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March for Science: A Good Walk for an Important Purpose

James Sallis, PhD

April 22, 2017

What does it take to get scientists to leave the comfort of their labs and climb down from their ivory towers? Apparently it takes denial of evidence, belittling of science, disrespect and intimidation of government scientists, and dramatic budget cuts for every research program in the federal government to prod scientists to hit the streets and raise their voices. To put it mildly, street protests are not a comfort zone for most researchers. Why did thousands of scientists, science educators, engineers, entrepreneurs, and fans of the scientific enterprise March for Science on Saturday March 22, 2017 in hundreds of cities around the world? Because we understand the essential role that science plays in every aspect of our lives: protecting the health of the planet, improving the health of people, making our education system more effective, creating new technologies that will hopefully be designed to enhance quality of life for people, and learning more about how our vast and wonderful world works.

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With colleagues and students of public health and medicine at the San Diego March. We look happy, but we are also upset, energized, and determined.

My sign refers to our SPARK physical education and physical activity programs that began with NIH-funded grants. The evidence-based programs have trained thousands of teachers, improved the lives of millions of young people, and created dozens of jobs over 25 years.

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Like many others I have been appalled by the recent verbal and fiscal attacks on evidence of all kinds, science in general, and climate science most particularly. There is a celebration of ignorance and propaganda over systematic generation of evidence. Efforts of the Administration seem designed to overturn the Enlightenment so we can go back to the Dark Ages when dogma and superstition ruled. As scientists we have dedicated our careers to advancing humanity through research. Many of us do applied science, and our goal is for our evidence-based solutions to the many problems facing our country and world to be applied in the real world.

But let’s not be naive and think that everyone loves science. Current attacks on science and government regulation are merely spikes in a long-term trend. Getting serious about reducing carbon emissions is bad news for the fossil fuel industries. EPA regulations are not welcomed by chemical industries. FDA regulations are an annoyance to the pharmaceutical industry. Prevention efforts led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are fought by food and beverage industries, as well as tobacco, alcohol, and gun industries. Evidence from independent, government-sponsored research often threatens the bottom line and images of these industries, so they fight science through lobbying and campaign donations. These are all powerful industries that see themselves as benefiting from less research, at least less of certain types of research.

To counter this opposition, who is fighting for research and evidence-based policy making? Scientific organizations speak up for research, but their resources are tiny compared to the industries working so persistently and effectively out of the public eye. What can be done to increase support for science and evidence? That was the theme of my Presidential Lecture at the Society of Behavioral Medicine Annual Meeting in March 2017. “Research translation” is about getting evidence used. The movement of evidence from scientific journals to real-world application does not happen automatically or by magic. It requires action, and some of that action needs to come from researchers ourselves. The people and organizations who can use the evidence in education, business, practice, and policy need to know about the evidence. So, an important role of scientists is to take steps to communicate research results to potential “end-users.” Many researchers are hesitant to take that step, either because they don’t believe it is their role, or they don’t know how to go about it.

But we are now in a situation where we need to do more than just communicate our results. We scientists are on the front lines of defending our nation’s commitment to science itself. More than 150 years after Abraham Lincoln started the National Academy of Sciences to “advise the nation,” it is hard to believe that American science is being attacked. One of the main functions of the March for Science was to educate the public about the critical role of science in improving lives. Common themes were climate and health. The economic impact of research was not emphasized so much but may be equally important.

I joined many thousands of scientists and science supporters for the March in San Diego. It was a typically beautiful day, and the atmosphere was festive. Before the March we had speakers including the originator of the Keeling Curve of carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD. We also heard from very young scientists who were excited about the important problems they are investigating. It was inspiring to meet physicists, teachers, biotech workers, parents, and children who came up with clever signs and spent their Saturday on the March. Here are just a few photos.

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An inspiring event does not create change, but it is a great first step. Being energized by the March for Science could galvanize marchers to become communicators, activists, advocates, and donors to continue the work of supporting science. During talks at the end of the San Diego march, speakers referred to the great turnout for the First March for Science. I hope there is not a need for a second one. But if a second one is needed, I will be there.

Impressions of SBM 2017 in San Diego

James F. Sallis, Ph.D.

SBM President, 2016-2017

April 11, 2017

It seemed carefully planned to have the Society of Behavioral Medicine Annual Meeting in San Diego during my Presidential year. However, it was not planned or pre-ordained at all. Nevertheless it was a great experience to “host” the Annual Meeting in my hometown of 34 years. If you want an unbiased review of the meeting, then you will have to look elsewhere because I thought it was wonderful and uplifting.

My main roles in planning the meeting were to select the Program Chair and invite the Keynote Speakers and two of the Master Lecturers. I had a great experience working with Program Chair David Marquez at University of Illinois, Chicago. I got to know David when he was Chair of the Physical Activity SIG (Special Interest Group). In addition to creating a great scientific conference, we agreed on the goal of making SBM a more active meeting, which was implemented by having standing sections in the session rooms and encouraging standing ovations, or active applause. There were always people standing in the sessions I attended, but the active applause was mainly adopted in the physical activity sessions. In my experience people really enjoy standing up after talks, because it is invigorating. However, I’m going to recommend that for 2018 we ask all session chairs to specifically encourage attendees to give active applause at each session. It is an interesting case study in changing behavior and culture.

