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Opinion: Research and Debt Reduction

Investing more federal dollars in life science research may save the US economy.

By | October 1, 2011

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I predict that the future of science funding is rosy—except in the United States. If there were agencies akin to Standard & Poor’s charged with rating life-sciences futures in the US, we would be looking at a downgrade. We would owe such a downgrade largely to the complacency of federal policymakers, too many of whom appear willing to watch the US research enterprise wither on the vine. The increasingly common decampment of US researchers to China, India, Singapore, and elsewhere reflects this reality. One researcher recently told me that his move to India was prompted by that government’s view of research as an investment rather than a cost. US policymakers used to consider funding research a sound investment, and as a result we spent decades setting the global standard for science. Other nations have learned from us how taxpayer-funded R&D fuels economic growth and the results are coming in fast. The World Economic Forum recently downgraded the United States, ranked number one in “climate for competitiveness” just three years ago, to the fifth position worldwide.

Because investing taxpayer dollars is a political decision, scientists, who reside in every state and congressional district, could alter the current course of science funding. How? Scientists must personally demonstrate accountability to the taxpayer by explaining and promoting their research, educating taxpayers and policymakers about the return they can expect for our investment in science. That return is multifaceted. It fuels jobs, sows the seeds of new businesses, and literally saves lives. Scientists must fight for federal research funding now—not tomorrow, or next year or five years from now. The 2011 federal fiscal year ended September 30. Federal spending for fiscal year 2012 is being determined now. The 2012 budget will establish a critical “baseline” for future research funding since flat budgets are written into the law for the following ten years. The clock is ticking down on our ability to secure robust research funding. Advocacy by all stakeholders in research will be vitally important to securing the strongest possible funding in the 2012 budget.

Too many federal policymakers appear willing to watch the US research enterprise wither on the vine.

Scientists have another job to do too. They must speak out and urge members of the so-called Congressional “supercommittee,” created as part of the Budget Control Act that Congress agreed upon in August, to do its job and find an additional $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade. If the supercommittee doesn’t make the hard decisions and agree on deficit-reducing reforms to our entitlement and tax systems, our nation will be facing automatic, across-the-board cuts to research and other discretionary spending. Such cuts would set scientific innovation in this country back by decades just as other nations throughout the world are gaining speed. Such a path would be disastrous for America.

Not too long ago, US dominance in the auto industry was considered our birthright. We indulged a similar attitude toward consumer electronics for far too long, and then watched world leadership in that arena also move overseas. We must not stand by and allow our global leadership in the life sciences to slip away as well.

Imagine if everyone in the research community spoke out by visiting or calling their representative and senators, making the case that research must once again become a robust national priority. If large and small employers alike, joined by health-care professionals and insurers, aligned forces with the scientific community to make a strong case for research to policymakers, all of these people taken together could not be ignored. Research-fueled innovation is the key to business growth, job creation and—as Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other expensive health conditions explode the costs of Medicare and Medicaid—federal cost containment. Investing in research is a deficit reduction strategy.

A robust future for research in the United States is not guaranteed. Now, more than ever, we must work to ensure that our nation continues to lead the global innovation economy rather than lag behind it. I frankly don’t see that leadership continuing into our future unless all the stakeholders in research decide to stand and fight for that future, and do something that feels uncomfortable: take a political position. Stepping forward to fight for a healthier nation and a healthier economy, driven once again by science and innovation, may not be a familiar path for scientists, but it is the right one. It is patriotic. Others will follow if scientists step up—let’s start now.

Mary Woolley is the president and CEO of Research!America. She is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Avatar of: Dnldedmnd

Anonymous

October 3, 2011

Mary,
If you are reading this, you are very eloquent.  But, the reality (at least the reality here in Wisconsin)  is not calling congressman and asking them to take action; it is spending $500.00 on a dinner fundraiser. Legislation is nothing more than a market commodity, if you can afford it, you will have a voice in goverment. I've been there and done that.

Here is one of my lasts posts: 

Scientists need to organize, and form a lobby to get the money. You don't see Colin Powell going on tv and saying that the next drug resistant strain of bacteria could cause a mushroom cloud of destruction (which is more likely than finding wmds in Iraq).  Haliburton did not pay him to do that.  However, if you go to DC and spend enough cash, you can get people to listen. We could hire some congressman to say that we are facing a bacterial 911, put fear into the public, and then the rest of the congressman would cave for fear that the frightened voting public who just saw the news on Fox would give them the axe if they do not pass the bill. The reform that is needed is more money, and a political body to get the money from the government. Science needs to be in the face of the public everyday, and the public needs to fear what will happen if our reserach cannot keep up with things like microbial antibiotic resistance.  Let the public know that politicians that favor research budget cuts in favor of continuing oil and bank subsidies and the funding of wars are going to wipe us all off the map.

