September 17th, 2012, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Praising the Golden Goose

I had the pleasure last week of attending the inaugural Golden Goose Award ceremony on Capitol Hill. The GGA was the brainchild of Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), who wanted to offer a counter-point to former Rep. William Proxmire’s (D-WI) Golden Fleece Award from the 1970s and 1980s which called out examples of alleged government waste, including “silly sounding” scientific studies. . Awards were presented last night to five researchers (for discoveries like the laser, green fluorescent protein, and a bone replacement from coral), including four Nobel Prize winners, who conducted seemingly obscure, federally funded research that ended up having significant societal benefit. In this case, the important research is the golden egg laid by the golden goose, federal funding. A bipartisan group of six Congressman who made remarks at the ceremony sent a clear message to their colleagues – while the return on investment of basic research is hard to predict, it often provides the seed corn for discoveries and technologies that change our world and therefore should be preserved, even in challenging fiscal times.  The GGA received quite a bit of media coverage including these pieces in the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, CBS News, and the White House’s OSTP blog.

Also on Capitol Hill last week, the House approved a 6-month continuing resolution (CR) which will keep the government running from October 1st (the beginning of FY 2013) through the end of March at essentially the same level it is spending now (FY 2012). The Senate is expected to vote on the CR next week, and the President is expected to sign it, which will allow both parties to put off any spending fights until after the November elections. Although operating under a CR creates a certain amount of uncertainty for research agencies and prevents the start of any new programs, maintaining spending at FY 2012 levels could be viewed as positive given the significant pressures to cut back federal spending in FY 2013.

On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was busy putting the final touches on their report on sequestration, which they released on Friday. The 400-page report, as required by the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012, estimates that $109 billion will be cut under sequestration in FY 2013, with an 8.2% cut in non-defense discretionary programs (which funds most research except in DoD) and a 9.4% cut in defense discretionary programs. Science outlines the potential impact to R&D accounts in a recent article, providing examples of specific agency cuts such as $2.5 billion from NIH, $551 million from NSF, and $400 million from basic research programs at DOE.

Also of Note

Health. Christopher Austin has been named as the first director of NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), NIH’s newest center.  Dr. Austin previously served as director of Pre-Clinical Translation, a division of NCATS. The creation of NCATS has been somewhat controversial, as some argue that its focus on trying to get therapies to market quicker goes beyond NIH’s core mission of basic biomedical research.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health marked up the The Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act of 2012, formerly known as the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, this bill “requires the director of NCI to develop a scientific framework for the conduct and support of research on each recalcitrant cancer that has a 5-year relative survival rate of less than 10 percent and is estimated to cause at least 300,000 deaths in the United States each year.” This includes reviewing all relevant literature, assessing the availability of qualified researchers, identifying outside resources, and creating federal working groups to develop each framework. The Senate is expected to consider a version of the bill this week.

Research. AAAS announced the publication of its new guide, entitled Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research and Education: A Practical Guide. The guide, written in partnership with the University of Colorado, provides a set of “‘best practices’ for scholars, administrators, and funders who are starting, managing, and supporting interdisciplinary research and education programs.”

What’s on Deck

Wednesday (9/19)

Thursday (9/20)

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