Friday, September 2, 2011

The End of the Road

When New Voices for Research began back in 2008, the idea was to create an online community for early career researchers and science enthusiasts who were interested in becoming advocates for scientific research. We wanted to empower people to communicate effectively about science, to engage the public and policymakers in their passion. Thanks to all of you, it’s been a great run. I want to thank everyone who has participated in New Voices over the years. This includes the many bloggers who have made this a rich and rewarding resource. I also want to express gratitude to all of the scientists, policy experts and advocates we profiled on these pages. Finally, I want to thank our readers! Your comments and insights made this experience exciting and showed us that people who care about science are interested in becoming better advocates.

Research!America has decided that while New Voices has developed into a wonderful community, it’s time to consolidate our advocacy efforts. You’ll still be able to find our archived blog posts right here, but I would like to direct all of you to the Research!America blog and Facebook page where you can stay up to date on all of our latest advocacy and outreach programs. You should also sign up for our advocacy network where we keep people informed about the latest news in science and research policy and provide them with tools they need to get involved.

If you have any questions, please contact Max Bronstein, Manager of Science Policy at Research!America (

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Pen is as Mighty as the Pipette

Although it seems like only yesterday that I was starting my internship here at Research!America, it’s actually been almost three months! I guess time flies when you are having fun and learning a lot. I was looking through the archives to see what past interns said in their farewell posts and I realized that I’m in a unique situation. This week, the New Voices blog is signing off for the last time. So as I reflect on my experiences, I’m also closing a chapter for this great community.

I’ve been working in research labs for a long time now and I figured that coming to Research!America as a science policy intern would be a pretty big adjustment. There are the obvious differences, working at a desk instead of a bench, being told you have to leave at a certain time and wearing clothes that don’t double as pajamas. But what really struck me were the similarities. It turns out advocacy is a lot like lab work. Allow me to explain.

First, you ask a question. How can we protect the research enterprise in the U.S.? You read the available literature, learn about the budget and legislative processes and gain an understanding of how research support has been secured in the past. You look at what has worked and what has failed and you form a hypothesis. You guess at what you think will be successful based on what you know.

So you’ve made a guess at the answer to your question- how do you test it? Any scientist can tell you that you design an experiment, in this case a new approach to advocacy, a way to protect the research enterprise. Maybe you think the answer is a fact sheet or an op-ed. Maybe it’s training scientists to be better advocates for research or meeting with members of congress to convince them to maintain robust, continuous support of scientific endeavors.

Whatever your proposed solution, just like in lab work, implementation is the hardest part. That’s where having the opportunity to work at Research!America has been so great. People here really care about research and they’ve spent many years proposing new advocacy approaches and implementing them. It’s a grind, with lots of ups and downs-does this sound familiar to any of you?

This brings me to the most important similarity between scientific research and advocacy. Both require a lot of dedicated people working towards a goal. Big breakthroughs don’t happen all of a sudden, they happen through incremental advances made by many individuals and organizations. This is why each of you in the New Voices community is so important to this process. Even though our blog is ending, I hope that you will continue to work with Research!America to make sure that research remains a top national priority.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Research!America and Me

Two months ago, I began a great, new adventure into the world of science policy and advocacy at Research!America. As I had come from the medical research scene at the National Institutes of Health, I figured I would be in for quite a change, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Right away, there were meetings with political figures like Representative DeLauro and the Surgeon General, discussions of currently controversial topics like stem cell research and the federal budget, and advocacy work that ranged from creating state fact sheets to expanding our grassroots advocate network. In contrast to culturing cells, pipetting solutions, reading science articles and communicating results with other scientists, science policy is much more political and far less technical. How have I coped with such changes?

I quickly found that certain skills I acquired in the lab did come in handy. Personal communication is most important. In research, I communicated with my lab mates and other collaborating researchers in person or by e-mail all of the time. In policy, I had to communicate with my co-workers and our advocates in the same formats, but the language used was very different. Science is filled with technical jargon that can quickly confuse a non-scientist, so I had to search for more appropriate ways to get my points across. Instead of saying something like “genetic manipulation,” I might say “making changes to DNA.” It was tricky at first, but I learned that it makes discussions with those not having a science background so much easier.

