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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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