Newt Gingrich stumps for science funding

SAN DIEGO, CA—In a speech before several thousand attendees at the Neuroscience 2007 meeting earlier this month, former U.

SAN DIEGO, CA—In a speech before several thousand attendees at the Neuroscience 2007 meeting earlier this month, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called upon the scientific community to become citizens “for at least 15 minutes every six months” if they want Congress to continue funding scientific research and education. Gingrich, who founded the Center for Health

Transformation (Washington, DC) and has long been an advocate for science education and funding, is currently promoting his latest book, A Contract with America.

“If you think you are too busy to educate Washington about what you know, then you’ll have to put up with their ignorant decisions,” he said. He added that lawmakers can prioritize the budget in such a way as to make money available, although he did not offer which sections of the budget could stand to drop in priority.

“The final version of the appropriations bill for NIH funding is now being voted on in the House and Senate, and you need to educate the people you elected to represent you.You need to be a citizen as well as a scientist,” he said. “This is a multi-trillion dollar budget. They can always find the money if they want to.”

The audience applauded heartily several times during his 45-minute speech, particularly when Gingrich said that the budget for the National Science Foundation should be tripled and that significant amounts of money should be dedicated to young investigators and to continued on page 3 more-accessible prizes, both of which would stimulate the development of new ideas without the burden of academia’s inherent politics. Not surprisingly (given the audience), he said he feels that of all the areas within science, the most exciting at this time is brain science.

“There have been amazing technological advances that allow us to get into the brain in new ways,” Gingrich said. “And the brain is so complex, which means there are opportunities to create new and remarkable models of understanding. I think we are at the early stages of an explosion of new technology.”

During a Q&A following his speech, he made additional arguments about the need for government to continue to fund scientific research, particularly in the biomed arena—even if that investment is to support long-term goals vs. more-immediate results.

“No one would have funded the Human Genome Project if they were looking for a short-term payoff,” Gingrich said. “But there has been a huge explosion in understanding because of it.”

He noted that there are “an amazing number” of people on Capitol Hill who care about the life sciences. The goal is to build the momentum to motivate them to continue to support funding for it.

“We have to get away from thinking science is knowledge and go back to thinking that science is process,” he said. “The scientific enterprise is the single most important factor in keeping this country at the forefront.”

—Kathy Kincade

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