Another useful skill is writing. Again, much of my writing in research was geared towards a scientific audience. Writing for research advocacy involves reducing science into its practical meaning for the given audience. If I were speaking to scientists, I would discuss my research data very technically, but if I were speaking to economists, for instance, I might focus on how finding new drugs can help companies generate profits and create more jobs. At Research!America, we write advocacy messages of many forms to show politicians and the public how federally funded medical research is important for creating new drugs, surgical devices and procedures and jumpstarting the nation’s economy.

Last of all, I want to mention that negotiation is undeniably important. In life, people negotiate all the time whether it’s where to go for lunch or how much to pay for something. In politics, everything is negotiating, but not everyone is skilled at it. In research, I might have negotiated whether I should or shouldn’t do certain experiments. In advocacy, I am always negotiating for support whether it is from people in the office or new advocates in Congress and the public. Getting others to donate time for a good cause is not as easy as I once thought. It takes some careful negotiating by telling people what they could gain with their efforts. In this case, more research support from the federal government is the prize.

Overall, I have had a tremendous experience at Research!America. The people I’ve met are very helpful and wonderful at what they do, and the personal skills I’ve developed will be very useful in the future. I would like to offer my deepest thanks to our Science Policy and Advocacy team of Mary Woolley, Ellie Dehoney, Max Bronstein, Bill Leinweber, Vidusha Devasthali, Michelle Hernandez and our former colleague, Heather Benson as well as everyone else within Research!America. Without all of you, this experience would not have been as great!

The New Voices blog will be ending this week. The blog archive will continue to be available online, but we will not be adding new content. Thank you all for your interest and support over the years. On Friday, we’ll be posting information on how to remain engaged with Research!America and our advocacy efforts.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuneage Tuesday

All you Harry Potter fans out there might enjoy watching actor Daniel Radcliffe sing Tom Lehrer's "The Elements". Even cool guys dig science!

Test your celebrity trivia. What famous people do you know who have secret scientific lives?

Today I have a sad announcement. The New Voices blog will be ending this week. The blog archive will continue to be available online, but we will not be adding new content. Thank you all for your interest and support over the years. On Friday, we’ll be posting information on how to remain engaged with Research!America and our advocacy efforts.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

HIV/AIDS Part 3: Philanthropy

Photo Credit:

To mark the 30th anniversary of the first AIDS diagnoses, we’ve been discussing the different groups that came together to improve our understanding of HIV/AIDS and develop new treatments for combating the disease. I’ve written about scientists and advocates in my previous posts for this series, but we’re not done yet! Research needs money and philanthropists were the first to step up to do their part in the fight against AIDS.

Today, the federal government spends over $15 billion every year on HIV/AIDS programs and research. However when AIDS first emerged, the government was not quick to respond. Early donors did not even include foundations, but rather individuals who were personally invested in the epidemic. This probably had a lot to do with the stigma associated with a disease that primarily affected the gay community and intravenous drug users.

Those first donors were really important, because together with advocates, they were able to put a face on the disease. Foundations took notice and realized that HIV/AIDS was a major public health challenge that the federal government was not addressing. In 1986 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced that a significant portion of its annual budget would go towards HIV/AIDS programs and research. They were quickly followed by the Ford Foundation which helped to create the National AIDS Fund (NAF, now AIDS United). New foundations were also created specifically for HIV/AIDS research, like the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).

Apart from funding research on HIV/AIDS, philanthropists were able to help shift public perception of the disease. They could use their name recognition to funnel funds into community-based programs that would otherwise have been invisible. The resulting public support led to political pressure, which led (finally!) to government investment.

You might think that once big federal dollars are part of the equation, we wouldn’t need HIV/AIDS philanthropy anymore. Actually foundations still play an important role in dealing with this disease, especially in the global health arena. Along with the early champions, newer organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are spending significant resources on fighting the global AIDS epidemic.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

August 26, 2011 Round-Up

Sometimes, it pays to date a Neanderthal.
(Photo Credit: Willnow/Getty)

Aye maties! On to science camp!
(Photo Credit: Donna Kiernan)

Research!America advocates for medical research, and we encourage everyone to get involved. See what you can do: Research!America advocacy
Hello Irene! Hurricane Irene hits the east coast this weekend and New Voices wants you to stay safe by following the weather.
On this day on New Voices:
2010 - New Voices takes a comic break.
2009 - New Voices salutes the late Edward Kennedy, a champion for health and research.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Diabetes research – How sweet it is!