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Jim Sallis and David Marquez, 2017 Program Chair

I was gratified that all of my top choices for Keynote Speakers agreed, and I was thrilled with the effects of their talks on the attendees. Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment, electrified and inspired the 2000 people at the opening plenary with his story of how he dedicated his career to improving health equity. We were all fascinated by what the Endowment has learned through their deep engagement with 14 disadvantaged communities around California. They are breaking new ground in public health through their 10-year commitment to creating healthy and equitable communities. Ana Diez-Roux, Dean of Public Health at Drexel University in Philadelphia, showed how she is using advanced epidemiologic methods to work toward health equity. She was a great example of a distinguished scientist being very involved in communicating her research so it makes a difference in people’s lives. Harold Goldstein, founder of Public Health Advocates in Sacramento, was a different kind of speaker for SBM. His stories of using evidence to change state policy were inspiring because of all the successes he could point to, particularly with food and beverage policies. He is a great example of a “knowledge broker” who knows how to take evidence and use it effectively in the policy making process. Tracy Neal-Walden works in the Office of the Surgeon General for the US Air Force. I asked her to inform SBM attendees about the great work being done to improve the health of military and veterans communities, including their families. She discussed how health professionals are collaborating across the services, using evidence-based strategies, evaluating outcomes, and serving millions of people. She and her colleagues are having great impact, and she said there were opportunities to collaborate on both research and practice.

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Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment

I was able to select two Master Lecturers for the 2017 Annual Meeting. Frank Penedo from Northwestern University spoke on precision cancer care delivery. His talk was closely tied to genomics research, which has been addressed throughout the year by SBM’s Genomics Working Group. Marjorie Kagawa-Singer from UCLA presented on culture and health, mainly using examples from her work with Asian Americans. Her talk was a great opportunity to learn about advances being made with one of the least-studied and most diverse racial-ethnic-cultural groupings. I again express my thanks to all the Keynotes and Master Lecturers who helped make the conference great.

There were way too many Annual Meeting highlights to list, but I want to comment on just a few. I was pleased to be part of the Team Science symposium organized by Kara Hall and Amanda Vogel of NCI. Bill Riley of OBSSR led an informative panel on the OBSSR Strategic Plan, and I was honored to contribute to the session. Please get familiar with, and support, OBSSR’s Strategic Plan. It was notable that several sessions dealt with the Precision Medicine Initiative, aka the “All of Us” study. There are many opportunities for behavioral researchers to get involved in this enormous research project. I encourage SBM members to be assertive in contacting site investigators and identifying ways behavioral scientists can contribute to this study. Though I was not able to attend, I want to express my appreciation to Colleen McBride for leading the Genomics Presidential Working Group and the sessions they held during the conference.

It was a thrill for me to symbolically pass the gavel to Gary Bennett, who became the new SBM President. It was a thrill, not because I am tired of being President, but because I know Gary will be a ┬ávisionary and effective leader for the Society. At the Business Meeting on Saturday morning Gary laid out his vision to “Extend the Reach” of SBM. That made it clear he is continuing the efforts of all recent presidents to increase the impact of our research. I encourage all members to get involved in communicating your (and “our” collective) research to practitioners, knowledge brokers, and policy makers who can put it into practice.

There is no doubt the coming years will be challenging for science in general and behavioral scientists in particular. SBM 2017 started ominously with news the administration proposed an immediate $1.2 Billion cut in NIH’s budget this year! That is another unprecedented proposal on top of the requested 20% reduction to NIH for 2018. This is part of a broad “war on science” that goes beyond cuts in virtually all science-based federal agencies to attacks on evidence and facts. Thus, I invite you to review the slides of my President’s Lecture that are posted on my website (http://sallis.ucsd.edu/Documents/Sallis%20SBM%20Pres%20Address%2003302017%20revised.pdf) and get personally involved in advocating for protecting science in the US and speaking up for using evidence to guide policies. The April 22, 2017 March for Science is an opportunity to take action. I recommend you read and act on SBM President-Elect Sherry Pagoto’s article in Chronicle of Higher Education. http://www.chronicle.com/article/March-for-Science-Can-Inform/239574/. She advises us how we can use this march to create a positive impression of science and scientists on the American public.

Here is a photo of the SBM leadership team for the 2017-2018 year, with the past, current, and future SBM presidents, along with Mary Dean, our Executive Director. Each of us understands the stakes are higher than ever, and we are energized to advocate for SBM, defend science, and stand up for evidence. You will be hearing from us throughout the year, and I’m sure we will be making requests of the members. It will be a busy year.

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Jim Sallis, Gary Bennett, Sherry Pagoto, Mary Dean. At SBM 2017.

This leadership group will be moving SBM into the future as we navigate treacherous waters.