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Don't Just Sit There

Biologists concerned about the uncertain funding environment should take action by "advocating for the benefits of government investments in scientific research and training," writes Thomas Pollard in a commentary in Cell.

Pollard, a cell biologist at Yale University, notes that biologists have historically taken government funding for granted. "Complacency was the norm" because the NIH budget doubled between 1998 and 2003, he says.

"Unfortunately, funding has stagnated since 2003, so taking inflation into account, the purchasing power of the NIH budget has declined about 20% over the last decade," he says.

Pollard provides an in-depth overview of the appropriations process and explains the importance of advocates in the legislative process. "Advocacy by individuals and organizations is the norm, and these diverse voices have powerful influences on setting priorities for all forms of government spending," he says, citing as examples the gun lobby and labor unions as groups that have effectively lobbied for their interests.

However, despite "being highly educated and seeking support for a worthy cause, scientists as a group are among the least engaged in advocacy."

Pollard proposes a number of paths through which biologists can play a bigger role in securing funding for science, ranging from joining a professional society that has an advocacy program to visiting elected officials on Capitol Hill or even inviting such officials to the lab.

And of course the easiest way to influence the future of science funding is to vote for politicians who support science. "The candidates' websites, voting records, and speeches will usually reveal their positions on federal funding of scientific research," Pollard says.

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