Diabetes is a disease where people have higher than normal blood glucose. Glucose is a sugar that our cells typically use to make energy. The two forms of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2. In Type 1 diabetes, a person’s body cannot produce the insulin to get glucose into cells. This starves the cells. The prolonged absence of insulin can cause serious health complications, and if insulin is not administered on a timely basis, death. As of now, Type 1 is incurable, but treatable with insulin. With Type 2 diabetes, a person’s cells become resistant to insulin, so although insulin is present, cells cannot respond to it to take in glucose. If Type 2 diabetes is not controlled, patients are at greater risk of heart disease, blindness, infection and death. Diet, exercise and drugs can control this form of diabetes.

One reason diabetes is an important issue in science policy right now is the growing prevalence of obesity in the U.S. and other developed countries. One of the major issues with obesity is that it is highly associated with developing Type 2 diabetes. In fact, one third of adults in the U.S. are obese and 44% of U.S. adults are estimated to have diabetes. Because many cases of Type 2 diabetes can be alleviated with diet and exercise, researchers are looking carefully at these behavioral measures. However, since Type 1 diabetes still has no cure and some forms of Type 2 may have genetic causes, preventive measures will not be the answer for everyone.

Although prevention may be the best medicine, medical research has allowed us to understand and treat diabetes through the years. In 1675, Dr. Thomas Willis found that urine from diabetics had a sugary taste….gross! The first treatment for Type 1 diabetes came in 1921 when scientists discovered animal-derived insulin could be used to treat patients with the disease.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes were distinguished in 1936, and in the 1940’s and 50’s, sulfonylureas were developed as the first Type 2 diabetes drugs. Another breakthrough came when human insulin produced and isolated from cells was developed by Genentech in 1978. The popular Type 2 diabetes drug, metformin, was later approved in 1995. In 2007, the first clinical stem cell therapy for Type 1 diabetes showed promise in replacing insulin producing cells. You can see that there has been much progress in diabetes over the centuries and it would be a mistake to slow down now. Further research can open new avenues for diabetes treatments and cures, but that depends in part on whether policy-makers continue to provide sufficient funding to federal health agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

What can you do to make sure our nation continues to invest in life-saving research?

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How To: Connect with Science and Research Advocates in Your Neighborhood

There are plenty of resources out there to help you get connected with other people who care about health and research, if you’re willing to do a little looking. I suggest you start with the following:

1. Research!America partners: See especially the list of Academic Institutions/ Hospitals/Independent Research Institutes, and the list of State and Local Organizations.
2. New Voices members: New Voices is a community. We hope that you can take advantage of the member profiles to get connected with those who share your interests.
3. Science and health journalists/newscasters: Media personnel who work in science and health can be great people to reach out to. They’re looking for good stories, and they’re often frustrated that others aren’t enthusiastic enough about science and research.
4. Researchers in your community: often, the best advocates are other researchers.
5. Science Cafés and other science-related events: To check out a science café near you, visit this site. These types of events are a good way to meet lay-people who have a genuine interest in science. It’s also a great way to meet researchers who enjoy public interactions and advocacy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

East Coast Quake

In light of the tremors felt in DC and other areas of the eastern United States today, New Voices thought some safety tips might be useful. Here they are: earthquake safety

Source: JMckinley's posterous

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Meet Dr. Patrick Clemins

New Voices recently interviewed Dr. Patrick Clemins. An electrical and computer engineer by training, Dr. Clemins has spent the last several years of his career in science policy between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Through AAAS, he began a prestigious Science&Technology Policy Fellowship with the NSF. At the NSF, he worked within the Department of Biological Infrastructure to help build connections between computing and biology programs. In his current position as Director of Budget and Policy programs for AAAS, he has become an expert in the U.S. federal budget, innovation policy, and international research and development trends. Dr. Clemins received his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Marquette University. He also was employed in systems engineering at a Wisconsin company.

How did you first become interested in science policy?
There were few science policy programs before 2005 so I had no prior exposure. I saw it as an adventure. Science policy was a way for me to use my PhD more creatively as I had been doing primarily technical work before. Even though I enjoyed my prior job in engineering, I came to the NSF to gain experience in policy, which led to my current position at AAAS.

