Regular maintenance required

Last month, it was time to get new tires for my car. A simple tire change turned into a tire change and a brake job, rotors and pads. Five hours later, and with my wallet nearly $2,000 lighter, I was back on the road. Sadly, very few people took the time to compliment me on how fantastic my tires looked or how fresh and smooth my braking was. My costly – yet necessary – maintenance had gone largely unnoticed. That said, the price of doing nothing would have much higher.

Doing advocacy is like doing regular maintenance on your car. It’s not cheap, and at times it’s frustrating, but not taking the time to do it can result in catastrophic damage. When your day consists of managing your lab, attending faculty meetings and writing grants (never mind family and other outside-the-lab responsibilities), it may seem nearly impossible to find the time to call your representative, write to your senator or attend an event in the next town over.

But like regular maintenance of your car, advocacy is critical to protecting your personal investment. For every scientist who doesn’t make an effort to talk to his or her officials about the importance of supporting research, for example, there are literally dozens of neighbors talking to officials about their policy or funding priorities. Sitting on the sidelines (because of perceived lack of time or a very real lack of interest) and watching the National Institutes of Health’s budget erode is the same as driving your car for thousands of miles with the “check engine” light on and then being surprised when the car breaks down.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. 

News From the Hill: TableCongressional Management Foundation President and CEO Brad Fitch has spent 25 years in Washington as a journalist, congressional aide, consultant and college educator. In 2010, he wrote “The Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials.” In the book, Fitch outlines in a simple chart how legislators perceive issues. Issues that are important to constituents and are consistent with a legislator’s values are the issues that are most likely to cause the legislator to take action.

The Harvard University Kennedy School of Government did a study in 2013 to find out if political protests matter and looked at the 2010 Tea Party movement for evidence.

“When they observe a surprisingly large number of protesters, policymakers update their beliefs about preferences and the policy they choose to set,” the researchers found. To put it more succinctly, the squeaky wheel does, in fact, get the grease!

Biomedical research is likely to be supported regardless of political party, but legislators need to know that it is important to you, the constituent. Together, we certainly can work harder to make sure our elected officials know that an issue like scientific research is a priority for constituents.

Advocating is tiring, frustrating and even, in some ways, costly. But it works. And just like car maintenance, ignoring it will result in the degradation of your investment.

Photo of Benjamin CorbBenjamin Corb (bcorb@asbmb.org) is director of public affairs at ASBMB.