Eisen Nails Down Why Collins Was Wrong on Ebola Assertion

Oct 13 2014 Published by under NIH, NIH funding, Public Health

Endorse. Go read:

But what really bothers me the most about this is that, rather than trying to exploit the current hysteria about Ebola by offering a quid-pro-quo “Give me more money and I’ll deliver and Ebola vaccine”, Collins should be out there pointing out that the reason we’re even in a position to develop an Ebola vaccine is because of our long-standing investment in basic research, and that the real threat we face is not Ebola, but the fact that, by having slashed the NIH budget and made it increasingly difficult to have a stable career in science, we’re making it less and less likely that we’ll be equipped to handle all of the future challenges to public health that we’re going to be face in the future.

46 responses so far

  • Philapodia says:

    Pandering to CongressCritters is really the only thing that they hear. If you tell them that they are ridiculous fucknuts whose petty squabbles involving blockage of any growth in the US R&D enterprise in an effort to keep their cushy jobs have endangered the public health, they will dismiss it as partisan attacks and ignore you. Have you ever heard a politician on C-Span say "Huh! I hadn't thought of that before. Maybe you're right and I was wrong." Politicians are not reasonable people and do not live in the same world that we do.

    We would only have had an Ebola vaccine now if we had an outbreak 10 years ago. Funding initiatives by the NIH are reactive, not proactive.

  • Philapodia says:

    Sorry, I meant that funding initiatives by Congress are reactive rather than proactive, not NIH. NIH is a paragon of proactive R&D :')

  • Jonathan says:

    Philapodia is dead right on this, and as much as it would be great if Eisen's "just tell them basic research is essential" worked, it doesn't. Shit, we're lucky NIH is underneath Energy and Commerce and not the Science committee, which patently doesn't even believe in science as far as the majority goes.

    For a while it seemed like we could appeal to the GOP's sense of avarice by telling them just how much of a return on investment NIH funding produced, but they don't give a shit about that either. Look - these fuckwits were too craven and too stupid to sit down and have difficult conversations about the budget and allowed the sequester to happen, which was, I remind you, supposed to be such an unpalatable option as to make proper budgeting a fait accompli. Where did that get us?

  • Dave says:

    Pandering to CongressCritters is really the only thing that they hear.

    No it's not. They don't give a fuck. They are under no pressure from voters to do anything for the NIH. In fact, a fair number of right-wingers would be happy to see the end of the NIH and let the 'private sector' take over. It's just like the immigration/minimum wage/healthcare issues: the GOP is under no voter pressure whatsoever to do anything, so why would they? They are being rewarded for doing nothing, NIH budget included.

    Collins just needs to keep his gob shut at this point. He's just exploiting the media frenzy over ebola, and that's just sad if you ask me.

  • Philapodia says:

    I disagree Dave. They hear what they view as positive to either their own position or what will make them look good and dismiss the negative. I think what Collins is doing here is to mildly chastise them (i.e. you should have funded this earlier) to placate the scientists while giving the poli-apparaticks the idea that if they fund research on Ebola research NOW they will be viewed as heroes and can use it in their ads during the 2016 elections. Imagine being able to say in an ad "...and I supported increasing NIH funding to fight the Ebola epidemic and stopped it in its tracks. And even though the Cowboys succumbed before we were able to stop this plague from God (which proves they weren't worthy anyway), my courageous decision to fund this work saved millions of lives".

    Collins is politicking here and using what he can to help the greater good. List off 25 different chronic diseases that NIH is working on and how you need an extra 25% funding increase to start down the path to a beginning of a cure, and I guarantee that Senator Chucklehead will be thinking of what he's going to do with his mistress this evening rather than listening to Collins. Scare him with the prospect of his constituents bleeding out in his hospitals and maybe he'll actually do something to protect his base and his chances of getting re-elected (and keeping his mistress). Every lobbying group exploits events, and Collins is for all intents and purposes a lobbyist for the NIH.

