More Than Mortal

The science of the human quest for meaning, significance, and self-transcendence.

We Don’t Need Ice, We Need to Fund Science

Our best bet to combat disease is to increase federal funding for science

The ice bucket challenge has taken social media by storm. As a social psychologist, I must admit that I find it quite fascinating how successful this campaign has become considering ALS is an extremely rare disease. Of course, it is hard to criticize the challenge considering that it has raised over 30 million dollars for ALS research. However, for those of you who felt compelled to join in on this movement because it is for a good cause, let me suggest some other actions that could more broadly positively impact those suffering from a range of diseases and disabilities.

Call your congressional representatives and senators and tell them that they are only going to get your vote if they support the federal funding of scientific research. And when it comes time to vote, back the politicians who are friends of science, not the ones who want to continue to slash budgets for research funding.

You see, though it isn’t as physically exhilarating as dumping a bucket of ice water on your head and it certainly will not generate a bunch of “likes” on Facebook, the truth is, if we really want to make progress on disease prevention and treatment, we have to collectively fund scientific research. 

In recent years, federal funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been repeatedly slashed. This is a big problem because federally funded research is crucial. For example, NIH is the single largest source of ALS funding. Not to mention the fact the NIH funds research on all sorts of diseases, many of which are far more common than ALS.

It is very impressive that one social media campaign has been able to generate so much attention and money to combat such a horrible disease. But the truth is that there are lots of horrible diseases. And it is going to take a lot of money to fight them. It is great to see this wave of social activism aimed at supporting medical research. So here is my challenge. Continue to agitate for science. Aim higher though. Be a voter who backs the politicians who prioritize funding for medical research. And let people know about it just like you let them know you dumped a bucket of ice water on your head. Spread the word.

I know some will see a political agenda here and that is unfortunate. This really should not be a politically polarizing topic. All of us, Republicans and Democrats, are biological beings with health vulnerabilities. All of us will be touched by chronic disease at some point in our lives. We, or someone we care about, will suffer from cancer, heart disease, or mental illness. We are all in this together. And our best chance to fight these diseases is to come together and collectively fund research. Private charities will never fill the gap.

If you want to dump a bucket of ice water on your head and make a donation to ALS research, please do so. But keep in mind that there is a lot more we need to do if we truly want to improve the lives of all those who are suffering and will suffer from disease. The money being raised for ALS research with the ice bucket challenge is just a drop in the bucket (sorry, I could not resist).

Clay Routledge is an associate professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University.

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