The Committee believes it is critical for NIH to use all the media at its command to publicize the benefits and results of NIH research, in order to solidify the general public support of biomedical research and to identify . . . the funding source for these breakthroughs in the public's mind. The Committee also urges . . . whatever steps are necessary to ensure that grantees acknowledge NIH's funding contribution when they publicize their research findings. . . .
Report language accompanying theFY 1996 NIH Appropriations Bill
With its generous increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in a year when competition for federal resources was especially keen, the US Congress made clear its continued support for the biomedical research enterprise. However, by accompanying the legislation with the above language, it also offered some pointed advice to the NIH and to the entire biomedical community: It pays to advertise.
Congress is as aware as we are of the benefits of biomedical research, but it is also aware that the public often knows nothing of the implications of scientific advances or the source of their funding. That's where you come in. You must do a better job of publicizing your research results and explaining their benefits in terms that the public can appreciate. You also must make every effort, at every opportunity, to acknowledge the source of funding for your research.
Despite tireless advocacy for federally funded biomedical research by individuals such as Representative John Edward Porter, Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, most of the public remains unaware of the critical role played by NHLBI- and NIH-supported research in improving the health of Americans. Although most Americans indicate that they endorse spending taxpayer money for biomedical research, few can identify the NHLBI or other NIH components as responsible for supporting research that has improved their lives. As Senator Edward M. Kennedy said during the recent NIH Revitalization Hearings, “I think the American people, if they understood what the potential really was, would be after us to do even more.”
The obligation to identify sources of research support is well established. Currently, the Public Health Service (PHS) Grants Policy Statement directs investigators to make results and accomplishments available to the public and to acknowledge PHS support, specifying both the grant number and the awarding agency. Some of you may not even be aware that this requirement exists. Others may think that acknowledgment of NHLBI and NIH support for your research is an administrative detail.
What you must now recognize is that the attribution of NHLBI and other NIH support represents much more than complying with policy. Linking government-funded scientific research with improving health is more important than ever as federal resources diminish and competition for them increases.
Researchers need to do some public relations. Americans are eager to hear about promising research results; and who is better qualified to tell them than the investigators themselves? We do not expect you to be marketing experts, and we certainly do not want you to oversell your research findings. However, we know that, as scientists, you are enthusiastic about your research and routinely share results with your colleagues at professional meetings and in the scientific literature. Certainly, dissemination of your results to your scientific peers is in your own best interest: it is no secret that promotion and tenure decisions are based to some extent on the quantity and quality of peer-reviewed publications.
With so many other demands on your time, you may argue that you are too busy to explain your results and their implications to the public. I would urge you to think in broader terms of the benefits to be gained. It is the American taxpayers who provide the funds that support your NIH research grant. If they are happy with the return on their investment, then they will continue to endorse Congressional increases in the funds available to support biomedical research. If they are not so happy with the return, they may behave like any disgruntled investor and seek a better, albeit different, return elsewhere.
Therefore, we encourage you to tell the public what your research findings mean to them not only in terms of health but also in terms of healthcare savings, US leadership in the field, and the US economy. As Chairman Porter recently noted, the returns to the nation from its investment in biomedical research extend far beyond the substantial contributions to the public health:
Federally supported biomedical research creates high-skill jobs and supports an industry that generates a growing economy and balance of trade for our country. . . . In addition, the total costs associated . . . have been more than paid for in terms of health care savings from just one discovery. And there have been thousands. (Science, June 30, 1995.)
Basic and clinical research results, when explained in terms of their broad implications, can dramatically illustrate the value of biomedical research. Formally identifying the NHLBI and the NIH as the sponsor of your research fosters recognition of their missions and demonstrates the importance of sustained taxpayer investment in research. It is your duty—and your privilege—to make this contribution to the continued viability of the biomedical research enterprise.
- Copyright © 1996 by American Heart Association