What was it like to transition from engineering to science policy?
Since my last position was very technical, I would say the skill sets used were different. Communicating science in simpler terms and relationship building are important skills in science policy. The orientations at NSF and AAAS allowed me to understand the work culture, DC politics and the historical context for many of the policy discussions.

What types of policy activities have you monitored to help early career researchers?
I have met many people who come into policy frustrated by the current system to get a tenure track position. The average age for a researcher to obtain their first NIH investigator award is 42. Some work at federal science agencies has centered on changing the peer-review process or creating targeted programs to make it easier for young investigators to receive funding. There has also been a focus on transformative research projects that are less conservative and potentially more exciting and rewarding.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in science policy?
If you are a student, I would suggest joining a science policy group on campus (or forming one) and inviting speakers to get informed about policy issues. At some point, you should come to DC because it is the center of policy. Programs like the AAAS fellowship, Congressional fellowships and internships at science policy offices offer a way to learn about and enter the field. I also recommend participating in panels at federal R&D agencies as they help build communication and relationship building skills.

What is your outlook for the future of the research budget?
It’s tough times. There will be no immediate drop in funding, but I believe standard inflationary increases may be the only additional money for awhile. The “Super Committee” needs to agree on $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, or else across the board cuts will take place in 2013. That would really hurt research budgets. Overall, the outlook is not rosy. We must argue that research provides a long term investment for our country and its economy. Most representatives are supportive of research and development, but applied research is under the most scrutiny right now because they feel private industry should be more involved in that aspect. It is mostly understood that basic research needs a greater federal investment. The main question representatives are asking now is how much of the R&D pipeline should be funded by the government?

What is your proudest policy or program-related achievement?
More generally, I feel the personal relationships I’ve established are my proudest achievement. This has been through building trust with the people I work and collaborate with. I have also been able to foster a reputation for research and development in policy, which is very important to the future of science in the US.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Start Up Your Ingen--uity!!

Have you ever wondered how some big companies got their start? We may have heard the amazing stories of people who failed many times, but kept their dream alive to eventually hit pay dirt. Even in National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded medical research, this is the story line of most, if not all, of the major scientific achievements that advance to the marketplace.
A good business-minded researcher must have the ability to see what is not already there, and the imagination and work ethic to fill that need. They also have to be persistent through the many failures they will endure. This makes bioscience a risky, but high potential investment and that’s where the NIH comes to assist with its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants.
Over the years, the NIH’s SBIR program has been successful in expanding new bioscience companies. One success story of the SBIR program is LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals in Bozeman, Montana. LigoCyte’s goal was to develop a new type of drug to treat chronic inflammatory diseases of the lung such as asthma. An NIH SBIR grant in 1999 allowed the company to carry out its project and it produced a drug that could block immune cells from binding to blood vessel walls, which is a key event in inflammation. With federal support, LigoCyte found the drug was effective and continued to carry out their research. Since asthma affects more than 17 million people in the U.S., a drug like this has the potential to improve many lives. Inflammation is also involved in other maladies like psoriasis and heart disease, so LigoCyte will likely expand its focus for this product.
Ligocyte with more than 40 employees continues its research efforts in chronic inflammatory disease, although it is now focusing similar drug strategies on vaccines for influenza and norovirus (the stomach flu) due to exciting results in those areas. That demonstrates how fast science can evolve from one idea. All you need is a start, and the NIH SBIR program gave them the push.

If you think NIH funding is important to “kick-start” small bioscience companies, let your representatives in Congress know!

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Campaign Theme Songs

As the race for the presidency starts to heat up, you might start to notice some interesting theme songs on the campaign trail. While some candidates seem to have no trouble borrowing a tune to pump up the crowds at a rally, others find themselves in hot water with recording artists.

For this week's Tuneage Tuesday, try naming that tune.

What campaign songs would you recommend for the newest batch of political hopefuls?

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Working Together for HIV/AIDS Cures: Advocates

Photo Credit: Amaury Laporte

In my first post in this series, I discussed how scientists and physicians worked to better understand and find new treatments for HIV and AIDS. Scientists didn’t act alone though. Advocacy groups have been and continue to be central to the progress in this field.