  • I hear this all the time "We have to pander to Congress, it's the only way to get money for the NIH". We're all empiricists here, right. Pandering to Congress has been the dominant paradigm for the last decade, and how's that been working out? Everyone says defending basic research doesn't work, but where's the evidence? The last time we had an NIH director who was a real backer of basic research - Harold Varmus - te NIH budget doubled. Now I'm not a fool - the climate was very different then. But spare me the defeatist arguments. Pandering isn't working. I don't guarantee shooting straight would, but don't you think it's at least worth trying?

  • Philapodia says:

    @ Michael Eisen: Politicians have to get elected, and if they vote on broad "basic science" funding they run the risk of supporting research that their base won't like. You then get attack ads in their districts stating that Senator Chucklehead from a Rust Belt state voted to support research into gay abortion guncontrol. End of the road for Senator Chucklehead, so he won't support that legislation and put himself in an awkward spot. The old adage of "he who pays, says" is unfortunately true. In addition, Varmus was blessed with a good economy, whereas we've had a less-than stellar growth rate over the last few years. Add in a good measure of Citizens United and plain republican (and the occasional democrat) assholery, and the situation is very different than what Varmus dealt with.

    The mistake that we as scientists and educators make is thinking that the public and our elected officials are reasonable and think about things in a rational fashion. Most US citizens think primarily about how things will directly affect them and aren't so worried about others well-being. If they were there wouldn't be anti-vaxers or tea-partiers. If we keep expecting that someday the public will have an awakening about how important science and research is in their lives we're going to keep being disappointed. How to fix this problem is going to take someone smarter than me, probably someone who has the political accumen to give the politicians some good pillow-talk that works in support of all aspects the NIH enterprise. Perhaps Collins isn't "The One", but he's all we have right now. Unless McKnight is nominated for the position. I would love to see that on C-Span.

  • GM says:

    Michael Eisen October 13, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    We're all empiricists here, right. Pandering to Congress has been the dominant paradigm for the last decade, and how's that been working out?

    I fully concur.

    I will also add that constantly promising cures/therapies and economic returns of investment is suicidal in the not so long term as it is a message that by its very nature devalues basic research. So what happens if/when investment in research no longer delivers the promised amount of cures and economic growth due to a number of factors that it will take too long to list in detail, some intrinsic to science (diminishing returns of investment as only the very difficult problems remain unsolved), others having nothing to do with it (such as the very real global physical limits to growth)? One can argue we have in fact reached that point already.

  • qaz says:

    The comments in this discussion are predicated on the idea that we have to reach congress. We need to reach the American people. The problem isn't that Collins is pandering to congress. The problem is that Collins is pandering to the American people.

    Eisen and DM are completely correct here. American's are very leery of overblown advertising. Saying "give us money and we'll cure X" is going to call down a lot of problems when they do (say double the NIH budget) and we don't deliver (say provide a cure for Alzheimer's). Instead we need to be defending the point that basic research from 30 years ago provides breakthroughs today.

    You may complain that the public won't listen to that argument and that the public isn't interested in basic science. I have two answers. First, it takes time and message to reach the public. It's not going to happen overnight. But screwing these responses up doesn't help. Second, I've started doing a lot of outreach over the last decade. I'm finding that the public is extremely eager to hear about basic science. They don't want to hear "how are you working to fix my parent/sibling/friend with Alzheimer's". (They've got their own doctor for that.) They want to hear what we've discovered about how the brain works. 'Cause that's really cool!

  • 1st Time Caller says:

    When it comes to Ebola, or any other neglected disease, I say that pandering to Congress and the American people for more research dollars is part of Collins' job description. At least two Americans, Bill & Melinda Gates, have responded to the tune of $50M. Much of that money will be for vaccines, but their Foundation is also making longer term investments in basic Ebola research.

    Certainly, it would be better if U.S. government R&D investments were sufficient to make pandering unnecessary, but with the Ebola death toll now surpassing 4000, Collins is doing his job. During his appearance at the Grand Challenges meeting in Seattle last week, Collins stated clearly that flat NIH budgets have not only delayed progress on Ebola and a multitude of diseases, but that we are all going to end up paying more in the long run for a failure to invest in research at all levels.

