Category Archives: Politics

The War on Cancer

In an earlier essay, I described how cognitive dissonance can wreak havoc with our perception of the world, especially in the case of politics. Cognitive dissonance is a psychological state in which you can believe two logically different ideas at the same time. For example, some scientists are avowed Creationists, and some people who want to help the poor, fervently vote for enormous tax breaks for the wealthy. Psychologists say that this dissonance causes internal stress and anxiety until you, yourself, create a ‘story’ that creates an acceptable way to justify the two extremes.

Depending on how you voted in 2016, you will find my earlier discussion either brilliantly insightful or insufferably condescending. But here is a topic I think we can all agree upon that suffers dramatically from this same mental affliction, namely, cancer research.
Here are the facts for 2016:

People contracting cancer……………………………. 1,685,210.

People dying from cancer…………………………………. 595,650

Cancers found in people older than 50…………………….85%

State with highest incidence rates…………………. Kentucky

State with lowest incidence rate………………………….. Arizona

Annual medical costs for cancer treatment……..$75 billion

We all agree cancer is a scary disease, and for many the mere use of this word is terrifying. Far more people die from cancer every year than from nearly all other non-disease causes of death combined. You have a one-in-two chance of getting cancer in your life and a one-in- four chance of dying from cancer in your lifetime. Your risk of dying in an airplane crash, earth quake or terrorist action is insignificant compared to your risk of dying from cancer.

Why is cognitive dissonance involved in cancer research? Because we all collectively understand the facts of cancer, but then we turn around and vote a half-hearted research budget to combat it, and then collectively shrug our shoulders that we are doing everything we can to win the war. Let’s take a look at what we are collectively doing about cancer.

The decline in NCI funding for research 2003-2014. (Credit: ASCO Connection.com)

Funding for cancer research (NCI): $5.21 billion for FY 2017. Loss of buying power since 2003: 25%. So let’s see….the annual cost for cancer treatment is $75 billion and we invest just over $5 billion to find cures. Then we have the DoD hiding $125 billion in waste at the same time they want to expand their current budget  by $2.2 billion to $524 billion in FY17.

Why is it that the case made by the DoD to increase their budget, or President Trumps  call to embark on a ‘new’ trillion-dollar arms race, are so much more compelling than the very obvious efforts to cure a major threat to the lifespans of most American voters? The polling statistics are also rather troubling.

In a new national public opinion survey commissioned by Research!America, an overwhelming majority of Americans (85%) say it is important for candidates running for national office to assign a high priority to increasing funding for medical research. The U.S. spends about five cents of each health dollar on research to prevent, cure and treat disease and disability, but only 56% say that is not enough. Yet, Vice President Joe Biden’s 2016  Cancer Moonshot   initiative to defeat cancer earns support for a tax increase to fund cancer research among only half of the respondents (50%). Only a weak majority of Democrats (67%), and few Republicans (38%) and Independents (39%) support a tax increase to engage this war. Of those who favor a tax increase, more than half (88%) say they are willing to pay up to or more than $50 per year in taxes.

The over-all NIH, FY17 budget increase of $850 million over FY16 will support an increase of 600 research projects above FY16. From this you can roughly deduce that the added $680 million for the Cancer Moonshot in FY17 will support an additional 480 cancer-related grants. But although we do NOT want to look a gift horse in the mouth, the NCI budgets since 2003 have never kept pace with inflation. By 2014 the NCI purchasing power for cancer research had fallen behind by about $1.5 billion or 30% from where they were in 2003. Have a look at this graph below. The top line shows the funded amount and the bottom line shows the inflation-adjusted purchasing power from 2003 to 2014.

In the 45 years since Mr. Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971, which launched the previous War on Cancer, NCI has spent more than $100 billion on cancer research. This, buy the way is equal to the cost of NASA’s International Space Station. Since 1946, American Cancer Society has spent more than $4.5 billion to find cancer cures and forty-seven ACS-funded researchers been awarded the Nobel Prize. A relevant question is; Will the $680 million increase proposed by the Cancer Moonshot for FY17, and hopefully similar amounts after that, be enough to tip the scales towards cures in the way that VP Joe Biden has hoped?