Here at New Voices we mainly focus on advocacy, but what does effective advocacy entail? According to a new report by FasterCures and HCM Strategists, the fight for HIV/AIDS patients provides a powerful model for other advocates to follow. This strategy includes 1) attention, 2) knowledge and solutions, 3) community, 4) accountability and 5) leadership.

Bringing attention to the plight of AIDS victims was the first step toward advocating for them. Groups like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) staged protests in front of government agencies like the FDA and the CDC to raise awareness among administrators and the public regarding the human cost of this disease.

While the theatrical nature of street protesting helped advocates grab the spotlight, they also needed their concerns to be taken seriously. That’s where knowledge and solutions came into play. HIV/AIDS activists educated themselves with the help of researchers like Iris Long about the science behind the disease and the complexities of government processes. This allowed them to identify specific problems they wanted solved, like changing the definition of AIDS to include symptoms that are unique to women or intravenous drug users so these groups could receive government health benefits and pushing the FDA to speed up the approval process for potentially lifesaving therapies.

A third element in HIV/AIDS advocacy was the emphasis on community. Groups like ACT UP and Project Inform brought together people who were suffering from AIDS and the stigma associated with it. There were lots of meetings and events incorporating fun with these serious issues. People are social beings after all and these get-togethers helped to strengthen personal relationships and community ties.

Finally, accountability and leadership go hand in hand. Advocates followed through on their demands, holding policy makers, scientists and regulators accountable for their promises. They did this by singling out "champions" within these three groups who would act as leaders in AIDS policy and research. These groups also identified leaders in the advocacy community to step up to act as unifying voices for their movement.

What might advocates for health-related research learn from the work of groups like ACT UP?

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Friday, August 12, 2011

August 12th, 2011 Round-Up

Do your "spidey senses" help or hurt in a game of rock, paper, scissors?

EEK!! Virtual rats!

According to a recent Research!America poll, most Americans can't name a living scientist. Take this quiz from the New York Times to see how many scientists you recognize.

For all you runners out there, August can be the hottest month of the year. Be sure to be safe. Following a few simple rules might save you a world of pain.

On this day in New Voices
2010: Heather introduced the Mystery Lab Contest
2009: New Voices from around the web debated the question: Do Science and Politics Mix?

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Meet Dr. Kathie L. Olsen

New Voices recently interviewed Dr. Kathie L. Olsen. A neurobiologist by training, Dr. Olsen has spent most of her career working in science policy. She has held several positions at the National Science Foundation including serving as Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer. She has also worked as Associate Director and Deputy Director for Science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Additionally, she was Acting Associate Administrator for Biological and Physical Research and Chief Scientist for NASA! Dr. Olsen received her Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California in Irvine and her B.S. in biology and psychology from Chatham College. Her postdoctoral fellowship was at Harvard Medical School.

How did you first become interested in science policy?

It was an evolutionary process. In high school I didn’t even like science. When I got to college, I took a general biology course, mostly because it fit into my class schedule. Well, I loved it- so I decided to major in biology and psychology. From there, my career followed the typical route for a research scientist. I got my Ph.D. in neuroscience and did a post doctoral fellowship before getting a position as an assistant professor with my own lab and NIH grant.

I enjoyed what I was doing but I still had some nagging feelings about my career path. For one thing, I’m extroverted and enjoy interacting with people. There were times when I would spend the entire day in lab and never talk to anyone. Also, in your research lab, it’s all about you-your projects, your grants, your publications. Going to the NSF was a great opportunity to see the field more broadly and get a lot done behind the scenes.

Given the many demands placed on early career scientists, how important is it for them to become involved in science advocacy and policy?

It’s critically important. There are a lot of little things that scientists at all stages of their careers can do to get involved. You can work through your professional societies. You can also work through your university to reach out to members of Congress- maybe invite them to your lab. I sometimes speak at grade schools, museums and rotary clubs about science. People have an idea of what a scientist looks like. Researchers can show them the truth. It’s not like what you see on TV. Scientists look just like them.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in science policy?

Stay up to date in your field. In order to be effective in policy, you should go to meetings, read journals and understand the newest technologies. The more research experience you have, the better you will be at explaining what is important. You don’t need to know everything, but you should know who to ask. Also, if you don’t know something, don’t give the wrong answer. Instead, offer to get the information from an expert and then follow through.

