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NIH

Published On June 13, 2017

POLICY

Marching for Science

Peter L. Slavin discusses why funding research is key to America's future.

On April 22, hundreds of thousands of people across 300 U.S. cities joined the March for Science, among them more than 400 Massachusetts General Hospital employees. The movement was unified by an idea that guides academic medicine: The expansion of our understanding of humans, and improving their lives and the world they inhabit, requires an investment in research.

The marchers protested, among other concerns, proposed drastic cuts in research funding to the National Institutes of Health and other federal organizations. Such cuts could yield immediate profound effects, as this issue of Proto relates. “Aftermath” demonstrates how federal research funds are critical in planning the medical response to the next mass casualty disaster. On a more positive note, “The Blind Can See” explores what can happen when research funds are judiciously applied to supporting biomedical science: Medical miracles, such as giving sight to the blind, can occur in our lifetime.

The impact of cuts could extend well into the future. “A Lost Generation” describes a bleak picture for scientists starting out in their careers, with only 3% of NIH grants awarded to those under the age of 36. Unless our nation supports bright young minds, there will be fewer of them to carry the torch into the 21st century. Moreover, federal funds have been supporting the development of technologies and approaches that are helping to reduce health care costs, which as we well know present an increasing area of concern.

Support for science is a plug we cannot afford to pull. Science is the scaffolding, the power, the engine that drives society forward. Yet crucial to the practice of science is patience. Scientists are following hunches that might require 5, 10, 20 years before they affect the lives of patients. We must make sure that our hospitals, our nation and our society have the resources to allow such ideas to make their way along the long, often circuitous paths that lead to answers, to treatments, to cures.

As the great American wit Will Rogers once put it: “You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”