  • dsks says:

    I dunno. it takes some brass ones to whinge about a lack of funding for vaccine research when you've been part of championing a huge injection/redirection (do we know which yet?) of taxpayer money into a boondoggle like the BRAIN Initiative, which has no clear health objectives at all (and that should probably be under the purview of the NSF rather than the NIH for that reason, imho, but I digress...).

    At the moment, it's far too easy for folk like Rep Harris to point at examples of odd funding priorities and completely undermine these sorts of emotional appeals by NIH leadership. It's better not to invite congress critters to insert themselves in the game, imho, by inviting them to direct funds towards particular diseases anymore than they already try to. Better to keep the message to the simple (and consistently effective in terms of cross-party support) funding science results in useful stuff for everyone.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It is pretty clear BRAINI is "redirection" of NIH funds.

  • Philapodia says:

    @Qaz I agree wholeheartedly that we need to reach the American people, but we have failed miserably at that for a long time. Most Americans have no idea what's going on in any field of science these days because we haven’t made a convincing and compelling case for why they should care.

    I think that part of the problem is that we as scientists are surrounded by highly educated people and we tend to forget that we are not reflective of the majority of the US. Most people in the US are not stupid, but are uninformed (or misinformed by Faux News) and are worried about things like if they can pay their mortgage, if their kid is smoking the Ganja, or if the Seahawks will go all the way this year. I grew up in a trailer park in Tornado Alley and am the only person I know from my area to have earned an advanced degree. My friends from that area can tell you who won last night on “The Voice” or what Kim Kardashian’s kids name is (She’s married to Kanye West, so the baby’s named North West, if you didn't know), but they can’t name one scientist besides me and they freak out at the mere mention of Ebola. They also shut down when I start to tell them about the cool stuff that we’re doing because they don’t have the academic basis to understand what I’m talking about. Add to that our love of naming things with incomprehensible labels (I still don’t know what the hell optogenetics is…), the expansion of all these different areas of science, supposedly educational channels like TLC playing shows like Honey Boo-Boo, and dipwads like Palin spouting off about the evils of fruitfly research, and is it any wonder that the public is confused and uninterested? For most of the non-science people I know, science and the woes of the NIH funded biomedical-industrial complex is only a small blip on their radar.

    What we need is a charismatic and down-to-earth advocate for science. Someone who looks like Taye Diggs or Scarlett Johannson, was a popular jock, deworms orphans in Somalia in his/her spare time, and can talk about science in a way that folks understand and connect with. These old stereotypical scientist types like Bill Nye are bad from a marketing perspective.

  • Dave says:

    None of this PRing is doing anything positive for the NIH and dumbing down science for the 'uneducated' public is pointless. It's not getting us more money, and instead is increasing the politicization of the NIH such that many of the 'congress critters' that you all love so much would prefer to decide what research gets funded. The NIH complained about a lack of money, the politicians accused the NIH of 'waste' and 'inefficiency' and funding shrimp running research etc. In these fiscal times, there is no stomach for increasing NIH funding, period. Things have changed. No amount of pandering will impact that. It doesn't really matter what the message is, it just isn't going to happen.

    Collins should focus 100% on improving how the NIH uses the $30 billion or so it gets, because that will be the operating budget for the foreseeable future. And after seeing four more close colleagues get their 'you have one year to get an R01 or you're done' letters last week (and get a major salary cut for their last year), any budget increase will be too little too late for most of us anyway. The cull is in full effect.

  • neuropop says:

    @Dave: I guess you mean "NSF" funding shrimp running research. Collins' comment is wrong on so many counts. He runs a $30B/yr enterprise and he's complaining that it's not enough to fund an Ebola vaccine discovery. Then what amount will be enough? His comments might end up taking NIH in a very difficult place if Congress starts to mandate what kind of research must be done. That would further constrain basic research.

  • Philapodia says:

    @neuropop: What other $30B/year company has to fund so many types of research? The NIH is mandated to R&D for all human health, not just Ebola. Humans are sort of complicated machines, and there are lots of ways we can break. $30B/year is a pittance towards keeping people healthy. $300B would be more appropriate. We spend more than twice that much on defense, so why is it reasonable that we spend so little on keeping our citizens healthy?

