Friday, January 30, 2009

Renewing the Economy Through Research

The Senate debate on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - aka the stimulus package - begins today. The chamber is likely to be very busy voting on a long list of amendments to the bill, including Senator Arlen Specter's proposal to increase NIH funding.

Sen. Specter's amendment would add $6.5 billion to the $3.5 billion for NIH currently included in the bill. Additional funds provided by the amendment would be distributed to the Institutes and Centers proportional to their current funding level. It's important to let your senators know that you support $10 billion for NIH in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Research is an economic driver. The FamiliesUSA report, In Your Own Backyard, showed that every dollar of NIH funding results in more than twice as much state economic output. Each grant also supports about 7 jobs with average annual salaries of $52,000. Investing in the NIH will create and sustain high-paying jobs in every state while improving the lives and health of Americans.

**UPDATE: Senators Tom Harkin and Dick Durbin are co-sponsoring the NIH amendment.

January News Round-Up

Photo credit: Disney's 1992 musical Newsies

It's hard to believe January is already wrapping up, but as we head into February many of the news stories from the past month will be coming with us. Here are our thoughts on the big news stories of the month:

Changes in the Pharmaceutical Industry
There has been some big news coming out of the pharmaceutical industry this month. Layoffs of sales reps and researchers are affecting multiple companies. Also, Pfizer is acquiring Wyeth in a $68 billion dollar merger. As ever-disappearing pipelines for blockbuster drugs disappear, major pharmaceutical companies will have to reorganize their R&D and sales models. Here's hoping that this shake-up will lead to a greater emphasis on personalized medicine and wellness.
- Heather Benson

Stem Cell News
President Obama had the stem cell community, including our friends at the Student Society for Stem Cell Research, tense with anticipation thanks to statements (see question 8) about reversing President Bush’s policy on federal funding for stem cell research with an executive order. On January 19 reported on the possibility that President Obama might prefer legislative action to an executive order on the stem cell issue. The President is quoted as saying,
“… I like the idea of the American people’s representatives expressing their views on an issue like this.”
It is good news, then, that Representative Diana DeGette [D-CO] issued a press release on Wednesday indicating that she will re-introduce legislation overturning limits on federal funding for stem-cell research. A new article in Time magazine illustrates the need for this research and the prominence that this issue has in current events.

You can keep current on the issue by checking out Ben's Stem Cell News, too.
- Hillary Lewis

Global Warming: Less of a Concern?
A Pew poll released last week about issues that President Obama should address shows global warming is less of a concern to Americans than it was a year ago. Andrew Revkin pointed out that the “findings are somewhat at odds with President Obama,” who has pledged to proactively address global warming.

The economy, jobs, and terrorism were the top three issues, not surprising during the current economic crisis.

In other news, Al Gore presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about climate change, and urged them to quickly pass President Obama’s stimulus package, which allocates funding for energy programs that will help the U.S. deal with global warming. Hopefully continued visibility of climate change advocates will keep the issue on the public’s mind, even if it’s not currently their most pressing concern.
-Emily Norton

Oh, and we have a new president.

See you in February!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How To: Do an Informational Interview

Informational interviews are helpful for a variety of reasons:

* Learning about careers away from the bench
* Networking with others in your field
* Developing partnerships for writing papers
* Learning about relevant patient groups associated with your research
* Finding business partners in the community

To start off, be professional! Write a brief letter (or email) to introduce yourself and outline your background. Explain why you would like to talk to the person. Say that you would appreciate 15 or 30 minutes of their time to ask them a few questions. Indicate when you will contact him/her to set up a mutually convenient meeting or phone conversation. Follow up with a phone call and refer to your letter to open the conversation.

Tips for an Effective Informational Interview
  • Self Assessment: think about your interests and what you would like to gain from the informational interview.
  • Research: research the organization and person you will be speaking with. If he/she has written any articles, peruse them to become familiar with their research.
  • Prepare a list of thoughtful questions to use as a guide. It is perfectly acceptable to bring notes.
  • Never ask for a job! Informational interviews are for information gathering, they are not job interviews.
  • Dress professionally: you want to make a positive impression.
  • Remember to send a thank you note!
Potential Outcomes
  • At least one new professional contact (plus they may direct you to a few other people to speak with)
  • Obtain first hand information about your career field and necessary skills
  • Better interviewing skills and confidence speaking with people, especially since informational interviews are generally low stress situations
For an informational interviewing tutorial, visit here. Do you have any additional tips you’d like to share?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

We, the People

Generally, the scientific community has been thrilled with President Obama and his appointments to positions related to science. Many were equally overjoyed at the specific nod to science, technology, and health in his inaugural address.*
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.
Having an administration that respects science and research is certainly a breath of fresh air. However, of all the words in the above passage, the one with the most power is "we". It would be unfair to place the burden of restoring scientific prosperity on the shoulders of a single politician, which is why advocacy is more important than ever.

