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Running For More…

The personal blog and website of Kristen Cincotta

Archive for the ‘WEGO Health’ Category

#NHBPM Post 2: Where Do the Candidates Stand on Health, Science, and Research Issues?

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Note: This post is a part of WeGo Health‘s National Health Blog Post Month: 30 posts in 30 days challenge. The prompt for Day 2 that I’m responding to is “Find a quote and use it for inspiration”. To see the rest of my #NHBPM posts, please click on the image at the bottom of this post.

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Unless you live under a rock, you know that this coming Tuesday is Election Day here in the United States. While many people have already early or absentee voted, the bulk of Americans (including me) will be going to the polls to cast our votes for the next President of the United States, for our members of the House of Representatives, and for other elected officials at all levels of government. As a research scientist who has been funded by a federal grant from NIH, the platforms of our candidates on research investments and regulation are incredibly important to me. The US government is far and away the largest investor in science and health research in the country. As both advocates for and beneficiaries of this life changing (and economically stimulating!) research, I think it is important that everyone going to the polls takes a moment to understand where their chosen candidates stand on issues pertaining to science, health, and technology.

To help everyone be as informed voters as possible on the candidates’ positions on these issues, I’ve compiled a series of resources and reviews that I think present the candidates’ policies and positions as fairly as possible. If you feel that I’ve linked to a particularly biased source, please let me know in the comments. While I definitely have my own personal preferences for how this election will turn out, it is not my goal here to sway anyone’s vote towards or against a specific candidate. Rather, I just wanted to point out some solid resources for those looking to better understand the candidates’ positions before voting on Tuesday.

ScienceDebate.org

Science Debate is an initiative that was started a year ahead of the 2008 election by six concerned citizens (two screenwriters, a physicist, a marine biologist, a philosopher, and a science journalist) in order to help bring science and technology issues to the forefront of the political debate. As they note on their website, within weeks of its founding, the Science Debate initiative had been endorsed by more than 38,000 scientists (including me!), engineers, and other concerned Americans, including every major American science organization, dozens of Nobel laureates, elected officials, business leaders, and the presidents of over 100 major American universities.  Their “call to arms”, as it were, states:

“Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for public debates in which the US presidential and congressional candidates share their views on the issues of the environment, health, and medicine, and science and technology policy.”

While the movement has yet to persuade the candidates for President to take part in a physical debate on these issues, it has been successful at pushing the candidates to more clearly define their positions on science, technology, and research. Starting last year, the folks at Science Debate began crowd sourcing a collection of important science questions that scientists, engineers, and concerned citizens wanted to hear the candidates answer. Together with their partner organizations (you can find the list of these organizations on their website), Science Debate culled the list to 14 critical questions, which were then presented to President Obama and Governor Romney. A subset of 8 questions were also presented to 33 members of Congress who serve in leadership positions on committees or subcommittees dealing with science issues. The answers from both Obama and Romney can be found here and the list of Congress members who were surveyed along with links to their responses can be found here.

The questions that were asked cover a wide range of topics and include: Innovation and the Economy, Climate Change, Research and the Future, Pandemics and Biosecurity, Education, Energy, Food Safety, Water Safety and Availability, Internet Regulations, Ocean Health, Science in Public Policy, The Future of Our Space Program, Protection of Critical Natural Resources, and Vaccinations and Public Health. The responses from each candidate are presented side by side, making it easy to compare and contrast between their positions on these issues.

For more information, please visit the Science Debate website here. You can also find Science Debate on Facebook here.

AAAS.org and Science Magazine’s Review of the Republican and Democratic Party Platforms on Science

Following the completion of both the Republican and Democratic conventions in September, Science magazine, the primary publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and one of the pre-eminent science journals in the world, published this editorial reviewing the platforms of both the Republican and Democratic parties on issues relating to science, technology, and the environment. The article touches on the parties’ overall stance on research funding, as well as their positions on funding for embyronic stem cell research, climate change, the future of our space program, energy policy, immigrant scientists, the role of “politicized” science, and actual budgets for this work proposed by each party. I felt that this piece was both comprehensive and fair in its assessment of each party’s platform. Please note that while this article is free to read, you may need to register with the AAAS website in order to view it.

The same author also wrote this editorial for the ScienceInsider section of the AAAS website on Paul Ryan’s record on science and government following his selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate in August. This analysis focused heavily on the funding allotted for various science agencies and initiatives in the budgets that Congressman Ryan has proposed over the years in his position as the Chairman of the House Budget Committee. To my knowledge, this article does not require registration to view.

You can read more about AAAS on their website, here, and you can find the website for Science magazine here. You can follow AAAS on Twitter, here, while the Twitter feed for Science magazine is here.

