Well, the NIH is seeking advice about how to reform the granting process so that the money (your taxes) they spend is most effective. For instructions on how to give advice, switch to this post. To hear one of my 'creative' ideas, keep reading.
I recently entered Seed Magazine's science writing contest. (The topic was science literacy.) Having only this blog as my science writing experience, I do not expect to win anything. For me, the contest helped me form an idea about what is missing in the public science communication complex. At the core of science literacy today is the need for effective translators; between religious folk and scientists; between doctors and newspapermen; between researchers and housewives; between professors and policymakers.
The MSTP has filled a critical need to connect the bench with the bedside. Sure, it takes too long for us to finish, and there is an attrition rate, but MD/PhDs tend to get grants because they understand what is needed on either the medical or the basic science side. Furthermore, several competitive programs exist to fund slightly higher risk efforts in translational medicine. Following these leads, the NIH would do well to support a small and competitive initiative to better train civic scientists. These would be professionals who garner some of their salary support solely to communicate with the public or with policymakers. A small number of students could earn dual degrees in hard science and communications or engineering and political science. These people will be the go-to resource for the public's questions and concerns about controversial topics like stem cell research, nanotechnology, designer genomes and drug safety. They also will be trained to develop innovative mechanisms to instill in Joe Public a scientific sense - that science does more than generate trivia.
This is my charge to the NIH (and other Federal funding agencies, for that matter):
Support Translational Science
Translators to the public and for the public. That will be money that can only feed back into the system.