Science policy - public policy that directly relates to the field of science - will be in many pieces of the 111th Congress' legislation. We must work, as a community, to encourage our elected officials to remember the value of science to our health, our economy, our role in the world, our future.

What will you be doing?

*A couple good discussions on the "rightful place of science" for you to check out include Ed Yong's piece on his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, an essay by David Overbye in the New York Times and the clip below from Monday's The Colbert Report starring The Intersection's Chris Mooney.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

$10 Billion for NIH in Economic Recovery

Take action now to support $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Senator Arlen Specter will introduce an amendment tomorrow when the Appropriations Committee considers the bill. The current version includes $3.5 billion for NIH, and the amendment would add $6.5 billion bringing the total to $10 billion.

Contact your senators immediately and urge them to be a champion for NIH. It is particularly important for you to speak out if your senator is on the Appropriations Committee, listed below.

Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii, Chairman
Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia
Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont
Tom Harkin, Iowa
Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland
Herb Kohl, Wisconsin
Patty Murray, Washington
Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota
Dianne Feinstein, California
Richard Durbin, Illinois
Tim Johnson, South Dakota
Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana
Jack Reed, Rhode Island
Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey
E. Benjamin Nelson, Nebraska
Mark Pryor, Arkansas
Jon Tester, Montana
Thad Cochran, Mississippi, Ranking Member
Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania
Christopher S. Bond, Missouri
Mitch McConnell, Kentucky
Richard C. Shelby, Alabama
Judd Gregg, New Hampshire
Robert F. Bennett, Utah
Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas
Sam Brownback, Kansas
Lamar Alexander, Tennessee
Susan Collins, Maine
George Voinovich, Ohio
Lisa Murkowski, Alaska

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dr. Lei Focuses the Public Eye on DNA

Profile: Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei, PhD
Blog: Eye on DNA at

As we approach an era when genetic testing will be available for an increasing number of conditions, it becomes more and more important that we, the potential patients, know what the strengths, weaknesses, and ethical considerations are before we ask what our DNA can tell us about our future health. And who better to talk to us about those details than an expert in DNA research?

Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei is a PhD-trained epidemiologist and a biotech consultant. Her blog engages readers with thought-provoking commentary on moral and philosophical concerns raised by DNA technology combined with light-hearted and fun posts.

As with most great authors, Dr. Lei blogs about what she knows. Her blog, Eye on DNA, talks about the realm of DNA research, from genetic discoveries to the ethics of testing your children to gauge their potential as star halfback. The combination of experience as a scientists and involvement in the molecular testing market is what makes her blog so great. She offers a scientific perspective on genetic testing developments that is difficult to find in language that anyone can process.

Dr. Lei’s efforts at public education make her an ideal scientist advocate. She embraced social networking and blogging as a tool to make developments in genetic research more approachable for everyone. Dr. Lei says, “Everyone needs to understand how our bodies work and how our genes plus the environment affect us.” Her idea is that more knowledge on the topics of DNA and genetics will help people decide what steps to take to live happier, healthier lives. She also helps scientists like me stay abreast of new research and its application to medicine, for which I thank her profusely.

Dr. Lei’s blogging helps to put one relatively straightforward advocacy activity in perspective. Talk about what you know. Using the communications tools like those we discuss on this blog, you can make your research approachable to any audience. Your expertise and enthusiasm for the topic make this type of advocacy fun for you and your readers!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Research Funding in the Recovery Bill

Push for $17.6 B for Research—$10 B for NIH—in the Recovery Bill Contact Congress Now

Urge your congressional delegation to support $17.6 billion for research to improve health in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Science and health are clearly important to the 111th Congress. Your voice is needed to support their efforts. Senator Arlen Specter is urging the Senate to include $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health over the next two years in the economic recovery legislation. Other priorities for research to improve health include $3 billion for the National Science Foundation, $3.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $1.1 billion for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

President Barack Obama has called for "investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries." Seize this opportunity to advocate for increased funding for research to improve health. Take action now!

