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The CTSAs, the Congress, and the Scientific Method
  1. Lynn Morrison
  1. From the Washington Health Advocates, Washington, DC.
  1. Lynn Morrison is President of Washington Health Advocates, a Washington lobbying firm that has represented the American Federation for Medical Research on Capitol Hill since l987.
  2. Reprints: Lynn Morrison, President, Washington Health Advocates, 227 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20002. E-mail: Lynn.Morrison{at}whaonline.org.

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Next year, it will be three decades since I began my career representing the interests of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded investigators on Capitol Hill. During that time, a recurring challenge has been to convince biomedical scientists that neither the White House nor the Congress strictly adheres to the scientific method. Often, it has gone something like this:

  • I explain that scientific data to support a position is very useful but not essential in the Capitol Hill environment of persuasion. (Scientist shifts uncomfortably in chair).

  • The scientist wants to present both sides of the issue, to which I respond that it is our job to make an honest, accurate case in favor of the objective at hand and let someone else take responsibility for making a case against it. (Scientist looks even more uncomfortable.)

  • I point out that in Washington, a certain number of anecdotes/opinions equals data. (Scientist looks positively queasy!)

This clash of cultures has repeated itself time and time again in my office. Usually, we reach a happy medium, the day on the Hill goes well, and in the end, both the scientist and I are pleased that he or she can return to a world where the only path to meaningful accomplishment is through hypothesis-driven research complete with methods, results, and conclusions.

To my great surprise, the announcement of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) brought about a total role reversal with some of my old (meaning longtime), dear friends in the clinical research community. Suddenly, I was the one turning green as NIH proposed a massive change in its mechanisms of support for patient-oriented research training and infrastructure without benefit of any experiments or data to back up the conclusion that the CTSA would make the world a better place for clinical research. The NIH …

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