Looking back on a year of awakening

Published December 01 2017

As 2017 winds to an end, we’re taking stock of what the year has delivered for the biomedical research community. We have had reasons to be frustrated, reasons to celebrate and reasons to scratch our heads. Let’s look back.

The year started with the inauguration of President Donald Trump, which began an era of open skepticism of science in the executive branch of government. Trump proposed massive cuts in investments to biomedical research and put forth immigration policy changes that have caused concerns within the science community. Gag orders, executive orders and conflicting policy positions have been the norm in the first year of the Trump administration.

On the bright side, the president convened a summit of biomedical and pharmaceutical leaders to talk about research (although the discussion largely focused on pharmaceutical drug prices) and kept Francis S. Collins on in his role as director of the National Institutes of Health.

Congress, for its part, largely has continued its support of the science community, following the successes of 2016, when Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act and increased investments in the life sciences, with the NIH receiving a $2 billion increase for fiscal 2017. While the past year has been defined by legislative gridlock, Congress does appear ready to continue the upward trend of investing in biomedical research at the NIH, having proposed increases for fiscal 2018. We are waiting for approval of the final spending plan.

All is not positive in Congress, however. We continue to monitor activity on a tax reform effort that would affect our community by taxing tuition waivers, which could increase graduate students’ tax burdens.

Perhaps most importantly, we have seen an apparent awakening of scientific community in terms of the importance of advocacy and getting involved. After the election of Trump, we saw the organic growth of the March for Science effort. (The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology was a sponsor of the national march, and society members participated in the Chicago march during the 2017 Experimental Biology meeting.) The network of marches included hundreds of thousands of scientists taking to the streets to support the nation’s scientific enterprise, and the events offered many ASBMB members to their first advocacy experiences.

Here at the ASBMB, we look forward to building on the lessons learned in 2017 — namely, the need to be active and engaged. Given our rapid responses to administration policies that affected science and scientists, our vocal support for positive legislative initiatives, and our coordination and engagement with an excited and interested scientific community, we believe we’ll look back at 2017 as a year of awakening for the science advocacy community.

Check this space next month, when we’ll explore how the ASBMB plans to continue our engagement in the year to come.

Benjamin Corb Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB. Follow him on Twitter.