Congressional Town Hall Meetings this Week

We recently suggested going to a town hall meeting as a way to stay connected to your community. Here are a few upcoming town hall meetings with your congressional representatives. Head out and meet your elected officials. We look forward to hearing about your experience!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Representative Pete Stark (CA-13)
Union City, California
8:30 a.m. Ruggieri Senior Center
Hayward, California
11 a.m. Hayward City Hall

Senator Ron Wyden
Klamath Falls, Oregon
10:30 a.m. Oregon Institute of Technology

Representative Gene Green (TX-29)
Houston, Texas
9 a.m. Houston Community College Southeast
11 a.m. Houston Community College Northline
1 p.m. Lone Star College, Greenspoint Center

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Representative Tom Petri (WI-6)
Watertown, Wisconsin
10 a.m. Municipal Building
Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
2 p.m. City Hall

Representative Gene Taylor (MS-4)
Laurel, Mississippi
6 p.m. Train Depot

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stay Connected

You'd be hard-pressed to find a good communicator who wasn't aware of current events and mainstream culture. Which means, as we strive to be better science communicators we need to maintain or improve our connections to the world. But, when your job entails reading journal articles, newspapers, books, and basically any other subject relevant piece of literature (using that term lightly here), the last thing you want to do is go home and absorb more information. In my current position there's a lot to take in. There are always articles circulating about health and science, meetings, blog posts, policy discussions, and enough news media to easily paper the walls of my office.

I understand your plight. At the end of the day, it sometimes takes serious effort to get myself to do anything. It's easy to forget about learning anything that isn't related to work. Then I remember: if I want to be able to talk to anyone that works outside of my field, I'm going to have to have a clue about what is going on in the world. By keeping current on issues that are important outside my office, I am able to relate to (and therefore communicate with) people better. This isn't just good advice for scientists, it applies to every driven professional out there. From time to time we've all been guilty of closing ourselves off - but if we make a concerted effort to stay connected it will enhance our lives and our work.

Knowing what is going on internationally, nationally, and locally is beneficial. It gives you an opportunity to find advocacy and communication opportunities, provides material for building examples, and may spark creative ideas for partnerships. If none of that is convincing, just remember that it can help you maintain supremacy at Jeopardy!.

There are many ways quick and easy ways to stay connected to your non-work world:

Read popular fiction.
Peruse the community or local newspaper.
Go to a town hall or school board meeting.
Watch the local and/or national evening news.
Listen to the radio (we love NPR too, but branch out if you can).
Have lunch with someone who works nearby, but not in your field.
Read magazine headlines while waiting in line at the grocery store.
Watch one movie a month that you've never seen before (doesn't have to be in theaters).
Subscribe to the feed of a political cartoonist.

What keeps you connected?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Voices at the Inauguration

This weekend some of your New Voices authors were out experiencing the historic inauguration events in our nation's capitol. You can see some of our individual experiences at Sunday's concert and an inaugural ball in today's other posts. However, we also wanted to share our experiences from the National Mall during the inauguration itself.

Emily Norton's 5 foot 2 inch perspective from 3 blocks in front of the Washington Monument ...

was challenging. It's tough to be short in a crowd! Was it worth waking up at 5am for an hour and 45 minute metro ride (that would take 25 minutes tops on a good day)? Definitely. What struck me the most was the crowd's energy and attitude... I met people from Los Angeles, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Canada! And the one thing we all had in common is a shared hope for a brighter future.

Hillary's perspective from a location allowing occasional glimpses of the top of the Capitol...
Attending both the We Are One concert and the Inauguration was more than I'd bargained for but when tickets to the Standing Room Only area in front of the National Mall became available (the day before inauguration) my misgivings fled. Of course I want to be in those enormous crowds again, clad in many, many layers and jostling my way hither and yon, I told myself.

Well, maybe I was a little crazy- I could definitely see more from my couch (thanks to my roommate for DVRing) than I could from the hill we stood on, but just being there was something pretty special. Seeing the nods of people around me as President Obama gave a stirring speech and recruited us all as agents of change made me glad I joined the fray!

Heather's perspective from behind the really (nice) tall guy near the Capitol Reflecting Pool ...

The most amazing part of the ceremony for me was the music. John Williams' "Air and Simple Gifts" arrangement was breathtaking. My all-time favorite composer does a piece that I've loved since I could first sing (I always knew it as "Lord of the Dance"). It was emotional and moving and the highlight of the inauguration. It was a perfect way to bring in a new era in the American presidency.

We'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments section!

An Inaugural Ball

On Monday evening I attended the South Carolina State Society Inaugural Ball* at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. It was an amazing event. Since the museum is an incredible venue all by itself, the decorations were simple but elegant and truly transformed the museum space into a ballroom. The food was delicious. The open bar gave those in need a little boost of courage to hop out onto the dance floor, where many spent the evening dancing to the tunes of a Top 40’s style (top 40’s of the past couple of decades, really) band from Orangeburg, SC.

The people made the ball a truly magical experience. I attended the ball on my own, so I was planning on taking my time to wander around and hopefully run into some familiar faces. I hadn’t even dropped my coat off at the coat check before I found some friends from the University of South Carolina DC Alumni group.