The FY17 $6.3 billion 21st Century Cures bill was approved by the Senate in an overwhelming 94-5 vote and will doubtless be signed into law by President Barack Obama. The 10-year funding ‘Cures’ bill made its way through Congress largely because it is packed with substantial amounts of money for enough pet projects, including a batch of Medicare and mental health reforms, to keep disparate lawmakers on board.

Although other elements of President Obama’s 21st Century Cures program will receive automatic refunding in future years, Cancer Moonshot research funding is not guaranteed. It will have to be appropriated each year. Even worse, it will be paid for in part by raiding Obamacare’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which pays for anti-smoking campaigns and other preventive health efforts. So Congress will give us a modest increase in the cancer research budget, about 10%, but will not promise this sustained support over the long haul. Again, researchers will be placed on a year-by-year leash to get their support for carrying out complex and time-consuming research. Every grant PI will have to spend time each year arguing for the refunding of their research rather than being focused on cures. Even scientists at NASA can usually count on three-year commitments for their funding!

What can you do? The odds say you should expect to contract cancer in your lifetime. The odds also say that you will probably not have a good long-term outcome. You need to accept this and do what you can to preventively temper your lifestyle and eating habits accordingly. Then, you need to decide for yourself if you are happy with the trending for cancer research. Why do we settle for $5 billion each year to fight this war when $10 billion would be far better, especially if the funding were more stable for long-term research programs? Call your Congressperson to make this case. It may actually save your life!!

Check back here on Monday, February 13 for the next installment!

By the way, check out the 2015 Ken Burns and Barak Goodman’s PBS Special Cancer:The Emperor of all Maladies about the ins and outs of cancer research. It was narrated by Edward Herrmann while he had brain cancer. He died soon after filming completed. The program will utterly change your perspective, and get you mad as hell!

My other blogs on cancer research can be found at the Huffington Post:

Our Shamefully Wimpy War Against Cancer

Our Pathetic War Against Cancer: Part III

Our Pathetic War Against Cancer: Part III

 

The Anti-science War

This blog will highlight some of the current battle lines, and also describe the heroic measures now being formulated and implemented to fight this War on Reason.

We have all heard about President Trump’s penchant for making up facts and pushing them out to his followers, but this blog series is not about that on-going, and unprecedented, problem. Since Day 1, this administration has begun the process of actively (or by accident!) suppressing scientists who are working in politically uncomfortable fields such as climate change and Earth science. This is only the beginning of what will be a long battle against clarity and reason.

 

Bad News Bullets.

January 25 – The Trump administration has told the EPA to remove its climate change data from its website (The Business Insider)

January 24 – Badlands National Park deletes tweets on climate change(CNN)

January 24 – Trump imposes gag order on EPA and USDA (USUNCUT)

January 24 – Trump Administration Restricts News from Federal Scientists at USDA, EPA (Scientific American)

January 23 – EPA freezes grants. Tells employees not to talk about it – (Huffington Post)

January 23 – CDC abruptly cancels long-planned conference on climate change and health (The Washington Post)

January 20 – White House Office of Science and Technology climate change webpage disappears after Trump’s inauguration (The Hill)

December 20 – Canadian Scientists Warn U.S. Colleagues: Act Now to Protect Science under Trump (Scientific American)

December 13 – Scientists are frantically copying U.S. climate data, fearing it might vanish under Trump (The Washington Post)

November 23 – Trump adviser proposes dismantling NASA climate research (Chicago Tribune)

October 30 – Trump takes aim at NASA’s climate budget (The Hill)

May 15 – House Budget Cuts NASA Earth Science By More Than $250 Million  (SpaceNews)

 

Good News Bullets

January 26 – CDC’s canceled climate change conference is back on — thanks to Al Gore (Washington Post)

January 26 – NPS Climate Change website still online (NPS.gov)

January 26 – National Park Service staff escalate campaign against Trump – No one from the Trump administration has complained or asked them to remove the posts – (CBSnews)

January 26 – USDA Office of Chief Economist – climate change report still online (USDA.gov)

