Jazz composer Duke Ellington once said, “A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” In 2013, thanks to questionable decisions by lawmakers in Washington, members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Public Affairs Advisory Committee were presented with massive problems and several opportunities to do our best.
Anticipating and hearing of the effects that mandatory budget cuts known as sequester would have on individual investigators in labs across the country, the ASBMB led a multidisciplinary effort to measure the impact budget cuts are having on the nation’s scientific enterprise.
In August, the ASBMB issued its report, “Unlimited potential, vanishing opportunity,” which for the first time provided lawmakers with data and anecdotes together telling of the difficulties scientists are having and witnessing as federal investments in science continue to get squeezed.
The report was a watershed moment for the ASBMB’s advocacy efforts and garnered national and international attention. The report generated hundreds of news stories, and leaders such as National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins and President Obama took to their Twitter accounts to share the findings with their followers.
The ASBMB became a leading voice on the impact of sequester on the scientific community, taking part in meetings with congressional leadership and presenting its findings in the West Wing to senior White House officials.
In November, the ASBMB authored the science chapter of a comprehensive report on the nationwide impact of sequester coordinated by the group NDD United titled “Faces of austerity: how budget cuts have made us sicker, poorer, and less secure.” ASBMB members participated in composing both reports, responding to surveys for the ASBMB report and serving as the focus of a vignette published in the science chapter of the NDD United report.
In addition, ASBMB members from 26 states took science advocacy into their own hands and participated in the second year of the 100 Meeting Challenge. In 2012, the first year the ASBMB encouraged its membership to meet with elected representatives in home districts, members conducted 44 meetings. In 2013, members more than doubled their first-year participation, orchestrating 105 meetings.
ASBMB membership participation didn’t stop there. Another 200 members took to the Internet and authored letters to the editors of their local newspapers, delivering a message that highlighted the valuable research they are doing and the importance of robust federal investment in science research.
Doing our best didn’t stop with sequester. In October, as the government shut down operations for the first time in 17 years, the public affairs office turned its blog, the ASBMB Policy Blotter, into a real-time news source on the government shutdown and science-funding agencies’ responses and procedures.
Readership of the blog sky-rocketed, with more than 3,000 daily visitors seeking the latest information on, for example, the status of research projects on the NIH campus during the government shutdown and how the National Science Foundation was dealing with the shutdown. And when the shutdown ended, we provided information on the rescheduling of grant reviews as quickly as information became available from NIH.
The public affairs office and PAAC will be working harder in 2014 to capture the voice of the ASBMB membership and to educate lawmakers on the impact their decisions have on the scientific enterprise.
In March, we will hold our next Capitol Hill visit day, bringing scientists from across the nation to Washington to meet with lawmakers and discuss policies that would benefit the biomedical research community.
At the ASBMB annual meeting in April in San Diego, to be held in conjunction with the Experimental Biology conference, the PAAC will present its vision on how to build a sustainable biomedical research enterprise, an effort that will continue to be refined throughout 2014.
And the public affairs staff will continue to strive to engage members across the country in advocacy efforts through training webinars, teleconferences with leaders in the administration, and new and creative ways to communicate with elected leaders at the local level.
As 2013 ends and we look ahead to 2014, I’ll leave you with a quote from the immortal Oprah Winfrey: “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right!”