For many of us, science is a field of dreams. Science has realized the hopes and aspirations of patients coping with life-threatening illnesses that have threatened families and diminished us all.
Our confidence in science is well-grounded. It has yielded groundbreaking discoveries that have eliminated major health threats like polio, saved lives once claimed by HIV/AIDS, and blunted the force of many cancers, stroke, and premature heart disease. Meanwhile, our national investment in research and innovation has powered economic growth and global leadership for decades.
No one doubts there is much more to do — solutions to seek, dreams to realize. So we assume that continuing investments in scientific progress would remain a priority for our elected representatives.
Recently, President Trump has proposed significant cuts in science budgets, upending the formulation of decades. As members of Congress debate the president’s budgets, those who care about the nation’s ability to deliver on our dreams must speak out and say, “Hands off investments in our nation’s future health, prosperity and global competitiveness!” There is only a brief window of time, right now, to engage policymakers about the value of science before it is left on the budget committee’s cutting-room floor.
Considering one area of research, that aimed at better health, research institutions in Florida, including the University of Miami, and those across the country receive federal support for innovative studies that are showing promise in the fight against infectious diseases, chronic disease, and other costly, disabling conditions. In fiscal year 2016 alone, Florida received $531 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, supporting more than 12,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in economic activity. Federal support for science also means the difference between success and failure for Florida’s burgeoning biopharmaceutical industry, which supports more than 73,000 related jobs and 5,000 businesses. Current budget proposals would slash research funding by 20 percent — that’s a lot of jobs lost — even as it undermines the expectations of Americans for a healthier nation and stronger economy.
There are many stories to share about the value of science and how it plays a role in our daily lives. Science has made food cheaper and safer, expanded energy options, provided us clean water and air, improved education, launched cutting-edge technology, and more. Disease prevention and revolutionary treatments allow citizens young and old to lead productive lives. State-of-the art medical devices give veterans increased mobility, independence and a better quality of life. Science is making a profound difference in our lives and, given the chance, will continue to do so for future generations.
Maybe science ranks low on the president’s priorities because scientists, and our scientific enterprise, remain largely invisible to the public.
A remarkably large majority of Americans (81 percent) cannot name a living scientist, and two-thirds (66 percent), cannot name an institution where research is conducted, according to surveys commissioned by Research!America. Equally troubling, a large majority (79 percent) do not know that research is conducted in every state. What explains this? Perhaps scientists have not done enough to engage with the public, demonstrating how they serve us all. If they facilitated productive dialogues with the people who foot the bill for science via taxes, consumer products, and donations, more Americans and their elected representatives would view science as a national priority, on par with defense, education, and infrastructure.
Science is critical to finding solutions to what ails us, personally and as a nation. That is why it’s important, more than ever, for scientists and those who support science to participate in the March for Science taking place in Miami and in cities across the state, nationwide and globally on Saturday, April 22. This event provides an opportunity for us to communicate the importance of science and help ensure that fellow citizens and elected officials recognize that robust investments and smart policies are necessary to fuel scientific progress and realize our dreams.
Mary Woolley is the president of Research!America, a not-for-profit alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority.