Their questions for Price had a common theme: What can researchers do to convince Congress that the sciences deserve a funding boost?
Price’s answer: It won’t be an easy sell.
“Not too many minds seem to be getting changed,” he said. Congress is in a five-week-long recess and is supposed to finalize the 2015 budget and funding for the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation this month.
UNC-CH’s 2012-13 research budget received about 70 percent of its funding from the federal government, or nearly $550 million. The NIH accounts for two-thirds of those grants.
The NIH and NSF have experienced several years of budget cuts. Research advocates — such as the North Carolina Triangle Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, which sponsored Price’s visit — are hoping financial help is on the way.
Shannon Farris, N.C.’s chapter representative, said universities such as UNC and N.C. State that rely heavily on federal support have had to turn to private institutes such as Autism Speaks for research grants in specific areas.
Fewer graduate students are working in the labs, and some labs in the state have closed, she said.
During his remarks, Price touted his own history of supporting the sciences during his 13 terms.
But he said a budget amendment he introduced this year — which would have increased funding for the NSF — was not adopted because lawmakers have no way to pay for such increases without boosting government revenue.
Serena Dudek, a researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, even asked Price whether he thought initiatives such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which has raised $106 million as of Tuesday, would be helpful.
After a laugh, Price said he appreciated how generously people have donated to ALS research, but he thinks such campaigns have limited effectiveness.
Demonstrating to lawmakers how research directly impacts their districts is key, Price said. He said more scientists should use think tanks to help spread concrete research messages.
Farris said she is hopeful support for the sciences will improve once the country is back on sounder financial footing.
“I think an overarching theme in Congress is that no one is really anti-medical research,” she said. “They more so argue: how are you going to fund it?”