From old volleyball friends to those who had lived in my residence hall, I saw my share of former classmates and USC alumni. Even complete strangers whom I shared a table with to eat a snack (milk chocolate covered strawberries) or sat on a bench with to give my feet a rest** were incredibly friendly. The atmosphere of togetherness was wonderful. Conversation easily flowed as we discovered how others were connected to South Carolina - the common thread that tied young and old together.

I’m sorry I don’t have pictures to share yet (I used a disposable camera), but I’ll post some of the lighting design, decorations and crowd as soon as I have them. If you’re ever in town for an inauguration, definitely check out your state’s society and see if you can attend their ball. It’s an experience of a lifetime.

*Unlike the official inaugural balls, the president was not in attendance. This meant that we didn’t have to deal with the increased security or huge crowds typical of the official balls.

**All it took was a little handshake to get me talking about health with one incredible geriatric nurse.

[Together] We Are One

This past Sunday, I trekked to the Lincoln Memorial for the We Are One tribute concert for then President-Elect Barack Obama. Despite the chilly weather and standing in security lines for nearly an hour, the crowd was lively and cheerful, and in some sense, at peace. Strangers stood next to each other in shared anticipation, eager for the concert and thinking about the upcoming Inauguration on Tuesday.

When the Obama family walked down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the crowd went wild, ecstatic that their newly elected leader wanted to join them in the moment. Celebrity presenters, including Tiger Woods, Ashley Judd, Queen Latifah and Jack Black, introduced the artists after presenting tidbits of history about previous inaugural celebrations. Martin Luther King III spoke in commemoration of his father, whose birthday was being celebrated the following day, and said that Martin Luther King Jr. day should be a day of service to others. Jamie Foxx injected humor to the event by briefly impersonating Obama. Garth Brooks got the whole audience singing “American Pie” and jumping up and down to “Shout.”

Obama gave a brief, powerful speech. He acknowledged the crowd, saying,
“You proved once more that people who love this country can change it. And as I prepare to assume the presidency, yours are the voices I will take with me every day when I walk into that Oval Office -- the voices of men and women who have different stories but hold common hopes; who ask only for what was promised us as Americans -- that we might make of our lives what we will and see our children climb higher than we did.”
And for those two hours, as I stood with hundreds of thousands of strangers on the National Mall… we were one.

We Are One Inaugural Kick Off

The 2009 Inaugural celebrations were off to a great start with the Kick Off Concert on Sunday, January 18, 2009. President Obama's goal to make his administration open and accessible to all Americans was mirrored in the free concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

The crowd stretched between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. My friend and I arrived around 12pm, which was nearly two and a half hours early. There was definitely a chill in the air but the atmosphere of excitement was palpable through the cold.

An estimated 400,000 attendees heard historical commentary from superstars like Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, and Denzel Washington. Abraham Lincoln was the focus of many of the speakers- parallels between Lincoln's efforts to bring together an America divided by ideology and President Obama's historical nomination and election were clear.

Entertainers kept heads bobbing and bodies swaying between speakers. U2, Garth Brooks, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock and Usher were just a few of the big names that welcomed us to the Inaugural festivities. There are more photos below!

Bono and U2 rocked the crowd!

Vice President Biden's rousing speech urged Americans to work together to overcome the obstacles facing us today.

Garth Brooks' "Shout" got the crowd fired up!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

It's Inauguration Day. Since we're based just outside of DC (on the Virginia side, where all the bridges have been closed for security), doing anything slightly resembling transporting oneself to work is NOT likely to be happening today.

We'll be back tomorrow with more on science communication and advocacy and maybe some fun details from the inaugural events.

We congratulate Barack Obama on this auspicious occasion and look forward to working with him to improve funding and support for research for the next four years.

For information on the 56th presidential inauguration, check here.
For some interesting (and random) facts about past presidential inaugurations, check here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

New Voices is off today in honor of a man who helped bring our country together and tomorrow for a man who seeks to do the same.

In memory of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., here are two less familiar excerpts from his speeches.

From his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
I still believe that we shall overcome.

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born...

Most of these people will never make the headlines and their names will not appear in Who's Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvelous age in which we live -- men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization -- because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness' sake.
From the "I Have a Dream" speech:
We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Economic Stimulus: Where Does Research Fit In?

A draft of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009 was released on Thursday by the House Appropriations Committee. The short term goal of the bill is to create and save 3 to 4 million jobs this year. The long term goal is to build a more sustainable economy, one that will enable a promising and affordable future for everyone.

So what does this mean for science and research? According to the Executive Summary, $10 billion will be allotted for science facilities, research, and instrumentation. Additionally, $141.6 billion will be allotted to strengthening education, which will provide better facilities and programs to teach future scientists!