  • Dave says:

    Humans are sort of complicated machines, and there are lots of ways we can break. $30B/year is a pittance towards keeping people healthy. $300B would be more appropriate

    Ah yes, dumb it down so the 'uneducated public' can understand. Better yet, put it in a TED talk, charge $6000 for a ticket, and then over-promise and under-deliver a little more. I'm rolling my eyes with the rest of the general public every time I read shit like this.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And of course it didn't take long for the RWNJs to figure it https://mobile.twitter.com/search/?q=%23TookMoneyFromEbolaResearch&s=hash

  • Philapodia says:

    If your audience doesn't understand what you're talking about, then you're just talking to yourself and practicing mental masturbation. Dumbing down just means explaining in a way that your audience understands. This is what educators do.

    BTW, you can see most TED talks online for free. Whoever charged you $6K for a ticket ripped you off.

  • becca says:

    You GUYS! You are MISSING HOW REPUBLICANS WORK! Ebola is GREAT news for them. Fearful people vote more conservatively. What we ought to be doing is saying "Ebola is probably a vile terrorist plot. Give us all the defense monies to develop vaccines!" This will work great until we get a vaccine and our government unleashes Ebola on all our enemies, but in the meantime, JOBS people JOBS!!!! Focus!

    Eisen- there is a LOT more money going to Congress than there used to be, right? Maybe pandering doesn't work because we aren't buying enough lobbyists.

  • Philapodia says:

    @Becca

    "You GUYS! You are MISSING HOW REPUBLICANS WORK! Ebola is GREAT news for them. Fearful people vote more conservatively."

    This is a good point. This is all about politics, not science. People tend to vote with their guts or for things that are truthy, and facts or meticulously-constructed logical arguments be damned. The sad truth is that the right is much better at PR than the left because they understand that people don't want details, they want easy answers that they viscerally understand (even if they're wrong). I fear that the right will continue to tear down government institutions like the NIH, and so the current $30B/year NIH budget will start to dwindle and eventually be subsumed into other areas. This is why I think we need charismatic and approachable/relatable spokespersons to lobby for science to the public and Congress so we can at least keep at the same level.

  • Grumble says:

    With "Feds Gave Ebola Dollars To Fat Lesbians" part of the mainstream discussion, it is impossible to believe in the success of any attempt to convince Congress or the American people that NIH funding is worthwhile -- at least, any attempt that is limited to simply explaining the merits of research funding. Why would you expect your everyday Joe to believe us and not Erick Erickson?

    At any rate, Congress rarely listens to the American people, or does what's ethically right for them. They listen to lobbyists. The only way NIH research funding is going to increase is if an organized lobby for science research funding begins to actively advocate for it. It would not necessarily take all that much money - just persistence, discipline, organization and the willingness of a few big pockets to bankroll the operation. There already exists an excellent model for the success of this approach. If AIPAC can do it, why can't we?

  • GM says:

    Philapodia October 14, 2014 at 11:45 am
    If your audience doesn't understand what you're talking about, then you're just talking to yourself and practicing mental masturbation. Dumbing down just means explaining in a way that your audience understands. This is what educators do.

    Sorry, but that's one of the biggest fallacies in the whole "how do we get the public to value and understand science" discussion.

    There are things that can only be understood if certain other concepts are already well absorbed. Not just "there are things", most of science is in that category. We biologists actually have it relatively easy because we deal with concrete biological objects that people can relate to. But other fields have a much harder time. Recall what happened when the existence of the Higgs boson was confirmed - there were all sorts of dumbed down explanations of what it is and why it is important and they were invariably a more or less gross misrepresentation of the science. Because there is this huge body of physics and abstract math that you need to know to even begin to understand the subject.