My proposal is a group made up of educators, researchers, nurses, and doctors, to form a group ERND and (1) increase salaries for post-docs and grad students in research (2) increase medicare reimbursement to physicians through suplemental insurance, in other words medicare and medicaid would pay doctors a rate of reimbursement so they could afford to treat people - the money would come by taxing, you guessed it the superwealthy: including insurance companies who would have to pay a higher reimbursement rate on primary coverage (3) reimburse doctors, teachers, and nurses for tuition by tax cuts once they begin working  (4) increase funding available to science; (5) educating the public on how pay for play representatives like Gov. Walker are stifling our scientific success and decreasing our standard of health care by cutting public education and turning insurance companies into premium collection companies that pay little or nothing on medical claims.  

Our goal at this time is to "shrink corporate rights to the point where we can drown them in a bathtub" to paraphrase a famous saying by Grover Norquist.  Corporations are the new goverment, rich in subsidies and devouring the public money available that could fund research, create scientists and patents, and improve the health of our citizens, without which, we will never be competitive in the global economy.   

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

October 3, 2011

Mary,
If you are reading this, you are very eloquent.  But, the reality (at least the reality here in Wisconsin)  is not calling congressman and asking them to take action; it is spending $500.00 on a dinner fundraiser. Legislation is nothing more than a market commodity, if you can afford it, you will have a voice in goverment. I've been there and done that.

Here is one of my lasts posts: 

Scientists need to organize, and form a lobby to get the money. You don't see Colin Powell going on tv and saying that the next drug resistant strain of bacteria could cause a mushroom cloud of destruction (which is more likely than finding wmds in Iraq).  Haliburton did not pay him to do that.  However, if you go to DC and spend enough cash, you can get people to listen. We could hire some congressman to say that we are facing a bacterial 911, put fear into the public, and then the rest of the congressman would cave for fear that the frightened voting public who just saw the news on Fox would give them the axe if they do not pass the bill. The reform that is needed is more money, and a political body to get the money from the government. Science needs to be in the face of the public everyday, and the public needs to fear what will happen if our reserach cannot keep up with things like microbial antibiotic resistance.  Let the public know that politicians that favor research budget cuts in favor of continuing oil and bank subsidies and the funding of wars are going to wipe us all off the map.

My proposal is a group made up of educators, researchers, nurses, and doctors, to form a group ERND and (1) increase salaries for post-docs and grad students in research (2) increase medicare reimbursement to physicians through suplemental insurance, in other words medicare and medicaid would pay doctors a rate of reimbursement so they could afford to treat people - the money would come by taxing, you guessed it the superwealthy: including insurance companies who would have to pay a higher reimbursement rate on primary coverage (3) reimburse doctors, teachers, and nurses for tuition by tax cuts once they begin working  (4) increase funding available to science; (5) educating the public on how pay for play representatives like Gov. Walker are stifling our scientific success and decreasing our standard of health care by cutting public education and turning insurance companies into premium collection companies that pay little or nothing on medical claims.  

Our goal at this time is to "shrink corporate rights to the point where we can drown them in a bathtub" to paraphrase a famous saying by Grover Norquist.  Corporations are the new goverment, rich in subsidies and devouring the public money available that could fund research, create scientists and patents, and improve the health of our citizens, without which, we will never be competitive in the global economy.   

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

October 3, 2011

Mary,
If you are reading this, you are very eloquent.  But, the reality (at least the reality here in Wisconsin)  is not calling congressman and asking them to take action; it is spending $500.00 on a dinner fundraiser. Legislation is nothing more than a market commodity, if you can afford it, you will have a voice in goverment. I've been there and done that.

Here is one of my lasts posts: 

Scientists need to organize, and form a lobby to get the money. You don't see Colin Powell going on tv and saying that the next drug resistant strain of bacteria could cause a mushroom cloud of destruction (which is more likely than finding wmds in Iraq).  Haliburton did not pay him to do that.  However, if you go to DC and spend enough cash, you can get people to listen. We could hire some congressman to say that we are facing a bacterial 911, put fear into the public, and then the rest of the congressman would cave for fear that the frightened voting public who just saw the news on Fox would give them the axe if they do not pass the bill. The reform that is needed is more money, and a political body to get the money from the government. Science needs to be in the face of the public everyday, and the public needs to fear what will happen if our reserach cannot keep up with things like microbial antibiotic resistance.  Let the public know that politicians that favor research budget cuts in favor of continuing oil and bank subsidies and the funding of wars are going to wipe us all off the map.

