Funding: to Harriman

William Tivol tivol at
Thu Dec 28 17:58:04 EST 1995

Keith Robison (robison at wrote:

: I always find this sort of argument equally maddening & amusing.
: Yes, the biomedical community got overconfident after some
: early successes

	A fascinating seminar "If nuclear power is a political football, how
can we win the game" showed the results of an even bigger dose of over-con-
fidence.  There seems to be the same phenomenon (with some of the same people
involved) now occurring with regard to research funding, genetic engineering
experiments, etc.  The suggested solution was to be open with the public, to
invite non-expert input and to separate the bogeyman (bomb for nuclear, mon-
sters for genetic) from the relatively benign.  A great example of what can
happen is the debate over genetic engineering in Cambridge MA, where, after
much public discussion, the city council (?) decided that the experiments
would be allowed if they met the NIH guidelines.  It seems that the public
can be trusted to come to reasonable decisions.

: (polio, smallpox, etc) and made unrealistic
: promises on cancer, etc.  The "War on Cancer" is every 
: ax-grinder's favorite example of lots of money spent with
: little visible progress on cancer.

	Of course, there were many grant applications which tried to couple
unrelated biology to cancer in an effort to profit from the "war".

:  That is the perception,
: and it is of course perception that drives the ilk of Berezin.

	And much of the general public.  This is why there must be some effort
to show the public some of the "invisible" progress.  That is, there has been
a lot of basic biological knowledge developed as a result of war-on-cancer
funding.  Although this knowledge has not led to the cure for cancer, it does
lead to better understanding of the disease(s) and has, in some cases, exten-
ded the quantity and quality of life for cancer patients.

: Reality is far more complex.  While the funding poured into 
: the War on Cancer has not made a huge impact on cancer overall,
: it has had some small victories.  It is ironic that Berezin
: uses childhood leukemia as an example, as that is now largely
: a treatable disease (which does not mean 100% treatable --
: clinicians will always be cursed with explaining to bereaved
: families why their loved ones were in the unfortunate minority).
: In addition, spin-offs of the War on Cancer have had important
: impacts.  The rapid progress on detecting AIDS was almost a
: direct result of the work on oncoviruses sponsored by the War
: on Cancer, and this progress allowed the blood supply to be
: made safe.

	In fact, a lot of knowledge of viruses in general has followed from
research on HIV.

: I think that any _rational_ observer who closely studies the facts will
: find that the current system is working about how it always has --
: slow, methodical progress against complex diseases.  It's worth noting
: that much of the interest in this country has shifted from fighting
: bacterial infections (completely foreign) to cancer and viral infections
: (both fights against largely non-foreign targets)

	Well, many (most?) viruses are foreign & some are implicated in can-
cer, but you are correct (until the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance be-
comes decisive & people start studying bacteria again).

: and degenerative diseases
: (arthritis, Alzheimer's).  These are inherently a tougher nut to crack.

	Some will, I predict, prove impossible--that is, there will always
be a cause of death.  This is probably a good thing.
				Bill Tivol

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