    "You have to be able to explain it to laymen" puts an unnecessary burden of guilt on scientist and absolves the public from all responsibility for their own education. Of course, we cannot talk to the public the way we write our papers, we often hate reading that sort of prose ourselves, but just as the solution of the problem is not to be found on that end of the spectrum, it is not found on the other one either - we have to meet somewhere in the middle, and that means orders of magnitude of improvement in average science literacy in the population. It's not going to happen any other way.

  • Dave says:

    ^what he said.

    And of course it didn't take long for the RWNJs to figure it

    It ain't just RWNJs though DM. It's comforting to think that, and they are of course more willing to vocalize their concerns, but my fear is that 'science funding fatigue' goes much further than your garden variety RWNJ. But with a GOP controlled everything, it's all academic anyway.

  • Dave says:

    Even in a very good economy, science is on the chopping block:

    http://www.nature.com/news/australian-cuts-rile-researchers-1.16089

    The Australian industry minister calling scientists:

    precious petals in the science fraternity

    It's happening everywhere, kids.

  • neuropop says:

    @Philapoda "What other $30B/year company has to fund so many types of research? "

    My point was that to the average American (and even some sophisticated NPR announcers), $30B is a lot of money. However, with a comment like this, Collins runs the risk of being greedy or at best, tone deaf. Alas, if only someone emphasized to the public that the US has a $14 TRILLION economy and $30B is less than a rounding error, large though the sum may be. Even doubling the basic science budget, will have no adverse effect on the economy, but may have a measurable impact on human health and well-being. But try convincing the public of that!

  • neuropop says:

    @Grumble - It is likely that Congress rarely listens to the public. But it does behoove us to convey our sense of wonder and the thrill of discovery to the public at large. So, while we may think that funding for science and science communication are inextricably linked, perhaps they must be approached separately, with different strategies. Also, science communication is best done if scientists work together with professional educators.

  • Philapodia says:

    @GM

    So, we shouldn't bother doing anything and trying to explain what we do, we should wait for the public to catch up with us? Hell, I have a hard time keeping up with fields outside my own niche and I do this for a living. Imagine Joe the Plumber going back to community college to learn about basic biology so he can understand what's going on at NIH. Not likely IMO. We may be able to just help kids understand science better and that will solve all of our problems, but that's a very long game and I'll likely be retired when that approach bears fruit. And if it doesn't affect me, why should I care?

    I think the reason that there were misrepresentations with things like the LHC/Higgs Boson story is two fold. 1, the researchers may not have explained the results in simple enough terms for the reporter to understand the implications and report accurately. And 2, reporters don't like to let scientists re-work their stories to be accurate. I've talked to some local reporters before about some of our work and the reporter wouldn't let me see the story before they published it for some reasons of journalistic integrity or some BS like that, and it was obvious after the fact that I didn't do a good enough job explaining what I meant. Had I take the time to educate the reporter and make sure they understood what's going on better, the story would have been more informative to the public. But I also made the mistake of mentioning zombies tongue-in-cheek. Never mention zombies when you talk to a reporter, they love that shitte.

    We basically speak a different language than the general public, and if they don't understand us they will ignore us at best or fear us at worst. Like it or not, we have to communicate our science to the general population, not just the riff-raff on the study section.

  • rxnm says:

    Collins played right into the RWNJ talking points because he is a poor communicator. He has done a dismal job communicating and advocating for what the NIH REALLY DOES as opposed to shovelling all kinds of inconsistent, ham fisted, dumbed down, over promising bullshit to anyone who will listen. I think he is too afraid to take any principled stand for the NIH's mission and is too unskilled to play any kind of deeper game.

    Even idiots can tell when they're being treated like idiots.

  • Grumble says:

    @neuropop: "But it does behoove us to convey our sense of wonder and the thrill of discovery to the public at large."

    Sense of wonder and thrill of discovery get us $30b/year and that's declining. An active, organized program of lobbying by passionate, dedicated individuals (funded by, say, big pharma) would get us much more, and at a more sustained level.

    Congress' unwillingness to invest in expanding biomedical research is not mainly an issue of "wonder and thrill." It's an issue of our very livelihoods. We are foolish not to act like any other constituency would when their livelihoods are threatened (farmers, fishermen, oil drillers, etc.)

