Scientific Research Is Pivotal for Growth
Vijay Kale, MVSc, PhD, DABT, ERT, believes FASEB and its member societies play a vital role in educating the public and advocating with policymakers about the significance of biomedical and biological research in support of the scientific community and the greater society.
“Scientific research is pivotal for the growth of a society,” said Kale, a principal scientist at Bristol Myers Squibb and an early-career representative on the FASEB Board of Directors. “We are in the strong position in biomedical sciences today because of the research in the past, and collectively we have made great strides in science over the last century. Diseases that were considered incurable 100 years ago—smallpox, polio, tuberculosis, and tetanus—are now either eradicated or successfully contained with very little incidences in most parts of the world. All of that came from society choosing to invest in scientific research.”
An unexpected encounter on an airline flight confirmed to him the consequence of scientists clearly explaining the value of science and illuminating the intricacy of biological research. While preparing for a scientific presentation on his laptop, his co-passenger struck up a general discussion about what he does. He mentioned that he was a scientist and working on finding a novel treatment for cancer. Seeing their curiosity, he showed a video of cancer cells crawling. He explained how cancer cells worked and how the medicine-in-the-making kills the cancer cells. It was a revelation for his co-passenger, who marveled at the science. It was a real “ah-ha” moment.
“Most people, whether policymakers or the public, don’t always understand the complexity of scientific research and its tremendously positive impact on the society, and we have a responsibility through public conversations and advocacy to help describe it and explain its importance for society,” said Kale.
He believes individual scientists can be effective in advocating on behalf of their scientific disciplines because they bring their own unique perspectives and passions to the discussion. Kale said this is especially true for early-career researchers who have just started their career and still struggling to establish themselves in the field of science.
“All scientists at different phases of their careers observe different problems within the scientific community that need to be addressed or solved,” said Kale. “For early-career researchers, their problems may not be the same as the problems of veteran scientists who have experienced an entire career. That's why it is key to include the opinions and experiences of early-career researchers into our public discussions. Who else can be a better voice for early career scientists than one of their own?”
Kale said he believes Capitol Hill Day is a wonderful opportunity to make connections with policymakers and to build the case for sympathetic funding and regulations for biomedical and biological research. “You can feel the energy in the room with policymakers, whether they’re appreciating or not appreciating what you’re trying to convey,” said Kale. “The interaction with members of Congress allows us to see what they care about and the blind spots they might have. It allows us to have a dialogue and to help them make informed decisions related to science policies.”
“For policymakers, we help them see the direct link between taxpayers’ money and specific societal problems and research solutions. Some policymakers may be well-versed while some may need a deeper insight into the science and the scientific research,” he added.
But Kale also feels it is essential for scientists to take opportunities to explain scientific research in plain English for the general public. It is too easy to misinterpret multipart scientific principles and research. He notes that some policymakers and taxpayers may have non-science backgrounds, so it is important for scientists to communicate their research in understandable language and make the connection back to real lives.
“Scientific research positively impacts the public health, and the public health positively impacts the economy of a nation and the lives of the people who live there,” said Kale. “If people in the country are healthy, they can be more productive at work and can be the power behind the high performing workforce that can fuel the economy. It’s all integrated!”
Kale said he believes Capitol Hill Day and FASEB’s other advocacy efforts are contributing to the scientific endeavor, but he noted that it can be hard to quantify the success of the advocacy. “It is difficult to measure in dollars and cents the direct impact of these interactions on final decisions because there are so many factors,” Kale said. “I do think one of the most immediate positive outcomes of our work is seeing the policymakers’ appreciation for the importance of scientific research and having them assuring they will support strong and continued funding for biomedical research.”
Serving as an advocate for FASEB and its member societies also enriches the lives of scientists who end up playing a different role as advocates than they do in the laboratory, he said. “We scientists can be in our own cocoon and in our own community,” said Kale. “We need to break those barriers and reach out to the public and to policymakers to talk about research funding and the focus of our research and its positive impact on the society. It’s especially important for the public because they don’t always see the direct impact of that funding, which essentially is their tax dollars, in their daily lives.”