able to learn from what they view.

And a random little factoid: winning an Oscar is not only about the prestige, Professor Donald Redelmeier ran a study that found Oscar winners actually live longer!

Congratulations to all of last night's winners!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Value of Congressional Champions

The value of a congressional champion is often immeasurable, but this week we can say without a doubt that it is at least 10 billion dollars for research. That's right, $10 billion.

In this case, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) led the effort to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health in the the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama Tuesday. Gardiner Harris of the New York Times wrote an excellent piece on how Sen. Specter was able to secure funding that could create as many as 70,000 jobs. Some key points:
...After money intended for highways, schools and states, it is the largest of chunk of financing in the budget and is almost three times the $3.5 billion first approved by the House.

... But for now, [Specter] said, future budget discussions for N.I.H. will begin at $40 billion, not $30 billion

... “I think it’s scandalous that we haven’t done more to cure cancer,” Mr. Specter said.
Definitely check out the full article.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Research Funding Highlights

A crowd and Vice President Biden look on as President Obama signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

We know many of you have been following the research funding highlights from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Here is a simple breakdown of the legislation.
  • NIH - $10 billion, including $7.4 billion for distribution to the institutes and centers, $1.3 billion for extramural construction and equipment, $800 million for the Office of the Director for trans-NIH initiatives, and $500 million for improvements to the NIH campus
  • AHRQ - $1.1 billion for comparative effectiveness research
  • NSF - $3 billion, including $2.5 billion for research, $400 million for construction and equipment, and $100 million for education and human resources
  • Prevention and wellness fund - $1 billion, of which some portion will be allocated to CDC
Thank your elected officials for their support!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reason Over Rote?

We all learn differently. Some people need maps drawn in the dirt for them and others would rather you just tell them how to get there. What you're learning can also make a difference in how you learn it. Science is no exception.

Recently I came across two similar pieces talking about science education theory. The first was a piece by Ed Yong on how teaching scientific knowledge doesn't improve scientific reasoning and the other was an editorial in The Scientist by Steven Wiley on didactic learning. The pieces conclude that scientific reasoning is not learned, it is either something that comes naturally or evolves from an interest and base of scientific knowledge (respectively).

Communication and advocacy both take a lot of reasoning skills. There are certainly methods and models to follow (relatively easy to memorize), but there are much more subjective elements to consider as well.

Here at New Voices, we're trying to take both approaches to developing the best spokespeople for science: fact-based pieces on science communication supplemented by examples of advocates along with opportunities to try it for yourselves. What works best for you? What style or method is the most appealing?

If you had to choose, would it be reasoning or rote memorization?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scientists on Both Sides of the Aisle

Today’s advocate profile is a two-for-one. In the interest of fair play I wanted to profile both a Republican and a Democrat in Congress who, in their former lives, were scientists. What better example of a scientist advocate than one currently serving on Capitol Hill?

Representative Vernon Ehlers [R-MI]
Representing Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Ehlers is a physicist. Rep. Ehlers has served in Congress since 1993, and before that spent 11 years in the Michigan legislature.

Rep. Ehlers received a PhD in physics from UC Berkeley in 1960. He moved back to Michigan and taught at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, eventually acting as chairman of the physics department. During that time Rep. Ehlers also served as a volunteer science advisor to then-Congressman Gerald Ford! Today Rep. Ehlers puts his scientific background to work on the Science and Technology Committee and in the STEM Ed Caucus.

Representative Rush Holt [D-NJ]
Representing New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District, Rep. Holt is a physicist as well. He has served in Congress since 1999. Some of his supporters during the 2008 re-election campaign sported bumper stickers boasting “My Congressman IS a rocket scientist!”

Rep. Holt’s parents were both public servants, and he was a Congressional Science Fellow and a nuclear weapons expert at the U.S. State Department before serving as Congressman. He uses his background in physics and his experience at the State Department as chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel on the Intelligence Committee.

Monday, February 16, 2009

President's Day

New Voices is off today in honor of all 43 of our great American presidents. We've collected some of our favorite quotes to commemorate the day; some are about science and others just remind us of scientific things. Plus, it's always good to have a stock of quotes you can throw into a written piece or speech. Without further ado, the words of our presidents.

