Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Day of service—for Science

President Kennedy once famously declared Washington, DC a city of “Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” Something happened the last few days. Despite the crowds, people have not only been amazingly civil, but outright friendly—strangers strike up conversations, locals take the time to point out-of-towners in the right direction. I’d be happy if this relaxed courtesy courteous lingered but I suspect it might be due to the influx of people from more polite locations—not to mention what I’ve observed to be the euphoria-inducing effects of Obama-mania.

That mania translated on Monday into a mass of people across the country taking part in community service—in response to a call from Obama to observe the intent, declared by Congress, of Martin Luther King Day. In Philadelphia alone 60,000 people volunteered, and in Washington DC thousands wanting to help were turned away from food banks and schools. On the subway I met a family from New York city carrying plastic bags so they could pick up random litter they found on their trek through the city.

I was less imaginative with 21-month old in tow. So my biggest contribution to the collective good was to direct a woman from Illinois to a decent place for lunch (Ben’s Chili Bowl, of course). She pinned an inauguration button onto my daughter, who was spinnning around happily to a rendition of “This little light of mine” as part of a concert at the Smithsonian of American spirituals.

So, what’s all that have to do with science? It seems someone with an eye on science has been shining their light for the larger community in the last few weeks. That’s evident in the boon for science in the economic stimulus plan crafted by Obama’s transition team and Democratic congressional leaders.

Along with money for other agencies, the plan calls for $3.5 billion for NIH and $3 billion for NSF—half of its annual budget. That’s pleased science advocacy groups who, along with us at Nature Medicine, have argued that investing in science not only lays the groundwork for future prosperity it also creates jobs in the short-term (message to John Boehner, minority leader of the House—scientists have to eat too). It also helps, of course, that the new administration is receptive to such ideas.

We’ll see if the plan survives the congressional gamut. Keep shining that light.

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