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  1. Michael Oberdorfer

    Return to 1984 Censorship?

    The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration is prohibiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from using a list of seven words or terms in any documents being prepared for next year’s budget request. The words/terms include: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based. CDC’s website states: “CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.” Reaction by the public community to the Post story was swift according to the Associated Press, because it could impact on public health research and policy in all fields of biological science and medicine. The reactions of some, like Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley (D), have compared the policy statement to something out of Orwell’s 1984. What do you think?
  2. Tell a good story. It’s a mantra we scientists live by. We all weave narratives into papers and talks, but the stories we tell stem from one common denominator: evidence. In science, we demand data. Consequently, when speaking with nonscientists (especially policymakers), we may be tempted to rattle off hard facts as evidence for what we are trying to say. While we may have an arsenal of statistics showing how our particular research could help prevent or treat disease, save millions in healthcare costs, or stimulate the economy, if we only rely on numbers, most people will get bored. Yet, while anecdotes are by their nature unscientific, they can be more valuable than any statistic for effective science communication, because a good story sticks with people. In March 2017, I attended Capitol Hill Day as an Early Career Policy Ambassador and had the opportunity to share stories with representatives from North Carolina and Virginia to emphasize why funding NIH and NSF is so important. I recounted my interactions with newly diagnosed patients. Many have fearfully asked me what they can do to preserve their memories, but my answer always leaves them unsatisfied: We currently have no treatments to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s. Only increased research (through more funding) may lead to advancements. One member of my Hill Day group shared that her two bright graduate students were considering careers outside of academia because of funding uncertainty. Conversely, another colleague spoke about the revitalization of Kannapolis, a small North Carolina town that was on the brink of economic collapse until an NIH grant-funded research facility opened and brought hundreds of jobs to the area. All of these anecdotes served the same purpose as our statistics — to demonstrate how funding for biomedical research impacts patients, empowers scientists to find treatments and cures for life-altering diseases, and supports the economy. However, our personal stories brought an emotional edge to our advocacy efforts, so when we asked our representatives to take steps to support biomedical research, they were more sympathetic to our asks. Specifically, we requested increases in NIH and NSF funding, for the BRAIN Initiative funds from the 21st Century Cures Act to be released, and for them to show their support through congressional “Dear Colleague” letters and caucus participation. Our stories demonstrated how each of these actions would support patients, economic growth, national security, and technological progress — and we did it all without a single figure or graph. Good stories work. You don’t have to go to Washington, DC to use these advocacy skills and tell your representatives why NIH and NSF funding is so important. Contact your lawmakers through SfN’s Advocacy Network or schedule a meeting with them at their local offices. Practice storytelling during academic and public lectures, keeping your narrative simple and showing how your science can improve the lives of people in your own community. As I learned at Hill Day, first-hand experiences can be more powerful than you might realize. ###Do you have a story to share with policymakers that supports funding for biomedical research? Share it in the comments. Link back to full article
  3. Over the weekend, it appeared that the leadership of the House and the Senate have reached an agreement on a bill to keep the government open for the remainder of FY 2017. The bill includes a two billion dollar increase for the NIH budget, as well as increases in funding for the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration among other measures. The bill has bipartisan support and avoids a costly government shutdown. If you’re interested, the full text can be found here.
  4. The Washington Post reports that President-elect Donald Trump contemplates establishing a commission on vaccine safety, particularly the relationship between vaccines and autism. He recently met with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. a long time proponent of this relationship. The association between childhood vaccination and autism has been debunked in numerous studies including one published in The Journal of Pediatrics. Is this an example of what the scientific community will be facing in the Trump administration?
  5. President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Representative Tom Price (R-GA) an orthopedic surgeon to serve as incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services. Aside from having a major role in health care reform, Price will head the agency which oversees budget and policy for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, among other health agencies. He will have an enormous impact on the future of biomedical research and policy ranging from the Brain Initiative to stem cell research. A news article in Nature analyzes these issues. What are your thoughts?
  6. With different opportunities and environments in academia, industry, and government, how can neuroscientists determine the right career path for them? Understanding what to expect in each field can help you make informed choices that lead to satisfaction and success whether you are just starting out or transitioning later in your career. Join SfN tomorrow at 3pm EST for a webinar titled Making the Switch: Tips for Successfully Transitioning Between Academia, Industry, and Government, in which various speakers will showcase the unique characteristics of each workplace and share advice on what to consider when contemplating a career move based on their own transitions. Right after the panel discussion, a special live chat with the webinar speakers will happen right here in the Neuronline community so they can take your career path questions. Click here to post your questions in advance.This webinar and live chat are open to all SfN members. Not a member? Join or renew your membership today. Link back to webinar
  7. Are you interested in a career in science policy? Whether you are just beginning to explore your options or looking for ways to enhance your resume in anticipation of your job search, here are six tips for preparing for a science policy career. Link back to full article
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