He who knows best knows how little he knows.
— Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.
— Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)

We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers.
— Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)

Don't hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don't hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table.
— John Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)

It is common sense to take a method and try it. If all fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.
— Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945)

Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.
— Harry Truman (1945-1953)

Don't join the book burners. Do not think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed.
— Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
— John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)

The awareness that health is dependent upon habits that we control makes us the first generation in history that to a large extent determines its own destiny.
— Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Loving Science

Our Special Valentine's Day News Round-Up

Love Drugs
Have you ever wished you could give someone a love potion so they would fall for you? Or yearn to swallow a love antidote after a particularly bad breakup? According to neuroscience research by Dr. Larry Young, which was recently released in Nature, these scenarios may one day be possible! A follow-up article in the NYTimes discusses potential situations that could arise if such concoctions were developed.
- Emily Norton

Hug Your Heart Healthy
Grey's Anatomy fans will remember a recent incident involving Dr. Dixon (a relatively new character who suffers from Asperger's syndrome) needing to be hugged to calm down. It turns out that there is science behind that awkward scene. In fact, some studies show that being hugged daily can improve health, especially in women. The benefits come from hormones - like oxytocin- that have a calming effect when released in the brain.
- Heather Benson

Chocolate Lovers, Your Attention Please
I'm not a huge fan of the commercialization of Valentine's Day, but if it's an excuse for someone to send some chocolate my way...

How did chocolate become associated with Valentine's Day? One article suggests that chocolate was given as a gift by the Aztecs and was considered an aphrodisiac. Here's another article that gets into the science of the compounds in chocolate and what their effects are as we consume the treat. Once chocolate made it to the Old World it immediately became a favorite of the nobility- nobody else could afford it! Valentine's Day was the day to shower your lover with gifts, and chocolate - the expensive luxury that it was - quickly became a favorite.

In 2007 the AAAS Annual Meeting presented research on the impact of chocolate (really, the flavonols in it) on learning and memory. The study, funded in part by Mars, Inc (I know, I know, but who else cares that much?) showed that chocolate consumption caused increased brain activity in regions associated with alertness. I know I get really alert when my favorite gold box of truffles appears!
-Hillary Lewis

For more science related Valentine's trivia, check out:
Happy Valentine's Day from all of us here at New Voices. In honor of Darwin's birthday this week, we picked out this card just for you!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

National A.D.D.? Chalk it up to the Issue-Attention Cycle

Writing the news round up last week about the public’s waning interest in addressing global warming brought to mind the issue-attention cycle, a theory developed by Anthony Downs.

The basic premise of the issue-attention cycle is that a domestic problem takes center stage, dominates the news media and public conscience for a while, and then gradually fades away though the problem is usually not resolved. The predicament that may result is that public attention may not remain “sufficiently focused upon any given issue to generate enough political pressure to cause effective change.” This is the possible dilemma for global warming as other issues jump to the forefront.

Global warming is not the only potential casualty of the issue-attention cycle. Interest in any major problem can wane, as the high cost of “solving” the problem is realized and people become discouraged, threatened, or bored, and public attention diminishes. During the presidential race, health reform was a major issue. Yet towards the end of 2008, everything shifted as the economy tanked. References to economic issues are everywhere, which is why the economy is at the top of the issue-attention cycle. However, after the passage of the recovery package, we could see other issues return to the forefront.

There are some ways you can tackle the effects of the issue-attention cycle:
  1. Keep communication open even when issues fade from mainstream media, by creating awareness campaigns and speaking to fellow students, colleagues, and government officials.
  2. Connect your cause to the topic currently at the top of the issue attention cycle (job loss, loss of health insurance with unemployment, advocacy for health insurance reform)
  3. Find attention cycle grabbers: find a notable spokesperson, host a big event, associate the event with something else that grabs a lot of attention (President’s Day, Valentine’s Day)
  4. Find the right audience.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Recovery Package Breakdown

Here at New Voices, we've been encouraging you to reach out to your members of Congress in support of science and research funding in the recovery package. It's a big package with a lot of details in it. Two Sundays ago, the Washington Post had a great graphic overview of the House bill that we recommend. For those of you who are interested in how the recovery package is actually being broken down for research, science, and technology, AAAS has a good analysis of both bills.