  • Philapodia says:

    @Grumble

    Agreed. Too many of us view science as some sort of sacred calling and refuse to view it as something that has to be actively lobbied for or get our hands dirty advocating for it to public. The wonder and thrill of discovery is all well and good, but it won't keep granny from keeling over. Again, people what to know how what we do benefits them. Why not tell the people who are paying us that what they are getting for their money and how it will keep granny alive?

  • Anonymous PI says:

    The essential point is that voters--and therefore elected officials--are way more scared of Ebola right now than they are about cancer, flu, Alzheimer's, and anything else. Low vaccine availability is a consequence they can see and understand, and Collins is absolutely right to be running with the opportunity to engage people emotionally.

    I worked for a very high-ranking House Republican back in the day (don't get me started; there was nepotism involved, and I was vulnerable to familial pressure). It helped me understand the kinds of windows that were available for action. So much rides on what the public momentarily gives a crap about, and it's hard to overstate the scientific ignorance of most politicians. I'd mention climate change, and he'd reply by talking about animal rights. He asked me a few years ago when I was a postdoc if the U.S. was still the world leader across the board scientifically--sheesh.

    I believe Collins's play is what it takes nowadays to increase support for the NIH. It's obviously far from ideal, but it's deeply pragmatic. I suspect it will also be far easier to deliver short-term results on Ebola than cancer, flu, and Alzheimer's. Voters have short attention spans and limited ability to appreciate incremental advances.

  • Davis Sharp says:

    Eisen wrote that he wasn't taking Collins' comments out of context, but he was citing an isolated comment in Collins' many years of taking to Congress. Collins expressed frustration at the lack of growth in science funding as has almost everyone working in the area (i.e. Collins' constituents). So he didn't mention - in that specific moment - the stuff about future challenges to public health; so what? Anyone who thinks that Collins has not brought this up, multiple times, to congresspeople is grossly ignorant.

  • GM says:

    Philapodia October 14, 2014 at 2:33 pm
    @GM

    So, we shouldn't bother doing anything and trying to explain what we do, we should wait for the public to catch up with us?

    I think I clearly mentioned something about the two sides meeting in the middle.

    Which is not going to happen on the level of adults - that's too late. You have to target schools and the next generations.

    I think the reason that there were misrepresentations with things like the LHC/Higgs Boson story is two fold. 1, the researchers may not have explained the results in simple enough terms for the reporter to understand the implications and report accurately.

    Again, it is impossible to understand that stuff without having taken a lot of math and physics courses. No way you understand that Standard Model without a basic understanding of group theory, knowing the elementary particles, etc. (for the record, I don't claim to really understand it either). It's not about being able to explain it in simple terms in 2 minutes - because it is not simple and cannot be explained in 2 minutes.

    And 2, reporters don't like to let scientists re-work their stories to be accurate. I've talked to some local reporters before about some of our work and the reporter wouldn't let me see the story before they published it for some reasons of journalistic integrity or some BS like that, and it was obvious after the fact that I didn't do a good enough job explaining what I meant. Had I take the time to educate the reporter and make sure they understood what's going on better, the story would have been more informative to the public. But I also made the mistake of mentioning zombies tongue-in-cheek. Never mention zombies when you talk to a reporter, they love that shitte.

    There is a not very complicate solution to this - scientists can cut out the middlemen and write popular articles themselves. That way there is no excuse for misrepresenting the science. Of course, we all know the cultural problems with that - such activity is frowned upon in the community and spending time writing such things is time not spent writing research papers and grants, thus it hurts your scientific evolutionary fitness. But this is an internal problem that we have nobody but us to blame for

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I think the reason that there were misrepresentations with things like the LHC/Higgs Boson story is two fold...

    I'm actually fairly impressed by the facts that 1) the LHC and it's search for the Higgs Boson has no practical application at all and spokespersons for the project have been very straightforward about this, and 2) the general public has been quite enthusiastic about the whole endeavor.

    Given how much huge projects like the LHC cost, I'd say that the physicists have been pretty successful with the "sense of wonder" approach.

