NIH Challenge Grants show government support for science research

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

You may have recently noticed some frazzled professors. Upon inquiry, I learned that the application for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Challenge Grants in Health and Science Research was due April 27. The grant, I was told by one professor, was like “an extended final exam on acid to be churned out like elaborate manufactured car parts and evaluated by your former colleagues that you once made fun of for looking dorky in a lab coat but now unabashedly suck up to.” Sounds like a beating.

In all seriousness, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 designated $200 million for the 2009–2010 fiscal year to fund “scientifically meritorious applications.” The act, in addition to the enormous amount of money pumped into research sectors, is a literal and symbolic reversal of former President Bush’s backward policies.

Scientists around the nation are extremely grateful — albeit a bit stressed — for the influx of resources, as NIH funding has been nearly flat for the past five years. The money allocated for the Challenge Grants is equivalent to 35 percent of its annual budget, and the NIH promises to make the most “effective, transparent, and immediate use” of this money.

In addition to the Recovery Act, in early March, President Obama overturned a 2001 order signed by Bush on the ban on embryonic stem cell research. Previously, the NIH was barred from funding further research on embryonic stem cells, save the 60 cultures that already were in existence at the time.

In the big picture, the new policies implemented under Obama are symbols that the United States was, is, and will be a leader in scientific research. Some members of the Republican party, such as the group of six moderate GOP Congressmen who urged Obama to overturn current stem cell policy, should be applauded. More progressive, albeit vaguely idealistic, stances on the 2008 GOP platform concerning research, along with former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s public commendation of the overturn, are also important milestones in bipartisan efforts in working toward a common cause in advancing understanding of humanity.

However, there are opinion barriers holding us back as a society. For example, House Minority Leader John Boehner believes that “advancements in science and research have moved faster than the debates among politicians in Washington, D.C.” Scientific research aimed at advancing human understanding through research methods, clinical trials, and biomedical and behavioral health is an immensely important aspect of a leading superpower and an integral part of a flourishing, innovative society. Government funding should not be the constraining factor to thriving ideas; it should be the base on which the best minds in science can rely on to test hypotheses and to support new innovations.

For these recent events, Obama and his supporters should be commended for thinking beyond outdated rules and for supporting the betterment of society at large. It is my hope for those who oppose these measures or the idea behind these measures that they reconsider the importance of scientific research in an increasingly innovative world.