Sometimes we can avoid irritation in our work lives, sometimes not. Sept. 20 was a day when some pretty annoying themes crept back into my workday via coverage of a session dealing with the NIH budget. Regular readers of the MDD Perspectives blog know this is something of a pet peeve of mine, but when one considers the laggardly budget at FDA, the NIH budget discussion is nothing short of mind-numblingly over the top. To wit:
During a Sept. 20 press briefing at the National Press Club, Rep. Ed Markey said the prospect of 8-10% cuts to the NIH budget could prove cataclysmic in terms of the American pre-eminence in life science research, and then went a step farther, claiming that the answer to the NIH sequestration question "will determine whether we will add to the Endangered Species Act the American scientist."
Adding to the spooky-Kabuki atmosphere was the claim by Mary Woolley, President of Research!America that if sequestration goes into effect, entire industries, including biotech, would "die here" and/or go overseas. One might expect such catastrophizing from an organization that embeds an exclamation point in its name, but still, it's just plain nuts.
I'll grant you that anyone who lives and works in the metro DC area ought to be somewhat inoculated against that kind of hyperbole, but the veracity of such claims is at least the negative-integer counterpart to the audacity of said claims. They're both clearly wrong and each of them is making up in nerve what it lacks in verifiability. Eyebrows should have fairly climbed over adjacent hairlines at such utterances, but few did.
The thing that strikes me as odd, too, is that the propaganda value of such statements is pretty close to zilch for all but the fully indoctrinated. Even the mother of an asthmatic child in Topeka, Kansas, doesn't believe such claims for a moment. So why put your credibility on the line with that kind of rhetoric?
There was an audible gasp in the room (I’m not kidding) when I asked one of the panelists about the evidence in support of the notion that the return on investment for each additional dollar spent at NIH is particularly substantial. Enter the heretic, eh? How ironic that someone who was a wallflower as a kid would ask a perfectly reasonable question and be received as an apostate working on behalf of El Diablo himself.
But that's the kind of reaction one gets when dealing with holders of votive candles murmuring at the altar of any one of several modern opiates of the healthcare masses. It's a pretty good measure of groupthink – not to mention of the complete and utter lack of skepticism – where NIH support is concerned, but it's pretty meager stuff if entertainment is your objective.
This is a theater I really should try to avoid in the future.