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The Black Hole

A call to arms

BY JONATHAN THON | MAY 17 2012

Scientific research is a marathon, and if we fall behind now, while we are leaders in health innovation, the cost of recovering our position, in light of emerging economies with which we compete, will become progressively more expensive. Sustained increases in National Institutes of Health and Canadian Institutes of Health Research funding are critical to maintain North America’s innovation engines at a crucial time for research and the economy, and most importantly to improve the health and well-being of our populations.

Now is the time for scientists to advocate most strongly for national investment in biomedical research. Members of Parliament, Members of Provincial Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly in Canada, as well as senators and congresspersons in the United States are the decision-makers you elect to represent you – write to them. You can go to http://www.canada.gc.ca/directories-repertoires/direct-eng.html and enter your postal code (in Canada), or http://www.house.gov and enter your zip code (in the United States) to access your representative.

Things to remember when composing your letter:

  • Identify yourself as a constituent and a member of the scientific community
  • Ask that the legislator support sustainable funding priorities for your federal funding agency.
  • Briefly explain why these issues are important to you.
  • Acknowledge the efforts that are being made by their party
  • Give them your contact information and ask to be informed about the actions their office takes in response to your request.

Letters need to be kept simple and as personal as possible, with tangible examples of actions MPs, MPPs, and MLAs can take to change the landscape of how biomedical research is supported in Canada. These should be provided to the legislator in the form of a one-page cheat-sheet with your contact information included for reference. If dealing with your senator or congressperson in the United States you will need to ask to speak/meet with your representative’s health legislative assistant who handles health care issues in the district or state.

Giving opposition members speaking points against current government policies, emphasizing the economic relevance/importance of your position, and holding legislators accountable for providing examples of and justifying actions they have taken on their own promises are all good ways of having your opinions considered. After the meeting it is important to follow up with your representative within the week, whether or not the representative was supportive of your position. This is your chance to remind them of what you discussed and further emphasize the importance of their involvement on this issue.

Canada-specific:

  • Major research funding in Canada is done federally, but provinces are responsible for health spending and many provinces (e.g.: BC, Ontario, Quebec) have contributed to major infrastructure projects.

U.S.-specific:

  • States often put aside money for research into targeted areas (e.g. California’s support of stem cell research) and are generally more independent than Canadian provinces.
  • Many federal representatives will have specific assistants/aides for health related issues -ask to speak/meet with them

Example speaking points:

  • Low funding rates (NSERC PDFs, CIHR operating grants, etc.)
  • Low postdoctoral fellow salaries compared to other countries
  • Plus, 4 or 5 more good statistics that show why basic health research is a good investment or is currently underinvested.

While the argument for the government to prioritize an industry where the number of clinical advances, drug developments and cures is proportional to total research investment is not a difficult case to make – it needs to be made. I and others at The Black Hole continue to work at concentrating and contextualizing some of the more important issues facing early career scientists in Canada and abroad.

Take advantage of this resource and use hard numbers to emphasize your points. Addressing these concerns forces the issue to light, and commits politicians to publicly defensible positions for which they can subsequently be held accountable. Government agencies cannot lobby for themselves and policy makers do not share your unique perspective. Our health, economy, and the future of scientific progress are at stake, so step up and speak out.

ABOUT JONATHAN THON
Jonathan Thon
Dr. Thon is the Founder and CEO of STRM.BIO. Before STRM.BIO Dr. Thon Founded Platelet BioGenesis where he served as CEO and Chief Scientific Officer. Before Platelet BioGenesis Dr. Thon was an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School.
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  1. Dave K / May 18, 2012 at 08:56

    Hey Jonathan – I was just at an interesting seminar run by the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy which advocated a stronger science lobby as well.

    Apparently, even though the responses are often form letters, they do get on the radar of MPs (here in the UK at least) when they are easy to digest and in high numbers (i.e.: lots of people writing about the same thing).

    Definitely important to distil your message into a problem (statistics help here) and a solution (what your representative can do to help.