What was the biggest challenge for you when you entered the policy field?

More than science goes into policy decisions. Policy makers have to look at a lot of factors when deciding how to prioritize. One of those factors is and should be science, but it’s not the only one. As a scientist, that can be challenging.

What is your outlook for the future of research?

I’m optimistic. America has thrived because of innovation. It drives our economy and improves our health and well-being. We need to prioritize, and the public and Congress understand that research is critical in addressing the challenges of today and tomorrow, and essential in maintaining an acceptable standard of living into the future. They recognize that an investment in research and education is an investment in our future.

New Voices would like to thank Dr. Olsen for speaking with us. Are you feeling inspired to get involved?

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wikipedia: Friend or foe?

From the vault on February 19, 2008

I came across this opinion piece about Wikipedia, and it got me thinking.

I can remember the beginning of Wikipedia. I remember one friend of mine in particular, who was insistent about making sure the Gamecock baseball team had an entry. I never questioned him being the one to write the entry, because he worked for the athletic department, had been to basically every home baseball game since he'd lived there and could recite statistics about the team and players wherever, whenever.

But just because I trusted his knowledge of the team doesn't necessarily mean it was thorough or even correct. Was his voice the one the world should hear from about Gamecock baseball???

I'm inclined to say yes. In doing so, I give away my position and admit that I think Wikipedia is a fantastic resource. However, there are some caveats - particularly in science, where definitions and data can vary widely from lab to lab.

In The Policy Council's 2007 Advocacy Effectiveness Survey, congressional staffers revealed that Wikipedia is among their top resources for research - even if it is just for a brief overview. How might scientists then make their entries more accessible for non-scientific audiences, like Hill staffers?

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

They've Got the Whole Lab in Their Hands

This week's Tuneage Tuesday features exciting new work appearing in Nature Medicine this month. Check out this cool, pocket-sized tool for diagnosing HIV in the most remote and hard to reach places. The lead scientist on this project also co-founded a company that is working to take this technology from the bench to the field. It's another great example of research improving lives and fueling economic growth.

What did you see in the science world this week that excited you? We love to hear from our New Voices Community!

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Simple Language

From the vault on August 14, 2008.
Comic Credit: Bill Watterson

First, a huge shout out to Calvin & Hobbes, one of the best comics ever.Humor can often teach us. Just as sarcastic comments give us a bit of insight into what people are really thinking, we can take lessons from the “funnies” in life.

Academicians tend to write in their own secret code. I recently discovered a theory paper (on a subject that I was thoroughly familiar with) that I could barely understand. The most depressing part was that I wrote it a couple of years ago. I was engrossed in the topic then, and though still informed, my “theory-speak” writing only makes it valuable to me as campfire kindling now.

Once we’ve developed a writing style, it can be hard to break the habit. But to truly advance as communicators, we need to make the effort to write in a way that people outside our specialties can understand.Here in New Voices there are a number of members that specialize in writing. I encourage all of you to use that to your advantage and ask for help and constructive criticism.

To get started, grab the most recent piece of technical writing you’ve been working on and comment on this post with a snippet (abstract, intro paragraph, etc.) and a translation of how you’d present the same couple of sentences to a more general audience.

Practice makes perfect, so let's get practicing!

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Friday, August 5, 2011

The (Impossible) Assignment

It is with a heavy heart that I share my final post as a regular New Voices blogger and hand over the management of the New Voices community to my co-bloggers. From the first post in December of 2008 to now, this community has evolved considerably and I can say without reservation that writing for you and working with you will be the thing I miss the most as I transition to a career in education.

Not surprisingly, it looks like I was blogging when
this picture was taken.
As each blogger has moved on from New Voices, I've asked them to say their good byes and reflect on what they've learned or share their advice for the community. Now that it's my turn, I'm beginning to understand what they found so difficult about this assignment. So first, let me start with some thank yous.

Of course, many thanks go to those at Research!America who have stood by New Voices over the years as well as our first outside financial benefactor, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

More than any other New Voice, it was the dedication and drive of Stacie Propst - a PhD scientist herself - that made the New Voices for Research community a reality. It was also her patience and guidance with my incredibly "audacious goals" that helped launch this blog, and later, our Twitter feed. Special thanks also goes to many of my Research!America colleagues who have contributed their words, thoughts, ideas, and time to build this resource for anyone interested in becoming an advocate for research.

