SfN Members Urge U.S. Congress to Support Strong Science Funding
Continuing its longtime leadership in advocating for robust scientific research funding, the Society for Neuroscience hosted its 10th annual Capitol Hill Day in March in Washington, DC. This year, 52 SfN members from 20 states met with 71 congressional offices to discuss the latest advances in the field of neuroscience, share the economic and public health benefits of investment in biomedical research, and make the case for strong national investment in scientific research through NIH and NSF.
Hill Day on Twitter
Check out a visual recap of Hill Day on Twitter by looking at #sfnhillday.
“We are all citizen scientists ultimately, and if we’re not speaking for science, then no one will speak for science on our behalf,” said Bill Martin, chair of SfN’s Government and Public Affairs Committee. He described Hill Day as the “premier advocacy event of the year” and stressed that advocating for science funding is one of the core principles in SfN’s mission.
During Hill Day, scientists meet face to face with lawmakers and congressional staff to share their expertise and put a human face to decisions about research funding. Scientists understand better than anyone that scientific progress cannot happen without a robust, predictable funding environment, and SfN members reminded members of Congress how their funding decisions affect public science research.
“For us to be here and communicate with Congress directly just humanizes the whole process, humanizes the scientific endeavor,” SfN President Hollis Cline said.
Among the SfN members who visited the Hill were a group of young neuroscientists taking part in SfN’s Early Career Policy Ambassadors Program. During this yearlong program, these early-career scientists learn about science policy and how to become effective advocates for science.
One of these ambassadors, Amanda Dettmer, describes her Hill Day experiences in a four-part series on the website Speaking of Research. Dettmer explains that she wanted to participate in the ambassadors program because funding issues are shuttering the NIH animal facility where she works. She details a particular congressional meeting in which she was able to communicate about the direct effects of this closure.
“I emphasized the impact that the facility closure has on early-career scientists and students — really, the next generation of science — who must now re-evaluate their career plans,” Dettmer writes. “It was a rare opportunity to tell a legislator exactly how funding decisions impact the present and future state of science.”
As part of their program, the ambassadors also commit to engaging in at least three additional advocacy-related activities at their home institution over the course of the year. Other SfN members were also encouraged to “take the Hill home” by engaging in advocacy activities at their local institutions, such as asking elected officials to visit their laboratory.
“It was energizing to be a part of the process and to advocate for science in a way I’ve never done before, in a way that feels like it might actually make a difference,” Dettmer writes. “I challenge every scientist to schedule at least one meeting in the next year with their representative to advocate for science funding, and particularly, for the need for animal models in science.
Year-Round Advocacy Efforts
In addition to Hill Day, SfN keeps the fight for science funding alive year-round through its Advocacy Network and partnerships with other organizations.
For example, earlier this year SfN and its members helped to successfully urge the U.S. Congress to pass the FY2016 budget, which:
- Eliminated sequestration cuts.
- Allotted $32 billion for NIH, a $2 billion increase from FY2015 and the agency’s strongest support since 2003.
- Increased NSF funding to $7.5 billion.
- Provided the highest investment in the BRAIN Initiative since the beginning of the program.
This budget was notably bipartisan, with Republican and Democratic leaders prioritizing biomedical research and NIH funding. SfN coalition partner Research!America honored Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) with the Edwin C. Whitehead Award for Medical Research Advocacy for their steadfast commitment to increasing investments in research. “This [budget] needs to be the norm rather than the exception,” Blunt said during his acceptance speech. See Cole’s speech from the event here and Blunt’s speech here.
Building on this momentum, SfN turned quickly to advocating for sustained funding levels in FY2017, asking for $34.5 billion in discretionary funding for NIH as part of a 10 percent overall increase, along with $8 billion for NSF. Recently, SfN President Hollis Cline submitted testimony to the committees that oversee NIH and NSF funding. She requested that Congress keep science funding on a path toward sustained growth and stability. Your voice joined with hers will show Congress that the neuroscience community stands together.
To stay informed on funding issues such as these, members should join SfN’s Advocacy Network, which sends out alerts when advocacy action is needed. For instance, members should keep an eye out for updates on the 21st Century Cures bill — bipartisan legislation that would add billions of dollars to NIH’s budget. The House passed the bill earlier this year, and companion legislation is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).
On the global level, SfN partners with the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) on global advocacy efforts. SfN staff will attend the 10th annual FENS Forum of Neuroscience this July in Copenhagen, Denmark, which will cover international advocacy topics. SfN works with IBRO, which includes neuroscience organizations from around the world, to promote and support research policy in a culturally relevant way. Find out more at IBRO’s website.
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