Research!America’s Your Candidates – Your Health Initiative

Research!America is the nation’s largest not-for-profit public education and advocacy alliance committed to making research to improve health a higher national priority. Research!America recently completed some polling that showed that (to quote from their website) “while Americans consistently describe medical, health, and scientific research as important, just 8% of people say they are very well informed about their elected officials positions on these issues”. To help address this shortfall and to aggregate presidential and congressional candidates positions in one place for easy access, they launched the Your Candidates – Your Health questionnaire and website in 2006. In a similar vein to ScienceDebate.org, Research!America sent a letter explaining the initiative and a 13 question survey to every candidate for President or Congress who appears on the ballot this November. All of the responses that they’ve received to date have been published on their website unedited, where they are easily searchable by state, zip code, or name.

Questions in the Your Candidates – Your Health survey touch on: the role of health research investments in rising healthcare costs, investment in research and innovation as a job creation strategy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, military investments in research, the budgets for science and technology agencies including the CDC, AHRQ, and the FDA, research and technology tax credits, the role of the government in prevention research, federal funding of embyronic stem research, and whether or not candidates have a science advisor.

It should be noted that Governor Romney chose not to answer each question individually, and instead released a statement summarizing his position on many of these issues, which can be found here. President Obama’s responses can be found here. You can find the responses of the candidates for congressional seats by searching here.

Starting in 2006, Research!America has also been collecting and posting the responses of the sitting members of Congress to these types of questions, on their Your Congress – Your Health website. It is worth noting the questions on the survey have changed over the years and some of the responses on the Your Congress – Your Health page are in response to questions that are no longer a part of the survey. For reference, you can find Congressman Ryan’s answers (submitted in June 2007) here. President Obama’s answers from when he was in the Senate (submitted in July 2007) can be found here. Vice President Biden did not respond the survey while he was still serving in the Senate.

You can find more information about Research!America on their website, here. You can follow Research!America on Facebook, here, and on Twitter, here.

CancerVotes.org

In recognition of the fact that cancer will kill more than half a million people in the United States this year alone, CancerVotes was started by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Advocacy Network (ACS CAN) to help educate both the public and the candidates about the actions that lawmakers should take to make fighting cancer a national priority. As Chris Hansen, the president of ACS CAN, puts it:

“While we have made great progress against cancer, the disease continues to kill 1,500 people a day in this country. Lawmakers have the power to make decisions that directly impact the lives of cancer patients and their families, which is why it is important that the public understands where candidates for every office stand on issues critical to fighting and preventing this disease.”

As part of their work, CancerVotes presented Governor Romney and President Obama with four questions addressing the most pressing issues for cancer patients and their families prior to the first televised presidential debate. The candidates’ answers to these questions were then posted on the CancerVotes website, and can be viewed here under the title “US President Voter Guide”. The four topics covered in this guide are: the role of the government in leading the fight against cancer, cancer prevention, access to care, and protecting citizens from the dangers of tobacco consumption. The answers from each candidate are again presented side by side for easy comparison.

You can find more information on ACS CAN on their website, here. You can also follow ACS CAN on Facebook, here, and on Twitter, here. You can also follow CancerVotes on Twitter here.

I hope that everyone finds these resources informative and helpful as you all make your way to the voting booth on Tuesday. You are all going to vote, right?!

 

Getting Back on Track with #NHBPM!

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

So…

After a really dedicated month or two of blogging, I sort of fell off the regular posting train there, didn’t I? And during Breast Cancer Awareness Monthno less, when I had so many topics that I wanted to post about it. Alas, after a few months of relatively low key unemployment, my October got REALLY busy. Busier than I’ve been since my dissertation defense last December. Here’s just a sampling of what I was up to in October that kept me away from writing:

Taking meetings on The Hill!

  • I spent four days in Savannah with my family celebrating both my husband & a cousin’s shared birthday and another cousin’s wedding. It was a BLAST.
  • I spent three days volunteering at and attending the Network for Public Health Law conference here in Atlanta, networking my tail off and learning so much about this fascinating aspect of public health. If you follow me on Twitter, I was blowing it up with conference tweets there for a bit using the hashtag #PHLC2012.
  • I spent four days in Washington DC taking a series of informational meetings on public health careers within the federal government and government affairs that a long time friend and colleague of my mom’s generously offered to set up for me. I also got to see some of my closest friends from Atlanta, almost all of whom have relocated to DC over the years, including their cutie kids Alice and Soren!
  • I also had a series of informational meetings with folks working in public health here in the Atlanta area that came out of my networking at the NPHL conference.
  • I took part in a number of public health related webinars and web/twitter chats, something I’ve been doing regularly since last spring in order to learn as much as I can about the current state of public health and the big challenges facing those working in the field.
  • I volunteered at two health fairs on behalf of the Atlanta affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, helping to hand out important information on breast health care, mammography, and breast cancer, something I’ve been doing now for about seven months.
  • I volunteered twice with the Atlanta Track Club, helping them prepare for the Atlanta Marathon and Marathon Relay that took place on October 28th. I LOVE getting to know people in the Atlanta running community and being a part of these events even if I wasn’t running – so inspiring!
  • Speaking of running, I ran in the Winship Win the Fight 5K to raise money for the Winship Cancer Center at Emory University. I also walked in the American Cancer Society Making Strides event in Marietta and ran in another local race as well.
  • I cheered on my friends on the last day of the Atlanta 3 Day for the Cure, which unfortunately overlapped with my DC trip so I couldn’t take part on the other days.
  • And in the midst of all that, I got the worst head cold I’ve had in years that is still with me more than two weeks later. Ironically, I’m pretty sure I picked it up from the Health Policy Director for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee.