To all of the interns and fellows over the years who have researched and developed posts, striven to improve their writing skills, and thought creatively about how to approach topics and issues here: my heartfelt thanks. Even when I was marking some of your posts with what seemed like endless track-changes you always kept a great attitude and pushed yourself to become better science communicators. Moreover, you taught me how to be a kind (but firm) editor, to let go of some conventions in favor of more dynamic ones, and most of all, what it really means to teach. I would not be on my way to a classroom next year if it weren't for the positive experiences I had working with each of you.

Readers, oh darling readers. You are the reason we post each day. When I was out of the office I would fret about whether or not the scheduled post went up, knowing you were out there reading it. You are the motivation for New Voices and the greatest hope research and science communication have for tomorrow. It has been an honor, truly.

My parting advice is what it has always been: take every opportunity you can to share what you do with others (including Congress), and in doing so, be yourself. You are your own best advocate, so raise your voice.

As for me, advocacy will remain a major part of my life as I transition to the front lines of the STEM education issue. I'll be active in the New Voices Facebook community, and you'll be seeing some of my older posts pop-up in the From the Vault series.

Don't forget to keep commenting, offering to guest post, and otherwise being the great New Voices you've always been! New Voices for Research has been an amazing initiative to lead and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Thank you for (almost) four years of inspiration. Best wishes.


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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fiscal Reset

Another crisis averted, right? Despite the Congresses’ apparent penchant for last minute drama, a deal was struck and the debt limit has been raised. So how did research fare?

Well, that is not an easy question to answer. The deal is comprised of long-term, 10-year caps and shorter term cuts to total discretionary spending. The caps will essentially prevent any real growth of discretionary spending, which contains all federal research agencies like NIH and NSF. For those of you familiar with government budgeting, this is similar to a long term continuing resolution.

Under the terms of the deal, for an agency budget to grow, the money would have to be re-purposed or offset from an existing discretionary program. In the past, Congress could simply increase the spending cap, which would give appropriations committees the funds needed for increases. Not anymore though.

Obviously, a flat budget is preferable to the deep cuts put forward by the House earlier in the fiscal year. However, for those familiar with biomedical inflation, a flat budget is equivalent to a funding cut. R&D budgets have not been able to keep pace with inflation, which means that a dollar today is worth significantly less than it was in the previous year.

What we do know is that research needs advocates now more than ever. Our nation is in the midst of a radical shift in fiscal policy and lawmakers are looking to their constituents to help set priorities. Make sure they know that research is an indispensable investment in America’s future.

Members of Congress are already returning to their districts for the August recess. Set up an in district meeting with your representatives today. We have several web tools to help.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Science vs. Faith?

One of the biggest challenges for many advocates is encountering the science versus faith "controversy." Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the reality of the situation:

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Meet Linea Johnson, Mental Health Research Advocate

Guest blogger Linea Johnson
Growing up I knew a lot about disabilities. Being the daughter of a mother who was a special education professor and a father who was a vocational rehabilitation counselor I grew up reading the DSM and diagnosing my friends and animals. In my world disabilities were “normal”. They were something that eventually everyone encounters and the differences between one person and another were no different than my being a brunette and my sister being a blonde.

At the age of ten I knew that some people had a difficult time living with their disability, but I had a hard time understanding why. I was so immersed in a world where disabilities were common that I didn’t grasp the complexities of the culture, lifestyle, and system that stigmatizes people who are different.

That was until I turned nineteen and my world changed forever. At the age of nineteen and a college sophomore, I found myself depressed and suicidal. After months of struggling I was eventually hospitalized, grappling with this big thing called a diagnosis. After years of ups and downs my struggle finally had a name: bipolar disorder.

To me this was a death sentence. Though I grew up understanding and empathizing with the concept of disability I was only beginning to understand what it truly meant for the first time. I was terrified of this big word and the stigma and complications it held. That was until I remembered the environment I had grown up in and my early interest in the science and community behind the labels.

