Why scientists must be advocates too

CIRM Board Member, Jeff Sheehy, has a wonderful piece in Nature Medicine on why patient advocates play a critical role in decision making on research priorities (hat tip to Amy Adams who first blogged on Sheehy’s piece).

Patient advocates bring a unique and valuable perspective to the table. Their role in guiding CIRM research funding decisions has had a clear impact.

Scientists must be advocates too. Traditionally, scientists have not been comfortable acting as advocates, but in the current environment scientists must take action outside the lab as advocates or find their priorities at the bottom of the ladder. For example, in the recent court case against ES cell research, scientists have mainly been quiet about the goings on. Meanwhile, the opponents of ES cell research have a powerful, interconnected network for influencing the media and politicians. If scientists do not so to speak ‘fight back’, we will lose the political battle and battle of public opinion, both of which are very important.

While we tend to be more comfortable talking about data, these other arenas are critically important. Too few scientists are willing to be advocates and I would argue that as a result, science suffers due to reduced resources.  Some groups such as AAAS and AACR make efforts to lobby politicians, but I think more scientists themselves need to take action.

With this blog, I have taken on the roles of both scientist and advocate. I tell it like I think it is and push the readers of this blog to take action, such as contacting their representatives.

While being outspoken on some issues, I have gotten into some trouble, but surprisingly little (so far). I would encourage other scientists  not to be afraid to act as advocates for science.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to thank the readers of this blog and encourage them to post more comments. We have steadily grown and now get on average more than 100 visitors a day including scientists from academia and industry, politicians, advocates, students, etc.