The Executive Summary provides a great breakdown of allocations within the Scientific Research category. To briefly mention a few….
• National Science Foundation: $3 billion
• National Institutes of Health Biomedical Research: $2 billion
• University Research Facilities (via NIH): $1.5 billion
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: $462 million

Keep in mind that the bill may go through many changes, but the initial outlook for increased science funding is promising! Also, much of the community is talking about proposals of even stronger funding support in the Senate bill - $10 billion for NIH alone. That kind of funding would simultaneously stimulate the economy and make-up for years of flat funding.

Tell your elected officials how important it is to invest in research today.

For more on the stimulus package, refer to these articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Recession Research Funding

Back before we were even calling the current economic climate a recession, Michael Roberto at Harvard Business Publishing proposed four ways that companies could create growth despite a recession. Now, think of the United States as a very (very) big business, with basically unlimited resources for investment (as per the bailouts, recovery, and stimulus packages) and reasonable expectations for return-on-investment to quell fears about incurring - albeit tremendous - debt. Roberto's four steps are exactly what the country and science/research need right now.

Invest heavily in research and development. It is an immediate solution that will have both short term economic ramifications and long term treatment results. (More on this.) Innovation drives the economy, and without investment in basic research, innovation is stifled.

Spend some time learning about the customers of your weakest competitors.
As the biggest funder of basic researchers in the U.S., the government doesn't have much to worry about in terms of domestic competition. However, there are many scientists in this country who are struggling to get by with inadequate funding, working on projects that could benefit both American citizens and the economy if it was better supported. Now is the time to find these gems.

Identify your most critical suppliers and distributors. Much of the foreign technology coming into this country is from places that are being equally effected by the global economic downturn. By using this opportunity to forge symbiotic partnerships, the U.S. could help advance science and improve diplomatic relationships simultaneously.

Think carefully about your talent needs. There are massive layoffs happening everywhere, early-career researchers are unsure of their futures, and yet there are plenty of fields (like health care) where we are in desperate need of more workers. By investing in education for the career fields of tomorrow, we can better prepare the workforce for the steep climb out of the recession.

And if you don't believe me or Harvard, take it from one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time: invest through the recession. It's worked before, and it will work again.

Just a little food for thought.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


In honor of the 56th presidential inauguration, some bars in DC have been granted permission to stay open for extended hours beginning Saturday, January 17th and running through the morning after President-elect Obama's inauguration (5 a.m. on Wednesday, January 21st). This couldn't be a more entertaining week (historically) for that to happen.

First, because 90 years ago Friday, the 18th Amendment was ratified and officially enacted a year later (1920). It was subsequently overturned December 5, 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment (do you think there is something odd connecting the numbers 18 and 21 with alcohol consumption?), but not before providing Rolla Neil Harger the incentive to create the forerunner to a fairly common device - the breathalyzer.

Dr. Harger was born on this day, January 14, in 1890. A toxicologist and biochemist at Indiana University, he created the first apparatus (1931) to test the content of alcohol in a person's bloodstream. Breath blown into a balloon was released into a container with crystals in it. The acetic acid (or vinegar) in the breath would change the color of the crystals. The more colored crystals, the more alcohol in the blood stream. He called his invention the Drunkometer.

In 1938, Dr. Harger took his expertise and became an advocate against drunk driving by sitting on the National Safety Council subcommittee that helped decide on a legal limit for intoxication. That limit was incorporated into drunk driving legislation across the country.

Dr. Harger's research was able to inform policy - mostly because alcohol consumption was a highly political issue. But more importantly, Harger invested his time to continue informing policy decisions in addition to his responsibilities at Indiana University. Harger passed away August 10, 1983.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Champions Support NIH Funding in Economic Stimulus

Representatives Susan Davis (CA) and Brian Bilbray (CA) are inviting their colleagues in the House of Representatives to join them on a letter to President-elect Obama and congressional leaders in support of significant new funding for NIH in the economic stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009). Contact your Representative immediately and urge them to sign the letter. The deadline for members of Congress to sign the letter is January 14, at 2 p.m. (EST).

The text of the letter is below. Take action now!

Dear Mr. President-elect,

We look forward to working closely with you to address the economic downturn in the United States and the effort to create millions of new jobs while investing in our infrastructure. We recognize the challenges we as a nation face and appreciate the monumental nature of the task you are undertaking to achieve economic recovery. We also believe that a crucial component of future investment, job creation, and improvements in human health in the United States is biomedical research funding through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

As you are aware, investment in the NIH has led to numerous medical discoveries improving the health of Americans and saving lives. Funding to the NIH goes to prevent diseases as well as treat common and rare illnesses. Those with chronic conditions lead more productive and better lives as a result of the research supported by NIH.

