19 January 2009

You got a few minutes for Sieglinde?

So first, go check out Renée Fleming's stellar performance at the Obama concert at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday. Isn't she just the national treasure that Angela Gheorghiu is not?

OK, so if you had four minutes for Renée, I'm sure you can spare a few more, this time to help cure diseases that have plagued our favorite soprano roles in the repertory. Seriously now ...

With hundreds of billions of dollars being dispersed among failed banks without much discussion, and with the cost of unnecessary wars escalating to unfathomable proportions, I'd be surprised if you don't fall off your chair (or bed, or pedestal, wherever) when I tell you that the National Institutes of Health, the primary source of funding for medical and biological research in our nation's universities and institutes, only has an annual budget of $29 billion. While medical challenges have multiplied, the NIH budget has not grown significantly in the last five years. Moreover, this sum diminishes dramatically as soon as it's partitioned among the many research goals currently under way, including efforts to cure cancer, AIDS, and other diseases, as well as promising avenues such as stem-cell techonologies, genomic and biomolecular studies, and other basic science investigations.

Obama's Economic Stimulus Package calls for an increase of $3.9 billion in the NIH budget, which, while larger than in previous years, still falls short of Obama's promise to reinvigorate science and technology in America. Various advocacy groups, with the support of Senator Arlen Specter (of Pennsylvania), have called this the right time to "think big", calling for the NIH to be a key element in stimulating the economy by supporting our financially imperiled universities, while making the right long-term investment in our intellectual infrastructure by ensuring that current and future scientists are supported and nurtured. The increase for the NIH budget that Senator Specter will be requesting in the Senate bill is $10 billion.

I strongly urge all of you to contact your senators and representatives by phone and/or e-mail to voice your support for Senator Specter's call for an increase of $10 billion for the NIH. It's really, really easy. You can use the automated system that the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) has set up to identify your representatives based on your zipcode and send already formulated e-mails to them directly. Believe me, these legislators pay some attention to the volume of e-mails, letters, and phone calls their offices receive when they deliberate on these things. Be counted as a supporter of science and research, and make sure your congressional representatives know.