Scientific research is currently facing major hurdles in both general support and monetary funding. At CauseScience, we have posted about the current science funding crisis, the negative impact it is having on science, as well as some potential solutions suggested by experts. We have also posted about opportunities for individual advocacy via a number of terrific research advocacy organizations (!). However, the visibility of research advocacy is too low to effectively sway public opinion or politicians to support broader scientific funding. How can we fix this?
If you are in scientific research, or follow research related news, it is hard to go a day or two without hearing about the current funding crisis. And rightly so! Stagnant funding (graph below) has crippled scientific research, innovation, and the morale of many scientific researchers. Over the last decade, funding has flatlined or decreased. Despite the fact that the US spends more than any other country on biomedical research (as well as on other research and development), the percentage of the federal budget supporting this research has declined. AND other countries, like China, are increasing their support for research and are on course to leave the USA behind (Shout out to the EU’s Horizon 2020).
The decrease in US research funding suggests that research has become less of a national priority over the last few decades. And why would’t it? The majority of the public is not aware of science and research (first graph below), so most politicians don’t have the motive to make science and research a priority. Luckily, increasing numbers of Americans support more federally funded research (second graph below), and the White House BRAIN Initiative indicates that political support of research may be changing.
Making scientific research a national priority will help increase funding for research, but this can only happen if support for science and research is loudly and broadly voiced. Luckily, there are amazing advocacy organizations fighting to increase support for research (see list at bottom of post). These organizations advocate for science and research funding at a national level, but as importantly, they make individual advocacy super easy. With a few clicks on their websites, one can send emails to politicians, sign petitions, and engage in social media campaigns. CauseScience has participated in the Research!America Ask Your Candidates campaign and the new Act 4 NIH campaign. Each took only a few minutes.
While advocacy organizations have put in place a terrific advocacy pipeline, it is unclear how many people are utilizing it. A simple twitter search for the social campaigns (#Act4NIH and #AYCResearch) reveals a relatively limited number of participants. It is awesome that a few minutes of effort, a selfie, and a tweet made CauseScience a featured picture on the Act4NIH website, but it also indicates that the website is not being overwhelmed with supporters, which is what we need.
In an ideal world, all citizens and politicians would be advocates for science, especially for biomedical and health research. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Who would make a good base of research advocates? I think a good start would be a group of people who love and value research… and maybe also the people who depend on science funding for a job (Ahem). If you haven’t caught my drift, I’m talking about graduate students, postdocs, career scientists, technicians, and principle investigators that depend on scientific funding. These researchers know firsthand about the impact and consequences of funding cuts, and also about the amazing possibilities of well-funded science (shout out to the Science Coalition blog, Science 2034).
If scientists aren’t willing to advocate for science and research, how can we expect citizens and politicians to voice support for science research?
I know scientists and researchers are extremely busy. The priorities of scientists should be performing research, mentoring young scientists, and writing papers and grants. AND should also include engaging non-scientists to maintain support for the aforementioned responsibilities. It is in scientists’ best interest to capitalize on work already being done by research advocacy groups to increase the visibility of people supporting scientific research. Simple and quick ways to advocate for research include participating in social media campaigns, signing political petitions, and calling or writing YOUR congressional officials. Media campaigns raise awareness of science funding issues, but more importantly they increase the visibility of people concerned about, and supportive of scientific research.
Perhaps voluntary participation is not enough. Some grants already require outreach and communication activities, perhaps advocacy should be added to this. If NIH, graduate programs, postdoc associations, and institutions and universities consistently required members of the research community to participate in advocacy, it would make a HUGE impact. In New York State alone, there are 31,618 research people supported by NIH!! If even half of these people tweeted or posted on Facebook that they #Act4NIH, or more importantly, emailed their representatives, it would massively increase the visibility of research supporters! On the same note, research institutions and universities should encourage advocacy and provide incentives for researchers who participate in any form of advocacy.
Now is the time for action. Scientists and researchers need to stand up for themselves and their research – and break out of the silos of academia and research institutions to engage the public in science. The visibility of science and research needs to be improved if we want funding to improve. Advocacy groups are doing A LOT, but they need and deserve the participation of the people doing the research they are fighting to support. If scientists increase the visibility and effectiveness of advocacy efforts, the public and politicians will not be able to ignore it.
And maybe people that are unaware of the problem, will learn about it, start to care about it, and join in the cause.
Advocacy Groups and Organizations:
United for Medical Research
AAAS – Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy
AAAS – Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering
Society for Neuroscience
AIBS Public Policy
American Society for Cell Biology
Coalition for the Life Sciences
Union of Concerned Scientists
APS science policy
AGU Science Policy
Stand with Science
Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science
Forum on Science Ethics and Policy