In addition to its contributions to human health, NIH supports discoveries that enable critical advances in green energy, environmental protection, agriculture, homeland security and even law enforcement. Biofuels are enabled by the biological understanding that resulted from NIH funding. DNA forensic testing at crime scenes results from our understanding of genomics and the Human Genome Project.

NIH funding also directly supports quality employment for Americans, making it an excellent choice for the stimulus package. In fact, each grant approved by NIH goes to create or sustain seven jobs with salaries above $50,000, according to estimates. We will need to produce high-paying and high-skilled jobs to achieve long-term economic recovery.

A recent study by FamiliesUSA also found the great economic benefits to biomedical research. NIH's spending of $22.8 billion in 2007 generated more than $50 billion in related economic activity, which created or supported more than 350,000 jobs nationwide. These jobs generated more than $18 billion in wages in all 50 states.

Lawrence Summers, the incoming director of the National Economic Council, wrote in the Financial Times last year, "Over the long run, few issues are as important to a nation's long-term economic security and global standing as being a leader in moving life sciences forward."

We believe the economic stimulus package under discussion gives us a historic opportunity to support biomedical research through the NIH. This funding will create and sustain high-paying jobs while improving the health and lives of Americans. We urge you to consider significant new funding in the stimulus package. Thank you very much for your time and attention to this important matter.

Monday, January 12, 2009

There is No General Audience

This is the second section of Part 1 of 6 in the Research Roadmap for Public Communication of Science & Technology Series

Last week we talked about how there was no general audience for science communication. In fact, I would argue that there really is no general audience for any type of communication. The keyword in that sentence being general. So although we may never be able to just put an ad on TV for science and have America fall in love with our beloved -ologies too, we can certainly talk to people about science.

There are PLENTY of audiences for science communication, if you don't shoot for the whole country en masse at the same time. Because as Hillary commented, "Many Americans are curious about and interested in lots of things that they do not know much about." So how do you get your information to the most people in the shortest amount of time? Strategize.

1. What is it that you want to tell everyone? (keep it simple folks)
2. Why is it important that they know? (general knowledge doesn't count)
3. Would certain people be more effected than others? (target audience!)
4. Can it be explained in a simple sentence or paragraph? (the answer should always be yes)
5. Is there some sub-population that might be more likely to spread this information? (these people will do some of your communicating work for you)

In just a few simple questions, we've found at least two audiences for your message. Now let's try an example and break down the possible audiences.

(1) Say that the message you want to send is that recycling is good for both human and planetary health. (2) It's important that people know because it could alter their health and the health of the planet itself. In answering the first two questions we've discovered that we have at least two targetable audiences: people interested in their health and people interested in the health of the planet.

(3) People who live near trash dumps and oceans (often used for dumping) will be most effected in the short term and young people will feel the effects the most in the long term. Two more specific audiences.

(4) Even if you can get the audience's attention, if what you're telling them isn't clear and concise, you've lost them again. Also, what is simple and easy to understand for some people isn't easy for others. Tailor your message to the specific audience you're talking to.

(5) If you can get even a small group of people interested enough in your message, they'll share it with others. In communication and marketing circles, these people are called opinion/thought leaders, influentials, or network hubs. In the case of anything science, a good group of opinion leaders to consider would be science bloggers or deans of research who might spread the information within their networks of influence.
In our example, we've already found a number of small audiences that would likely be interested in our message:

* People interested in health
* People who want to save the planet
* People who live near dumping sites (including beaches)
* Young people

From those populations, we can also see a number of other audience groups that make sense:

* Parents & teachers (for the young people)
* Tourists (for nature and the beaches)
* Local community leaders (for their citizens)
* Business owners in coastal communities (for their own well-being)

When you add up the eight different bulleted groups of individuals above, you're hitting a pretty big segment of the population. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. If and when you have something that is really important enough to tell everyone, it will be easy enough to split "everyone" into smaller, much more manageable groups.

So, no, there is no general audience for science communication. But there are audiences. Lots of them. It is going to take a bit more time to get to them in small groups than it would if everyone fit together. But instead of your really exciting science falling on uninterested (and therefore ostensibly deaf) ears, you'll reach the most important audiences - first. Once you've reached them, you can always work on reaching the other people that you'd like to know.

Friday, January 9, 2009

There's No Audience!

Part 1 of 6 in the Research Roadmap for Public Communication of Science & Technology Series

The first of Borchelt's finding from the Roadmap, is that there is no general audience for science communication. To explain why this is an important, we first need to explore the concept of an "audience" for communication.