    Of course, the LHC was built by Europeans and is the biggest thing going because the US decided to abandon the SSC. So maybe "sense of wonder" doesn't go over so well on this side of the Atlantic...

  • @Davis Sharp - Sorry, but I disagree. I've read a lot of Collins' testimony to Congress and the vast majority of it is "We need money to cure this or that" - he occasionally pays lip service to basic research, but it's a minor part of his pitch.

    And, more importantly, on his watch the NIH has made a major shift away from investigator driven basic research and towards consortia and "collaborative" translational research. If his Congressional testimony were just a cynical ploy to get more money, it would be one thing. But it's not. Collins is not good for basic research, and this is just another example of it.

  • @Academic Lurker
    I think in part it's because the public can't even imagine what physics is about (all that math!) so they see physicists as geniuses to be in awe of. Albert Einstein is basically the universal symbol of genius even today. It's hard for biologists to get that sort of respect from the public just being scientists so we rely more on the usefulness of biology in our outreach.

  • GM says:

    @AcademicLurker:

    There are several objections to what you (which I really wish was true, and some of it surely is).

    1) You mentioned the SSC yoursself

    2) The next collider will not cost $10B, it will cost a lot more. Let's see how funding that one goes and then we'll talk.

    3) The LHC was lucky to be funded in the lates 90s and early 2000s when economies were booming thanks to cheap oil prices and the opening of so many new markets after the fall of communism. Would it be funded now?

    4) I don't think anyone asked the public - CERN and the EU governments just did it and there wasn't much accountability for how much money were spent on what. That's the way to do these things, of course, and in the US politicians rarely do anything according to what the public wishes (usually they do the opposite). But that also why it's the reverse problem that we have to solve here - how do we get the public to exercise sufficient pressure on the politicians to spend more on science because they won't do it on their own. That's a very difficult problem

  • […] research projects that has been bandied about with much glee from the right wing in the wake of Francis Collins' unfortunate assertion about Ebola research and the flatlined NIH budget is the "Origami […]

  • jmz4 says:

    "The statement that “we would have had an Ebola vaccine if there had been more money” is bullshit. It’s at best speculation, at worst fabrication."
    -From Michael Eisen's article's comments, by Michael Eisen.

    I agree with the general idea that Collins should have gone down there and said, "Look, the only reason we even know anything about Ebola, viruses, and how to develop a vaccine for it, is because of NIH's basic research."

    However, its worth mentioning that we don't KNOW that an Ebola vaccination stage 1 trial wasn't held up because of lack of funding. That could very well have been a decision they made over there (at NIH and GSK). I haven't seen any evidence one way or another, but its a little rough on the guy to just call him a bullshit artist right out of the gate. And yes, Michael, if the trial had failed, we would still be 1-2 years ahead of where we are now, cause that's how science works. You can't just count the positive results as progress.

  • jmz4 says:

    "And while money is tight at the NIH, they still manage to find funds to do a lot of stuff I would not have prioritized over an Ebola research program it it was really on the crux of delivering a vaccine. So there is an element of choice here too that Collins is downplaying."
    -Sorry, must have missed that bit. You acknowledged the possibility of a choice, my mistake.
    But really, do we think that a vaccine would have been a worthwhile use of NIH funds? If they had, then they would have just got slammed by the right for developing a vaccine for a disease that doesn't affect Americans.

    I think Collins has acknowledged that he has to play their game, if he's doing it clumsily, its because, well, its a stupid game with stupid rules.

  • Joe says:

    FYI, Kawaoka had an Ebola vaccine trial in primates that was not continued for lack of funds. Data looked good as presented.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Was it NIH funded?

  • drugmonkey says:

    how do we know it was "lack funds" and not "reviewers not particularly impressed with the data" that was the problem for this vaccine trial?

    Also, there is some implication that this project may have been closed down for improper safety precautions?

  • Joe says:

    The ebola work was carried out by a collaborator in Canada, not in WI. I only saw the data presented in a talk, so I don't know the reasons why the project did not continue other than that the speaker said they would have continued the vaccine work if they had continued funding.

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