The House version is being reconciled with the Senate version in conference at this very moment. We'll keep you updated as we know more, but we'd love to hear any questions/ comments/ advocacy messages you have in the comments section.

Push for $10 Billion for NIH in Recovery Plan

Keep up the pressure on Congress to include $10 billion for NIH in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Thanks to a strong show of support from research advocates and leadership from Senators Specter, Harkin and Durbin, the Senate approved an amendment to increase the NIH allocation from $3.5 billion to $10 billion. As Senate and House leadership reconcile the bills, urge your members to reinforce their support for research as a critical economic driver in communities across America.

Call your representative and senators to let them know you want $10 billion for NIH included in the final version of the bill. Find your members’ phone numbers and use the talking points below.

Funding for NIH will:
  • provide short-term economic stimulus by creating 70,000 jobs;

  • more than double each dollar invested in economic output;

  • boost the economy of every state because 90% of NIH funding is distributed to colleges, universities and research institutions across the country;

  • help the U.S. remain competitive globally in research and innovation;

  • allow Americans to live longer, healthier, more productive lives and

  • reduce health care costs through more effective prevention and treatment.
Tell your delegation that investing NIH now will pay off in the short- and long-term. The best way to contact your members is by calling, but you can also send them an e-mail. Take action now!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Op-Ed Advocacy

One effective way to spread an advocacy message is through submitting an op-ed. Op-ed is short for opposite the editorial page.
Trivia: Most people call them opinion editorials, but editorials are - by definition - opinion pieces.
There are lots of ways to put together an editorial. I like the structure of rubrics, so my preferred method is Monroe's Motivated Sequence or MMS for short. This method can be used for speeches, letters to the editor, op-eds - basically anything persuasive.
  1. Get attention. Also known as the hook, this first part is supposed to grab the reader. Studies show that stories (of any kind) are the best hooks. Make it personal and relevant for bonus points.
  2. Establish Need. What is the problem? Why are you trying to convince the other person to do, support, or think something? This is the reason why you are writing the op-ed.
  3. Provide a Solution. You told us what the problem was, now tell us how to fix it. What would make the situation better?
  4. Vision of the Future. What does the future look like when your solution has been implemented? Use figurative language (but don't get too flowery), and really drive the point home in this section.
  5. Call to Action. Tell people what you want them to do. This is your take-away message and your closing statement. Finish with a bang.
General writing tips:
  • Avoid double negatives
  • Never have more than one rhetorical question
  • Use the reading level setting in your word processor. If it's greater than a 10th grade reading level, simplify.
  • Stick to the specified word count. The paper you'll be submitting to probably has some rules about submissions. If you want to see it in print, follow the rules.
Three good examples of advocacy editorials in support of the NIH funding in the economic recovery package are included below.

Laing Rogers Sisto in Roll Call (1/29/2009)

Patrick Swayze in the Washington Post (2/8/2009)

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) in the Washington Post (2/9/2009)

Do you think they follow MMS? Are these pieces effective? What might you do differently?

**Bonus** Each of the steps are pretty self-explanatory, but they do take practice to get right. For the slightly more advanced writer, we'll be talking about some different ways to implement MMS over the next couple of months:
  • Hook, line, and sinker
  • Percentages
  • Varying sections
  • Peaks and valleys

Monday, February 9, 2009

How a Bill Becomes Law

Chronicles of a Science Policy Intern

At a staff meeting last week, we examined the difference in funding allocation for the CDC in the House and Senate versions of the economic stimulus package. Don’t tell my high school history teacher, but I needed a little refresher on the intricacies of the bill to law process.

The House of Representatives and the Senate often consider two different versions of the same bill. Once the House and the Senate vote on their respective bills, if the bills are different and Congress is in a hurry (as they are with the recovery package), they go to “conference,” which is a small group comprised of members of both houses. The conference committee can pick and choose pieces from the House and Senate versions of the bill if they want. Once they produce a conference report, it is voted on by both chambers. If it passes, it is sent to the president. The president has three options: he can sign the bill, veto it outright, or allow it to sit for 10 days - not including Sundays - while Congress is in session, which kills the bill (a pocket veto).