There is a strategy to communication of any kind. It's simple and employed by just about everyone, everyday.

Take this simple piece of communication heard in kitchens/labs across America:
Could you please do the dishes?
What do we know from this sentence?
  1. The dishes are not done.
  2. The dishes need to be done, and
  3. preferably not by the person making the statement.
Pretty successful communication, but it isn't great because fact #3 is a little vague. In a crowded kitchen, many people could hear the request and an hour later, there might still be a pile of dishes to be done. For better results, the phrase can be clarified.
Could you please do the dishes, sugar-dumpling?
Hey you, could you please do the dishes?
The difference between these statements and the previous is simply that an audience has been clearly identified. Now assume that "sugar-dumpling" and "you" are the same person. Which of the questions is more likely to get the dishes done?

Identifying an audience and tailoring your message to that audience is critical to successful communication. It seems like a no-brainer, but surprisingly often, who a message is intended for is considered secondary to the message. Communicators forget that the purpose of communication is to get their message to someone else. Interestingly, it isn't always their fault.

In the case of science, there is no general audience. Politicians talk to their constituents. Doctors talk to their patients. Talk show hosts talk to their viewers (who are measured by Nielsen and other indicators). But who is the audience for general scientific knowledge? How do you segment the public to relay a message that is "important to everyone", and yet probably not on the forefront of any of their minds?

Without a clear audience for their messages, science communicators can have a hard time tailoring their messages. So to go back to our earlier example, we've got a lot of dishes piling up and people begging for them to get done, but no one knows they're being asked to do them.

I'm not saying some of it isn't selective hearing loss (as my mother likes to call it), but that's a topic for another day. Today, we're stuck with really cool and exciting information, we know we need to tailor the message to a specific group of people so they'll get the news, but we have no idea who those people are and no clue how best to reach them.

There's no general audience for our science communication. So what is a science communicator to do?

Let's hear your ideas in the comments section and we'll give you the New Voices best practices suggestion in the next installment.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

More than Football Schools

In honor of tonight's college football national championship match-up, we're profiling medical researchers from the two universities vying for the title.

University of Oklahoma (#1)
Linda Wallace, PhD
Professor of Botany

Biofuels are a promising alternative to oil, but questions about the economic and environmental sustainability of a biofuel industry hinder widespread use of alternative fuel sources. Corn, the current option for ethanol production, is acknowledged as a sub-optimal choice.

In 2007 Dr. Linda Wallace garnered the support of the Ecological Society for a gathering of international experts in a symposium to develop a science-based, ecologically and economically sustainable policy for biofuel production.

The researchers want to make sure that any biofuel industry subsidies are based on research demonstrating the environmental stability of the source organisms, to avoid governmental support for a biofuel "solution" that ends up being harmful to the ecosystem. A botanist, Dr. Wallace and her colleagues suggest that a combination of native grasses offers a sustainable alternative to corn-based ethanol. Further research into the topic is being carried out at the University of Oklahoma and other institutions.

University of Florida (#2)
Lynn Bailey, PhD
Professor of Human Nutrition
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Getting just 400 micrograms of folic acid (from vitamin B9) a day can help prevent neural birth defects for pregnant women. And Dr. Lynn Bailey would know, since she's spent the past two decades researching the amount of folic acid to maintain maternal health. Working with the National Academy of Sciences she helped write new dietary intake recommendations.

Her advocacy extends to serving as a science advisor to the NIH, CDC, FDA, Dept. of Agriculture, and the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Bailey has been on the faculty at UF for over 30 years, teaching human nutrition and setting a strong example for Florida's future science advocates.

So if you're not sure who to cheer for tonight when the Sooners take on the Gators, check out the research going on at their respective universities. If you haven't picked a favorite yet, no reason not to use this as a deciding factor.

Also, if you're interested in medical research and football, check out Myron Rolle who in addition to being one heck of a football player, will be graduating with a pre-med degree from Florida State University in just 2.5 years with a 3.75 GPA. He was recently awarded the Rhodes Scholarship and will likely be heading to Oxford next year to study medical anthropology. He hopes to go to medical school and then open a clinic. An advocate in the making.

co-authored by: H Lewis

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Research Roadmap for Public Communication of Science & Technology

In 1998, the Space Sciences Labratory at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center put together a blue ribbon panel of science communicators, communication researchers, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and scientists to look at how NASA's research was being communicated to the public. From this panel came the Research Roadmap for Public Communication of Science and Technology in the Twenty-first Century.

