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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Here’s Hoping That 2011 Includes More Voice for Science, and thus, Hope


Philosophers say it’s essential. Respected universities now teach positive psychology, and papers suggest it works.

Where do humans find hope ? There are, of course, multiple sources, including the mystical. But for many, genuine hope flows primarily from science. Hope is the possibility of finding less brutal treatments to buy more time for cancer patients. Hope is the possibility of understanding genes, epigenomes and proteins. Hope is the possibility of understanding, or at least managing, the myriad diseases which inflict so much suffering.

The tight ties between science and hope are exemplified by Dr. Jonas Salk, certainly a legendary figure in science. Although he once was leaning towards law, Dr. Salk changed course, moved into science, and then went on to drive the creation of the polio vaccine which bears his name. In addition, Dr. Salk joined with others (such as Frances Crick of DNA fame), to found one of the world’s great research institutes, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies. On walking into this bastion of science, located in a minimalist and stunning complex on the Pacific seacoast, the eye is drawn to an inscribed message of hope. The message is one of Dr. Salk’s more famous quotes. The message from Dr. Salk to his fellow scientists ?

"Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality."

Let”s hope that 2011 brings a much greater voice for science, and much less attention to the religious extremists who condemn others to death and suffering by prohibiting various forms of the science that is hope. Let’s hope our nation and the world actually provide ample funds and praise for the brave, smart and compassionate souls who work in labs, hospitals and clinics to find answers, to blunt suffering, and to provide continued life. And, let’s hope we invest in the economic reality that science and hope can and do create new industries and jobs.

Is there reason for real hope that that 2011 will bring a greater voice for science ? Yes. Increasingly, scientists are explicitly calling for speaking out on matters of science and policy. Examples? Consider this Nature editorial which named scientist Jane Lubchenco as Newsmaker of the Year for her role in bringing science to bear on the Gulf oil rig fiasco. Here are key excerpts:

"The United States could do with more scientists like Lubchenco, with the skills and the dedication to speak out on issues that matter. The need will be particularly acute next year, when the Republican Party takes over the US House of Representatives. Although Republicans have generally supported basic science, incoming House leaders have made it clear that they are hostile to certain areas of research. Some have pledged to hold hearings on climate science, which they argue is seriously flawed and has overstated the evidence for global warming. Adrian Smith (Republican, Nebraska) introduced the YouCut Citizen Review, which calls on the US public to search the National Science Foundation website list of peer-reviewed grants for those they consider wasteful. And Darrell Issa (Republican, California), the incoming head of the powerful Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, last year led an effort to revoke funding from the National Institutes of Health for studies of substance abuse and HIV risk in other countries (see Nature 460, 667; 2009).

Scientific leaders in the United States must stand up against such attacks. As a first step, they should try to meet with incoming House members from both parties to voice their concerns and explain the rationale behind research in controversial areas. Recognizing that all politics is local, scientists will need to make clear why climate change or HIV research matters for the communities represented by members of Congress. They should take along science-savvy business leaders and locally elected officials to help make their case.


Best wishes to all for a New Year of peace, joy, love and hope !

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