This July, Mark Lively was elected the new president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Lively, who is a professor of biochemistry at Wake Forest University in Winston--Salem, NC, and heads both the university's molecular genetics program and the core lab facility, plans to focus FASEB's policy efforts on a number of issues, including funding, conflict of interest, and bioterrorism regulations.
"Probably the number one issue that's on the minds of all of our members is the federal funding for science, and in particular, the NIH funding," Lively says. "The era of the stimulus money has been a tremendous opportunity for us, [but] at the same time we, FASEB, and many of my colleagues are looking ahead to the horizon when that money will have been spent. And we're concerned about what's going to happen after that."
While the stimulus funding has given the science economy, as it were, a major boost, Lively sees the current funding climate as too volatile to make any long-term research goals, especially if you're in a small lab that's entirely dependent on NIH grant money. He says it's also hard for agency directors to spend money when they don't know how much they're going to get next year. "One of the goals that we hope to achieve is to convince Congress and the White House that what NIH and NSF and all the federal science agencies need is stable and predictable funding support for science — not that it necessarily has to increase without end," Lively says, "but just that these ups and downs have been very damaging to us, and in particular, the potential fall off of this cliff when the stimulus funding is over is going to be a problem for all of us."
To that end, he says, FASEB has already begun talks with more than 10 NIH institute and center directors surrounding funding issues, getting an idea of how they plan to spend their stimulus funds and what they expect to happen after those run out. FASEB has also begun to do some predictive modeling to envision what could happen under various funding scenarios and hopes to work with members of Congress on finalizing the budget proposal.
With all the recent changes that NIH has made to peer review, Lively says, FASEB will take it upon itself to keep tracking this area. "Lots of decisions have been made, but we're continuing to monitor that and we'll provide feedback [to] NIH," he says. One of his larger concerns is the burden on peer review in light of the deluge of Challenge Grant applications, numbered to be 20,000, that have flooded the agency.
Another looming science policy issue is conflict of interest, Lively says. FASEB has been working with NIH and Congress "to come up with an acceptable approach for ensuring that the quality and integrity of our research is preserved," he says. Also on the horizon is the issue of animals and research, and central to that is defending the humane treatment of research subjects.
Finally, biosecurity is an area of concern, especially as it pertains to bioterrorism. "This is an issue that's of importance to FASEB because it means potentially more regulations that could increase the burden of assuring security in our laboratories and make it perhaps more difficult to work with certain select agents that are important but potentially tools of the bioterrorist."