Advocacy Spotlight: Bob Matthews

This week public affairs is excited to introduce a new feature. ASBMB’s Advocacy Spotlight will highlight the efforts of science advocates to share the importance of biomedical research. If you know someone telling the story of science to legislators to advance science policy, email smartin@asbmb.org, so that we can consider them.

Dr. Robert “Bob” Matthews became interested in science-based public service

Bob Matthews (center) pictured with John Kyriakias (left) and ASBMB Hill Day Volunteer

Bob Matthews (center) pictured with John Kyriakias (left) and ASBMB Hill Day Volunteer

as a member of National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation review panels more than 30 years ago. After a stint as the president of the Protein Society, Matthews was recruited to the ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee by then president Suzanne Pfeffer. His motivation for joining the PAAC was the Budget Control Act of 2011 and preventing sequestration. Matthews served as the chair of the PAAC from 2013 to 2015, and he will continue to serve as a member of the committee until the end of his term in 2017.

What do you find most rewarding about being a science advocate?

I enjoy being at the center of activity. My involvement with the PAAC has been one of the most important challenges of my time in science — establishing stable, sustainable funding for basic research.

What do you find most frustrating?

I find the gridlock in Congress and its apparent inability to understand how critical basic research is for the future of our country very frustrating.

Of what accomplishment as PAAC chair are you most proud?

While leading the PAAC, the ASBMB became a leading voice on the sustainability of the biomedical research enterprise. I am most proud of my role in initiating our effort to create a sustainable biomedical research enterprise. On Monday, the ASBMB PAAC published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that outlines eight consensus recommendations that would improve the sustainability of biomedical research. The PAAC is now planning a summit of leaders that will move these consensus recommendations to action.

Could you share a rewarding science advocacy experience you’ve had?

In addition to participating in ASBMB’s Hill Day in Washington, D.C., I led my own research group to meet with U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., in the representative’s Worcester office. I was thrilled by the energy my trainees brought to the discussion about science funding and about how it effects their own research projects.

What advice would you give young scientists interested in advocating for their profession?

Scientists absolutely must get involved in the political process. We can no longer rely on the members of Congress to intuitively understand the critical importance of science to our nation’s economy, public health and world leadership. Write letters to the editors of your local newspaper, write a blog, visit your representative and senators, talk to your friends and neighbors. If we do not take the time to educate our elected leaders on the critical role of research in our country’s future, we will eventually lose our role as the driving force in science and engineering in the world. As the Nike ad says, “Just do it!”

 

Bob Matthews studies the mechanisms that allow proteins to fold into their functional native forms in seconds as a professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The folding code, or manner by which the building blocks of proteins tell the protein how to fold itself, remains elusive. And if proteins don’t fold correctly, they contribute to many diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Matthews has served as an important member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Public Affair Advisory Committee since 2011 and is the immediate past chair of the committee. The PAAC monitors and responds to all matters relating to the government’s role in the practice of modern science on behalf of ASBMB members.

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