Tag: NIH

An open letter to John Culberson

My inner libertarian takes a backseat to my outer scientist. If anyone is willing to propose a model of funding research that doesn’t require the federal government that is feasible, I’m all ears. Until then, I can justify my egregious begging thus: I am currently working on a computer that was built in 1998, for crying out loud. We’re almost to the point where we’re recycling ethanol at the lab! This is money better spent on research rather than bank bailouts. The first paragraph is mine, the rest is for members of the Society for Neuroscience.

Mr Culberson,

I know that after years of irresponsible spending at the federal level, it is tempting to tighten the belt on things like the NIH budget. Please consider that the NIH budget has remained flat for the last 6 years. As a republican, I remember the initiative taken by the GOP in 1998 under Newt Gingrich to double NIH funding. This spending is not a “bridge to nowhere” such as the one in Alaska, as it provides tangible benefits and a profitable ROI for our nation and the world. Also, and perhaps more germane, it benefits the Baylor College of Medicine where I and many of my colleagues are employed. The medical center is the largest source of employment for the city of Houston, a fact you should consider when reading this letter and voting on NIH funding.

As a constituent and a member of the Society for Neuroscience, I urge you to sign a letter being circulated by Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA), David Reichert (R-WA), and others, to Appropriations Chair David Obey (D-WI) and Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-CA) that requests an increase for the NIH of $1.9 billion or 6.5 percent in FY2009. NIH is the world’s leading medical research enterprise, and without strong Congressional support it will not be able to sustain the pace of recent discoveries that are saving lives, improving health and promoting economic development in your district and across the nation.

With over 38,000 members, SfN is the world’s largest organization of basic scientists and physicians who study the brain and nervous system. Neuroscience includes the study of brain development, sensation and perception, learning and memory, movement, sleep, stress, aging, and neurological and psychiatric disorders. It also includes study of the molecules, cells, and genes responsible for nervous system functioning.

I urge you to help ensure that NIH has sufficient funding to help solve the many public health challenges in our nation by signing this letter. To sign on, please contact Josh Lumbley in Rep. Markey’s office at <joshua.lumbley@mail.house.gov> or (202) 225-2836, or Jason Edgar in Rep. Reichert’s office <jason.edgar@mail.house.gov> or (202) 225-7761.

Thank you in advance for your support.

The ABC’s of fear

George W Bush has made it clear that during his administration science should be producing tangible benefits for society. In simple terms, the culture has had to shift from a very basic science oriented approach inherited from the freewheeling 90′s to an applied focus now. Often what that means is that the same scientists who were on top of basic research for so many years have to give lip service to clinical studies and trials.

A good example came out right before halloween. Here is a hodge podge of quotes from neuroscientists who study fear in the brain.

The first comes from Stephen Maren of Michigan, who is a reputable and good scientist.

“We’re making a lot of progress,” said University of Michigan psychology professor Stephen Maren. “We’re taking all of what we learned from the basic studies of animals and bringing that into the clinical practices that help people. Things are starting to come together in a very important way.”

The translation is: “Please don’t cut my funding. Look this is all going to pan out clinically in a couple of years, we promise!”

That being said, some progress is being made in this field…so, uh, don’t cut NIH funding!

Sarkozy, overtime, and science

In France, if you work longer than 35 hrs. a week you get paid overtime, and your employer pays the government a tax. The idea is that employers have economic incentives to hire more people rather than pay good workers to work longer hourse. Scottie’s Mom expounds upon this idea:

I think it’s a good idea for those who prefer to work more than 35 hours per week that they won’t have to pay a higher tax rate on overtime. Already middle-managers and top managers work “beaucoup de plus”, don’t get paid extra for it, and it seems that the workers at the bottom of the pile get all of the social benefits…35 hour work-weeks, overtime pay, etc., etc. What’s really strange, even those who own their own masonry, electric, plumbing enterprises have adopted the 35-hour work week for themselves; many times they are the sole employee with the exception that they sometimes hire part-time people.

Interesting how tax policy can shift cultural attitudes.

Sarkozy wants to reduce or eliminate the overtime tax. One of my French colleagues, who is working in America as a neuroscientist, voted for Segolene both times and thinks Sarkozy will be a disaster. He specifically cited the reduction or elimination of the overtime tax as a big mistake. I find the overtime tax quite shocking and would love to see it repealed.

The way that EU countries and America fund science is also very different. In France, large institutes receive a lot of money and everyone else gets very little. It reminds me of the Charity Hospital system in New Orleans. From Science magazine:

But the candidates’ opinions diverged on how to address the malaise in French research and the long-running problems at the country’s universities. Science and higher education don’t mix well in France, because most research takes place at mammoth government institutions such as the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) rather than at the universities. A highly centralized administration system means universities are relatively powerless to set their own agendas; they also suffer from the fact that the smartest young minds typically attend the so-called grands ├ęcoles, which train France’s professional and political elite but carry out little research.

Sarkozy has also suggested turning the big research bodies such as CNRS into U.S.-style granting agencies that would reward proposals rather than employ scientists–a controversial shift in a country where science usually means a government job for life. To carry out those promises, Sarkozy’s UMP will have to retain its majority in the National Assembly during elections next month; polls suggest it will.

America’s granting agencies, mainly bodies of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, reward grant proposals in a psuedocompetitive processes between professors/MDs applying from universities throughout the nation. There is a long list of European scientists who flock to America in part because of better pay, but in large part because of the un-meritocratic exclusion they faced because the few “Herr Professors” get almost all the funding. I don’t know if the Sark can change that for France, but for many of my European colleagues the changes come too late, they are doomed to do research in the land of the free. Yee-haw! USA!USA!