It’s important to understand the basics of the political process so you can advocate effectively. I’ve discovered that the intricacies you need to know to work in an advocacy organization are a little more than the basics, but most people can rely on a classic teaching tool: Schoolhouse Rock! (This video doesn't include the conference committee step, since not all bills go to conference.)

For more detailed (but concise!) information on how a bill becomes a law, visit Project Vote Smart.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Understanding Versus Appreciation

Part 2 of 6 in the Research Roadmap for Public Communication of Science & Technology Series

In the past few decades there have been a couple of different approaches to science communication. One of the more popular philosophies is "public understanding of science." The theory is that to create a public more supportive of science, scientists should help/make the public understand science. In other words, the public needs to be educated.

But consider for a moment if someone was force feeding you unsolicited information about the intricacies of cricket, staging a play, or raising honey bees. You might learn something and still not care about it or support it. To create a supportive public it is essential to increase someone's appreciation of a subject by facilitating mental connections between their experiences and the science you know and love.

Many studies have been done that show that people are more engaged in supporting things if they feel personally connected to the subject. Knowing what something is or how it works is not the same thing as feeling connected. Which is why the public understanding of science model is not ideal, and Borchelt's findings are so important.

Borchelt found that there is a difference between understanding and appreciation of science. Understanding is basically how you intellectualize a certain topic. Appreciation is your opinion or evaluation of a topic.

So instead of just trying to educate the public about science, we can explain how fruit fly experiments help create vaccines, that bacteria can help trace genealogy, or how to tell when jellyfish are likely to be in the waters at the beach (hint: it has to do with temperature).

Increasing appreciation (through understanding) can be the key to improved science communication and advocacy.

For more on this topic, check out Ethan Siegel's post on his blog Starts with a Bang! (it's where we found the accompanying picture for today's post).

Part 1 in the Roadmap series is about audiences for science communication and can be found here and here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

NSF and Prevention Funding Threatened in Economic Recovery

Increased funding for the National Science Foundation and prevention are targets in a bipartisan proposal to cut $77.9 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Contact your Senators immediately to oppose these cuts.

The bill currently includes $1.4 billion for NSF and $5.8 billion for prevention. The proposed amendment would eliminate all of the funding for NSF in the bill and cut the amount for prevention by nearly 90% percent.

Action is expected today, so calling is the best way to reach your Senators. Find their phone number or send an e-mail. It is especially important to call now if your Senator is included in the list below.

Begich - 202-224-3004

Lincoln - 202-224-4843

Bennet - 202-224-5852
Udall - 202-224-5941

Lieberman - 202-224-4041

Carper - 202-224-2441

Nelson - 202-224-5274

Bayh - 202-224-5623

Landrieu - 202-224-5824

Klobuchar - 202-224-3244

McCaskill - 202-224-6154

Tester - 202-224-2644

New Hampshire
Shaheen - 202-224-2841

New Mexico
Udall - 202-224-6621

North Dakota
Conrad - 202-224-2043

Specter - 202-224-4254

Warner - 202-224-2023
Webb - 202-224-4024

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Update on Harkin-Specter Amendment

Last night the Senate approved an amendment (starts at page S. 1403 and go through S. 1406) to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (S. 1) that would increase the amount allocated to the National Institutes of Health from $3.5 billion to a total of $10 billion. The amendment follows-up on Senator Arlen Specter's [R-PA] promise to fight for an increase of $6.5 billion over the House total for the NIH.

Amendment 101 was introduced by Senator Specter and was itself amended by Senator Harkin's [D-IA] Amendment 178. If this seems confusing, it is (note the cartoon). Because the recovery package is at the forefront of everyone's mind, and funding for the NIH is of particular importance to researchers everywhere, I wanted to take a moment and make sure everyone knows where it stands. Things are moving quickly, so keep checking back with us- we'll do our very best to keep you posted!

We will be discussing the bill to law process in the context of the recovery act in the coming week, so let us know if you have questions!