After a few more years of struggle I began to do research and learn more about my illness. I learned the statistics and saw how common bipolar disorder was. Learning more about the science of the brain demystified the larger abstract concept of what it was to have a mental illness. Learning the number of people who struggled with mental illness I saw that I was not alone, and through the science I saw that my moods were in fact not my fault.

Today I speak nationally on bipolar disorder, mental illness and adolescents. I ground my words in the statistics and brain science, and speak as part of the community. Today I know that through the help of doctors, counselors and scientists I can live the life I want and live with the hope that new research can help people like me live stronger and more confident lives.

Special thanks to today's guest blogger, Linea Johnson. In addition to research advocacy and increasing awareness of mental health issues, Linea is the lead contributor for the blog BringChange2Mind. Learn more about her journey to becoming an advocate and her upcoming book at Linea and Cinda.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Political Discourse & Going Bananas Round-Up

On the Policy Front
Talks on the debt ceiling continue leaving some wondering, what if the climate "ceiling" got as much attention as the debt ceiling?

What words you use matter in activating groups.

Food Research & Health
A new study has shown that folks who push a cart in the grocery store make healthier purchases than those who carry baskets. Any guesses as to why?

Bananas are facing a deadly threat and genome mapping may be able to solve it.

On this day in New Voices:
2010:  We took a look inside the Greco Lab at Yale University.
2009: Heather wondered Can you name a living scientist? (this post had the highest one day traffic of any post in New Voices history.)

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Medical Research will Keep us Working

Polling by Research!America in 2011 showed overwhelming support for increasing government investment in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and that most people feel federal funding of research is necessary to improve state economies. With the current budget woes, can we truly expect increased funding for the NIH? What could that investment do for our nation? The answer is a whole lot more than you might think.

As an example, in 2010 more than 4,000 jobs in Virginia were directly due to NIH-funded research, which totaled more than $300 million for the state that year. An additional 2,000 out-of-state jobs were attributed to NIH grants received by Virginia institutions demonstrating broad economic impact. In addition, the biosciences industry in Virginia, which expands around and benefits from NIH-sponsored institutions, was responsible for more than 80,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state. The NIH clearly has made an impact on Virginia's job market.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) industries have the most growth potential, pay higher salaries and need more skilled employees. Virginia exemplifies this trend. In order for the entire country to benefit similarly, our nation must make the upfront investment in scientific research.

Everyone needs to understand that the NIH can provide us with great opportunities to work and excel in biotechnology and medicine. In the next post, I will expand on this by discussing a successful bioscience company that developed from federally-funded small business grants. In the meantime, call your representatives in Congress today and tell them you support the NIH and bioscience research!!

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Discouraging Self-Confidence?

From the vault on May 6, 2008
Perhaps the epitome of self-confidence, fictional Dr. Gregory House said,
"If you're right and you doubt yourself, it doesn't help anybody."
I read this piece on smart kids who over estimate their intelligence which included, among other things, the following quote:
"I'd like to caution especially my younger readers that you may be very smart, but you should assume that you are making a mistake if you find yourself thinking you are smarter than every scientist in the world put together. A feeling like that is wrong a million times for every time it's even half right."
I'm not sure I agree with this author's tone toward young people. It is hard enough to get smart kids through schools and into the world of science (or any advanced realm) without discouraging them. Although there are clearly times when young people will be wrong, there are other times when they are right.

And I know it is movie-esque to imagine that there is this solution that a student reads about purely as theory and then toils over, confronts barriers of adults who blindly believe in the impossibility of them understanding, and then eventually discover something genius. But there are countless examples of young people today doing just that. Popular online applications like YouTube and Facebook are both products of garage-style ingenuity, for one.

It is a bit precocious (arrogant?) to assume that, as a teenager, you are such a rockstar that you are smarter than everyone else on the planet (and are telling the press about it!). But, it will be true that teachers are wrong - or that students will be more accomplished in a subject than they are. There are textbooks with mistakes and calculations with errors.

In my humble opinion, some kid who wants to spend their spare time calculating the difference between the orders of magnitude of anything should be encouraged to do so. In my limited experience, it seems that even if they are eventually wrong, they will have learned something valuable.

Where is the line between teaching limitations and asking students to stay in line and hampering brilliance? Science may be a team sport, but every sport has rookie all-stars.


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