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The call last spring in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences editorial to rethink biomedical research funding and training in the US may have been overly optimistic that the community could agree on how to deal with these issues, ScienceInsider's Jeffrey Mervis reports.

"We were naive," Harold Varmus, one of the authors of the PNAS editorial and National Cancer Institute director, said after a presentation to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology last week. "We were hoping to pick off some low-hanging fruit."

In the editorial, Varmus and his co-authors said it was time to "rethink some fundamental features of the US biomedical research ecosystem." For instance, they called for predictable budgets for US science funding agencies and for the number of graduate students being trained to be in line with the number of future opportunities, among other suggestions.

After the editorial appeared in PNAS, Mervis notes that a heated discussion erupted at the academy's annual meeting, and it became clear to the authors that a consensus on how to handle these issues was far from being reached.

At the PCAST meeting, the three editorial authors who could attend noted that they were cognizant of the principle of "do no harm," that they don't want the treatment to be worse than the cure. Varmus notes that they plan to take more time and to put together a larger and more representative group, including early career researchers, to discuss the issues.

"We don't know what to do, and we're open to your suggestions," Shirley Tilghman, Princeton University's president emerita, said to PCAST. "But I do know one thing: If we go home and do nothing, the problem will just get worse."