A little while ago I was “tagged” by Orac of Respectful Insolence in the “How to Fix the NIH” meme. The rules to the meme were a bit laborious, and I’m not going to be so mean as to tag more innocent bloggers with the ponderous task of thinking about grants and funding institutions when it isn’t expressly necessary. So, I guess technically I cheating, but oh well.
As how to fix the NIH, well, I really don’t know. I’ve blogged about the NIH before (specifically as to the abysmal funding situation for new scientists) but I think that song and dance has gotten a little tired. And there’s the whole “biting the hand that feeds” thing. So, I decided to talk about Newt Gingrich instead, because he’s got a few ideas of how to fix the NIH. Mostly they revolve around more money (yay!).
In 2003, he founded the Center for Health Transformation (CHT) whose goal is “to attract leaders of the business community to support advocacy efforts on behalf of science and biomedical research.” Last summer, the Society for Neuroscience (which runs the biggest neuroscience conference every year) joined the CHT. In fact, Newt Gingrich is going to be a speaker at the next Society for Neuroscience meeting in the fall of this year.
Gingrich made several observations that will help us in developing these arguments in support of NIH. First, he noted that the Baby Boomer generation needs a major effort to help mitigate the impact of Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and many other devastating disorders. Second, science advocates need concrete action items conveyed with a sense of urgency. Third, greater emphasis should be placed on long-term investment in basic research. Fourth, the pharmaceutical industry would benefit by advancing an agenda that served a broad national goal. Gingrich also noted that during the time he was Speaker, Congress and the president doubled the NIH budget while working to balance the overall federal budget. So the task ahead is far from impossible.
The CHT is currently putting together a report to provide data to back up why the NIH’s budget should be increased during FY2008. One good reason is that the cost biomedical research inflation exceeds 3.5% annually. This means that the same grant is worth less and less every year (in terms of buying power) if its a multi-year grant, and that the budget would really only be staying the same if it was increased at this level.
By the way, the only D I ever got in high school was on a paper on Newt Gingrich. Let’s say I was less than glowing about him (the teacher was a fan). However, his efforts for science advocacy go a long way to improve my opinion of him. Suppose it just goes to show that people can disagree on a great many things but we are all in the same boat as to learning how to treat and cure disease.