Start at the Top

Profile: Dr. Robert Wells, PhD

Robert A. Welch Endowed Professor of Chemistry
Director, Center for Genome Research at the Institute of Bioscience and Technology, Texas A&M Health Science Center, Houston, Texas

Here in the second part of Dr. Wells’ profile I will describe when Dr. Wells used his considerable expertise in the policy arena to get an audience with the Vice President and increase the amount budgeted for science research. The first installment of Dr. Wells’ profile is here.

After participating in the policy discussions that resulted in the passage of the Excellence in Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Act of 1990 Dr. Wells continued his involvement in science advocacy. Between 2000 and 2002 he served as President of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Next he was elected to the post of president at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) where he served from 2003 to 2004.

During the years that Dr. Wells served in these organizations, the scientific community had been suffering through consistently flat funding. Dr. Wells realized that the NIH budget, the vast majority of federal dollars for research, begins in the hands of the president of the United States. We have heard a similar message recently from the Honorable John Porter. Dr. Wells decided to shake things up and take his message to the White House, where the initial budget recommendations are made.

With assistance from the Hon. Robert Michel, the former House Minority Leader, Dr. Wells and four Nobel Laureates visited the White House. To hear Dr. Wells tell it, President Bush slipped through their fingers, but he was able to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney in an hour long interview where they made the case for increased funding for the NIH. Vice President Cheney approved an increase of approximately $800 million for the NIH after hearing the case those bold scientists made for biomedical research.

Dr. Wells explains his years of successful science advocacy with the statement that “it takes one person to stand up and say ‘let’s do it!’” Taking this message to heart, we can each make a difference in science policy. Here at New Voices, we’ll do our best to help you by providing advocacy opportunities, examples of what other scientists have accomplished and the tools you’ll need to “do it.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Getting Started as an Advocate for Research

Profile: Dr. Robert Wells, PhD
Robert A. Welch Endowed Professor of Chemistry
Director, Center for Genome Research at the Institute of Bioscience and Technology, Texas A&M Health Science Center, Houston, Texas

Dr. Robert Wells has a distinguished history as an outspoken advocate for science. I will profile Dr. Wells in two parts. First, I will introduce Dr. Wells and describe how he became involved in science advocacy and started influencing policy. The second part will describe when, years later, Dr. Wells used his considerable expertise in the policy arena to get an audience with the Vice President and increase the amount budgeted for science research.

Dr. Wells began his career in science under the tutelage of Dr. H. Gobind Khorana, the 1968 Nobel laureate for medicine/physiology. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1964-1966 Dr. Wells worked withDr. Khorana on his project uncovering the role played by the genetic code in protein synthesis.

In the early 1980s Dr. Wells was the Chair of the Biochemistry Department in the Schools of Medicine and Dentistry at University of Alabama, Birmingham. The department received an NIH training grant to educate young researchers and clinicians. Despite an excellent priority score on the grant renewal, in 1988 the program lost funding because the NIH had transferred the money into other areas.

Dr. Wells was determined to fight for the funding for this important program. He formed a coalition of training grant directors who had seen their funding evaporate. With their encouragement and monetary support he took their message to Washington. Dr. Wells targeted Senator Mark Hatfield [R-OR], who he knew was a supporter of medical research.

Staff members ushered Dr. Wells into the inner waiting room where he was among 40 people waiting to see the Senator. He was told that he had 10 minutes of the Senator’s time, and to be out in 12. Dr. Wells presented his case in the first 3 minutes of his allotted time, and it was immediately clear that Senator Hatfield was well informed about the topic and enthusiastic about changing the way our education system treats science and mathematics. Over an hour later, Dr. Wells emerged from the meeting with an ally in the struggle for expansion of the teaching grant program, and for science research in general.

The training grant program received the missing funding, and in 1989 Dr. Wells was invited to put together a cadre of biomedical researchers. Their job was to advise Senator Hatfield and Admiral James Watkins, Secretary of the Department of Energy, on ways to promote science and engineering in American schools. The result of this collaboration was the passage of the Excellence in Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Act of 1990.

Dr. Robert Wells demonstrates how one extraordinary man with a passion for scientific research can influence policy on a national scale. His experience in Washington proved that one person can make a difference.

Part two of the profile of Dr. Wells will describe another instance when he took his message to Washington- straight into the White House.