My proposal is a group made up of educators, researchers, nurses, and doctors, to form a group ERND and (1) increase salaries for post-docs and grad students in research (2) increase medicare reimbursement to physicians through suplemental insurance, in other words medicare and medicaid would pay doctors a rate of reimbursement so they could afford to treat people - the money would come by taxing, you guessed it the superwealthy: including insurance companies who would have to pay a higher reimbursement rate on primary coverage (3) reimburse doctors, teachers, and nurses for tuition by tax cuts once they begin working  (4) increase funding available to science; (5) educating the public on how pay for play representatives like Gov. Walker are stifling our scientific success and decreasing our standard of health care by cutting public education and turning insurance companies into premium collection companies that pay little or nothing on medical claims.  

Our goal at this time is to "shrink corporate rights to the point where we can drown them in a bathtub" to paraphrase a famous saying by Grover Norquist.  Corporations are the new goverment, rich in subsidies and devouring the public money available that could fund research, create scientists and patents, and improve the health of our citizens, without which, we will never be competitive in the global economy.   

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

October 5, 2011

I think that creating public fear, blaming corporate and political greed is neither accurate nor useful.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

October 5, 2011

With regard to biomedical research, the best way for government to increase it would be to deregulate it. The time it takes to get a research protocol written, revised, and approved makes it too risky to test new ideas that probably won’t work, but if they did would lead to new breakthroughs. Indeed, it has gotten to the point where it can take longer to get a research protocol approved than to conduct the actual research. Government money was welcomed many years ago... and we are now finding out its true cost.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

October 5, 2011

I think that creating public fear, blaming corporate and political greed is neither accurate nor useful.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

October 5, 2011

With regard to biomedical research, the best way for government to increase it would be to deregulate it. The time it takes to get a research protocol written, revised, and approved makes it too risky to test new ideas that probably won’t work, but if they did would lead to new breakthroughs. Indeed, it has gotten to the point where it can take longer to get a research protocol approved than to conduct the actual research. Government money was welcomed many years ago... and we are now finding out its true cost.

Avatar of: Lah99

Lah99

Posts: 6

October 5, 2011

I think that creating public fear, blaming corporate and political greed is neither accurate nor useful.

Avatar of: Brummie71

Anonymous

October 5, 2011

With regard to biomedical research, the best way for government to increase it would be to deregulate it. The time it takes to get a research protocol written, revised, and approved makes it too risky to test new ideas that probably won’t work, but if they did would lead to new breakthroughs. Indeed, it has gotten to the point where it can take longer to get a research protocol approved than to conduct the actual research. Government money was welcomed many years ago... and we are now finding out its true cost.

Avatar of: outofstep

Anonymous

October 6, 2011

It is common these days to put links in articles to references that support one’s statements; there are none here.
 
Are US researchers moving to China, India and Singapore or are a few researchers, originally from those countries, returning home?
 
Does tax-payer-funded R&D really fuel economic growth? Not everyone agrees so evidence must be given.
 
In short, the realities of the statements in this essay need to be established.
 
Finally, it should be noted that the US dominance in the auto industry, which some consider our birthright, was due to our armies destroying the industrial base of Europe and Asia in World War II. We may do something similar again as there are signs we are moving to war against China, although they could retaliate by destroying our industrial base.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

October 6, 2011

It is common these days to put links in articles to references that support one’s statements; there are none here.
 
Are US researchers moving to China, India and Singapore or are a few researchers, originally from those countries, returning home?
 
Does tax-payer-funded R&D really fuel economic growth? Not everyone agrees so evidence must be given.
 
In short, the realities of the statements in this essay need to be established.
 
Finally, it should be noted that the US dominance in the auto industry, which some consider our birthright, was due to our armies destroying the industrial base of Europe and Asia in World War II. We may do something similar again as there are signs we are moving to war against China, although they could retaliate by destroying our industrial base.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

October 6, 2011

It is common these days to put links in articles to references that support one’s statements; there are none here.
 
Are US researchers moving to China, India and Singapore or are a few researchers, originally from those countries, returning home?
 
Does tax-payer-funded R&D really fuel economic growth? Not everyone agrees so evidence must be given.
 
In short, the realities of the statements in this essay need to be established.
 
Finally, it should be noted that the US dominance in the auto industry, which some consider our birthright, was due to our armies destroying the industrial base of Europe and Asia in World War II. We may do something similar again as there are signs we are moving to war against China, although they could retaliate by destroying our industrial base.

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