Meeting “new” friends and #3DayTweeps at Closing Ceremonies for the Atlanta 3 Day!

Plus I was still trying to keep up with my usual job searching and training activities throughout all of that. As I said, it was a crazy busy month and I’m honestly not surprised I got sick in the middle of it. I haven’t been out running around like this in a pretty long time. And with all of that going on, something had to give and that something was my blog, just for a bit.

BUT! Looking at my calendar for November, things look a lot calmer. Things seem to maybe, possibly, be settling in on the job search front (no more details for now until things are more definite… ) and I’m not planning to attend any races or big advocacy events in November. In fact, the only really big thing on my calendar is my husband and I’s first trip home to New York for Thanksgiving in nine years. So my big goal for this month is to pick up where I left off with my blog. Which brings me to #NHBPM

#NHBPM is the Twitter hashtag associated with WEGO Health’s National Health Blog Post Month. WEGO Health is an online network of health activists that I’ve been keeping up with primarily via Twitter over the last few months. WEGO’s primary goal is to connect health activists using social media platforms  and to help health bloggers especially by providing useful resources and inspiration. WEGO Health also sponsors weekly twitter chats focused on various challenges facing online health activists that I’ve found pretty interesting, including one on breast cancer activism last week.

Inspired by other November writing challenges, like NaNoWriMo and BlogHER’s NaBloPoMo, National Health Blog Post Month is WEGO Health’s latest initiative to help foster conversations amongst the health activist community of which I consider myself a member. The challenge is relatively simple in concept: 30 health-related blog posts in 30 days. To help with this challenge, WEGO Health has set up different writing prompts for each day of November that I’m mostly going to try to stick to. I say mostly because I’ve looked over the prompts and there are some days where I’m just not inspired by either of the prompts that were given. So on those days, I’ll go “off script” a bit and instead post on the topics that I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time now. Knowing myself and how I work, I can already tell you that I won’t necessarily get a post up every single day either (like, uh, yesterday… ). But it’s my goal that by the end of November, I will have written and posted 30 different blog posts relevant to my little corner of the health activist world, which is breast cancer research advocacy.

Since I’m a day behind already, I’m going to roll my #NHBPM response for Day 1 right into this blog post. For each day of this challenge, there are two prompts and as bloggers, we’re challenged to reply to one of them. So, for Day 1 the prompt I’m choosing to start with is:

Why I write about [my] health…

First and foremost, I should note that I differ from the majority of WEGO Health’s bloggers because I generally don’t write about my own health (other than talking about my training for events) and I definitely don’t write about my experiences with a given health condition from the perspective of a patient. While I do choose to focus my efforts on one particular disease (breast cancer, natch), I instead write my blog from my perspective as the daughter of a cancer survivor, a biomedical health researcher, and a passionate research advocate. As I’ve dug further into the breast cancer advocacy community, I’ve come to realize that, through no fault of their own, health research advocates, while well meaning, are often ill-informed about the actual process and needs of biomedical research. Rather, I think this mis-information is the fault of scientists who have done an exceptionally poor job advocating for themselves and educating the public about why science and health research is so critical if we want to live in a world with breast cancer. Or diabetes. Or Alzheimer’s disease. Or any of these diseases that are stealing our loved ones from us far too frequently. So as a biomedical research scientist (I studied neural/immune control of heart function as an undergraduate and Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment for my doctoral work), I decided it was time for me to heed the advice of Ghandi and be the change that I wanted to see in the world.

Ultimately, I have three primary goals that I’m working towards by writing this blog:

  1. I want to be the best advocate I can be by learning as much as I can about the current state of breast cancer research, funding, and policy. Researching and writing this blog helps me achieve that for myself.
  2. I want to help my fellow advocates be the best advocates they can be by helping them to understand the biomedical research community and its needs from an insider’s perspective. I don’t think I do this nearly enough, and I want to change that.
  3. I want to inspire those who are currently on the sidelines to get into the game when it comes to health advocacy, whether they choose to focus on breast cancer in particular or not. We are all human beings walking around in vulnerable bodies, which means we all stand to benefit from a better understanding of public health best practices and from more/better biomedical research. I hope that by highlighting various ways to get involved in advocating for improved health education, greater disease awareness, and increased research funding, I can motivate others to join me in my efforts.

So that’s why I choose to write about health issues. Hopefully with each post that I write, both throughout #NHBPM and beyond, I’m getting closer to achieving those goals!