January 26 – EPA climate change website still online (EPA.gov)

January 26 – The Department of Energy Climate and Environmental Science Division webpage is still online (energy.gov)

January 25 – USDA scrambles to ease concerns after researchers were ordered to stop publishing news releases (Washington Post)

January 25 – Scientists planning their own march on Washington (CNN)

January 25 – Report: Trump Team Backtracks On Order To Remove EPA Climate Site (InsideEPA)

January 25 – NASA scientists join resistance with rogue Twitter account @rogueNASA with over 27,000 followers. (USUncut)

January 25 – National Park Service employees set up rogue twitter account to disseminate climate change information @AltNatParkSer (USUncut)

January 25 – EPA employees set up rogue twitter account to disseminate science @AltUSEPA (USUncut)

January 24 – Badlands NPS goes on climate change tweetstorm (USAToday)

January 24 – People’s Climate March being organized for April 29 in Washington DC.  (PeoplesClimate.org)

January 24 – USDA disavows gag-order emailed to scientific research unit (Reuters)

January 24 – March for Science starts organizing on Facebook with 500,000 registrants in 24 hours – #ScienceMarch #ScienceResists #USofScience (MarchForScience)

January 24 – Trump’s pick to lead Commerce Department says NOAA scientists can freely share their work (Washington Post)

January 10 – NASA Earth science director expects short-term budget stability (for FY17: The division received $1.92 billion in 2016, and requested $2.03 billion for 2017) – (SpaceNews)

December 28 – Earth scientists are freaking out. NASA urges calm. (SpaceNews)

Bookmark this blog for future updates as new news develops!

March..March..March!

 

 

We have been here before.

In Nazi Germany of the 1930s, Deutsche Physik swept the German science community and Einstein’s relativity was denounced as Jewish Physics and banned from the classroom and social discourse. If you think I am making a mountain out of a mole hill in worrying about president Trump’s recent edicts, you are delusional.

First he expunged all mention of climate change from the White House website, then he forced the US Forest Service to take down its climate change facts, finally he has suppressed the USDA and NIH from posting new public content, and placed a freeze on research funding pending this administration’s evaluation.
He has threatened to de-fund all of Earth Science research at NASA, and I am sure that once the new NASA administrator has been appointed by Trump, we will see changes in the public content at NASA with no mention of climate change or the annual evaluations of global warming trends. These institutions are political, top-down systems in which what the Administrator says becomes law within each institution and scientists have no real recourse to protest pull backs in what they can post online, or even whether they can get travel authorization to attend important conferences. We will soon see whether Trump forces NASA to abide by the same gag orders he is placing on other research institutions across the federal government.

We can sit back and profess caution, with the hope that clearer GOP minds in Congress will prevail, but the moral ineptitude of the GOP party in the face of Trump has been a cautionary tale these last few weeks. The calculus is already being performed behind closed doors that any source of information contradicting Trump’s delusions will be strongly restrained. It is not out of the question that entire research grant areas will vanish overnight. I even wonder about the security of our armada of Earth research satellites, which are supported by budget ‘line items’ and can be terminated by Congress even as they are taking invaluable historic data proving the case for climate change. Weather satellites, of course, will be maintained because the GOP owns lots of property across the USA whose assets need protection.

So what to do?

For one, join EVERY march you hear about whether it relates to science or not. Show your solidarity with all other organizations that are marching to protest the new policies. Even now, Scientists March on Washington is starting to organize .It went from 200 members last night to over 30,000 by morning’s light the next day! Some worry that it will be ‘hijacked’ by other causes, but the goal is to show huge participant numbers to make the evening news and to really piss off Trump. So embrace your LGBT, Women’s, and all other groups, many of whom are themselves scientists or science literate members of the public!

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1862739727343189/

Website: http://www.scientistsmarchonwashington.com/2017/01/what-is-scientists-march-on-washington.html

Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/01/24/are-scientists-going-to-march-on-washington/?utm_term=.a89504086621

UK Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/25/scientists-plan-climate-change-march-washington/
Daily KOS: http://www.dailykos.com/stories/1624864

Check back here on Monday January 30  for a new blog!