Steven Wiley on Big Biology

"There is a feeling that we will find cures someday, but the public is anxious that the cures won't come soon enough to help them."

- Steven Wiley, writing in The Scientist

In the most recent edition of the monthly magazine, Wiley, who is director of the Biomolecular Systems Initiative at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, makes a call for life sciences researchers to support so-called "Big Biology". By this, he means projects that are large-scale and involve many participants, such as those favored by the US National Institutes of Health under the umbrella of their well-funded, clinically relevant Roadmap Initiative.

According to Wiley, Big Biology, as exemplified by the Human Genome Project (HGP), is often disparaged by individual scientists as a waste of precious resources – especially by those of American persuasion whose own small NIH RO1 grants do not get funded. But Congress funds the NIH, and Congress is answerable to the voters, who often do no perceive that many concrete cures have come out of individual RO1 projects in the past.

Wiley very wisely points out that as the NIH's recently doubled budget (thanks in part, he asserts, to the perceived public success of the HGP) is being used to facilitate Big Biology, it is therefore in everyone's best interest that these ambitious projects do not fail. What the voters, via Congress, give, can also be taken away – and then where will individual scientists turn to for grant money?

You can read the rest of the article after free registration in The Scientist.