Some weeks ago, The Atlantic posted a question on Twitter asking why federal science funding was so personal for researchers. My first reaction was that we have hugely failed as scientists if the average person doesn’t know the answer to this. My second reaction was to wonder how we can complain about stagnating NIH budgets if we aren’t making the case to our friends/neighbors/network (the constituents of the budget allocation decision makers). I sat down to write a long email to The Atlantic explaining why funding, which is at the core of the scientific and scientific training enterprise, is not just personal; it’s everything.
All this has reminded me of a public policy meeting I attended at the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Annual Meeting back in 2010. I only remember a few things from this meeting very clearly: 1) Tim Mitchison and Tom Pollard, made an airtight case that it is not someone else’s job to fight for the funding and promotion of science. It’s our job–each and every one of us. It is our job to lobby our congresspeople and make ourselves heard. They also presented some statistics on how infrequently representatives are contacted by science advocates from their home states/districts. I remember being shocked at the data. 2) The other thing I remember is that I was one of maybe eight or ten people in the audience. EIGHT or TEN. I was completely moved and motivated by this presentation. I felt compelled to act and, at a conference of 5,000 odd people, I could count on two hands how many others were in this room hearing this absolutely unmissable call to action.
So what precisely is the action? One simple thing we can all do is join the Coalition for the Life Sciences (CLS). I now get alerts every time a major resolution or appropriation bill affecting science funding is under consideration and shoot off a letter to my representatives. The CLS also organizes many other outstanding activities like Capitol Hill Days. Go ahead. Browse around on their site and sign up to be a member. Don’t assume someone else will do it on your behalf or that it’s someone else’s responsibility. It’s YOUR job.