There were six key findings (Borchelt, 2001):

  1. There is no general audience for science communication.

  2. There is a difference between understanding and appreciation of science.

  3. Science communication should meet the needs and desires of the audience.

  4. Involving scientists and engineers in the communication process is critical.

  5. Public information officers should foster respect between scientists and the public.

  6. Media fragmentation will impact communication practices.

Over the next couple of weeks we'll explore each of these topics (which each merit multiple posts) and how we can use this information to be better science communicators and advocates. Any first thoughts?

Borchelt, R.E. (2001). Communicating the Future. Science Communication, 23, 2, 194-211. (subscription required for full text)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Put Research on the 111th Congress' Agenda

A new Congress means new opportunities to advocate for research. Today is the first day of the 111th Congress and it's already shaping up to be a busy legislative year. It will be essential for science and research advocates to speak out in support of increased funding and other issues such as stem cells. We will make it easy to contact your representative and senators when action is needed by posting advocacy opportunities.
Email your representative and senators today to let them know that science and research must be a priority this session.

The new Congress will get right to work on the economic recovery package. Urge your representative and senators to support $11.1 billion for research in the legislation. Research!America recommended the following levels to the Obama-Biden Transition Team and congressional leaders:

• NIH – $8.6 billion (FY08 budget = $29.2 billion)
• NSF – $1.4 billion (FY08 budget = $6.1 billon)
• CDC – $1.0 billion (FY08 budget = $6.4 billion)
• AHRQ – $97 million (FY08 budget = $335 million)

An infusion of $11.1 billion for NIH, NSF, CDC and AHRQ in the economic recovery legislation will produce immediate and long term dividends that protect good jobs, stimulate local economies across the nation, provide data to help make health care reform evidence-based and expand the research that is the foundation for innovation and global competitiveness. Take action now!

Monday, January 5, 2009

How To: Give a Tour of Your Lab

So, you have a 6-color FACS machine, an industrial-size centrifuge, and three hundred cages of morbidly obese mice. What fun are all these fancy tools (and freaky animals) if you can’t show them off once in a while? Actual science, you say?! Perhaps. But, for the politically-oriented, you may want to take one day off to display your whirligig tools and experiments in all their glory.
Giving tours of your research lab to politicians and other stakeholders can bolster popular enthusiasm for your line of work, improve understanding of the societal impact, and convince others to keep the money flowing.

I guess this would fall under the “improving public understanding of science” category, which some science communicators bemoan as outdated. While “deficits in public knowledge” may not in fact be “the central culprit driving societal conflict over science,” I think Sarah Palin’s comments on fruit fly research shows that the understanding of science on the part of policy makers does matter a great deal. So, here’s how to get started:

  • Decide who to invite

  • Plan your message

  • Show off your stuff!

  • Follow up

1. Decide who to invite, and when: In the world of politics, timing is everything. Is there an upcoming vote on legislation affecting science and research? Note: it’s true that science is often unpredictable, and sometimes you can’t plan for crises that must be dealt with. It may be hard, but try not to hold a tour on the same day that (to choose some completely random examples) you hear chirping noises coming from the hallway because your experimental chick embryos accidentally hatched; a grad student just realized he left the key samples for his thesis out of the fridge overnight; or you experience a massive chemical spill.

Also think about whether you want to target local, state or federal, politicians. When I worked in a research lab at MGH in Boston, our PI (that’s principle investigator, for all you lay-people) gave a tour to Gov. Patrick’s posse in coordination with the introduction of a new Life Sciences Initiative which he hoped to get passed in the state legislature. The tour barely skimmed the surface of ongoing experiments, but it gave staffers a chance to see first hand the top-notch, cutting edge science they fund.

2. Plan your message: Know your audience, and know what they’re interested in. You can have your oo’s and ahh’s making fluorescent colored flames or creating frothing dry-ice buckets, but in the end your visitors should have a clear understanding of what you do, how it benefits society, and what you need from them.

3. Show off your work: But make sure to spend enough time explaining. Your visitors must feel comfortable asking questions of you and your colleagues. You won’t be able to teach them all of modern biology in an afternoon, but if they leave feeling completely baffled, then your time was spent in vain. You should also think ahead of time about the message you want your visitors to take away—namely, how your work relates to greater society.

4. Follow up: Always send a thank you note to your visitor for taking time to learn about what you do. In a follow up email or phone call you can also provide resources for further information, or initiate an ongoing conversation about relevant policy.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Welcome to 2009! We're off for the holiday until Monday here at New Voices. We hope you and yours had a safe and exciting beginning to the new year.

We're looking forward to the next 365 days of science communication and advocacy and resolve to make our first full year in the blogosphere informational, educational, interesting, and accessible to everyone who is passionate about science!

New Year's Day tip: According to researchers at Stanford, your leftover champagne will stay better if just leave it open in the fridge rather than attempting to re-cork it.