SfN Members Advocate for Increased Science Research
“This is one of the most important things I do as a scientist,” said SfN President Carol Mason, PhD, professor of pathology, cell biology, and neuroscience at Columbia University. “When you realize that public funding is key to research advances, you understand the impact of these meetings with decision makers.”
“We go to the meetings ready to talk about funding, and we end up discussing autism, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, or depression and addiction,” Mason said. “Everyone has a story about a friend or loved one who is dealing with a brain-related disorder or disease. It actually makes it easy to underscore the importance of our research.”
Mason, along with a group of early career researchers, and members from SfN’s Government and Public Affairs (GPA) Committee and Committee on Animals in Research, participated in visits with 78 congressional offices. Members discussed advances in neuroscience and made the case for strong public investment in scientific research through NIH and NSF. The meetings are timed to coincide with the federal budget decision-making process.
“We cannot overstate the impact of having scientists from around the country delivering a unified message,” said Anne Young, chair of the GPA Committee. “In explaining how the scientific process works, we communicate the need for adequate, predictable funding levels, including adjustments for inflation. We talk about why funding certainty is key to scientific progress,” she said.
NIH’s FY2014 budget was approved for $29.9 billion, $1 billion more than during sequestration, but $714 million less than pre-sequestration levels. Similarly, NSF’s budget was approved for nearly $7.2 billion, $287 million more than sequestration levels but still $82 million less than pre-sequestration. In meetings on Capitol Hill, SfN members stood with the research community in requesting at least $32 billion in funding for NIH and at least $7.5 billion for NSF.
SfN hosted a training session in advance of the meetings, where Mason, Young, and Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, thanked the volunteers traveling to Washington, DC, and advocating for scientific research. SfN members also practiced how to concisely explain their research to members of Congress and their staff, who may have no background in science. Laura Martin, assistant professor and associate director of fMRI at the University of Kansas Medical Center and a 2013 Hill Day Young Advocate, said the experience was enlightening.
“The biggest takeaway for me was revamping my ‘elevator speech’ for policy makers, which highlights different aspects of my research than I would highlight for other researchers,” she said. “Most importantly, who cares [about your research]? Why should people care about the type of research you do and why should the federal government be interested in funding this research?” Martin said she thought about her Hill Day discussions throughout the year.
Advocacy messages are critical, according to Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), who addressed the group before the individual meetings began. He noted that members of Congress need to be reminded throughout the year that science plays a role in nearly every facet of society. Holt has a PhD in physics and previously served as assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey, where he conducted extensive research on alternative energy.
“Nearly every policy debate about how to move this country forward touches on science,” Holt said. “Scientific advances are key to how we live our lives every day — the new technologies we use, the ways we treat and cure disease, innovations in agriculture that allow us to feed more people — these are just some of the ways we rely on science,” he said. “Investment in research is an engine for economic growth that is essential to progress worldwide.”