Lost Horizon

In the film "Groundhog Day," Bill Murray plays a hapless TV weatherman who seems condemned to endlessly relive the same day over and over again, no matter what he does. The process of justifying long-term basic research in the life sciences often seems like just such a repetitive loop.

The case is made, evidence is marshaled, some projects may be saved, but the next morning we find that policies and initiatives continue their inexorable march toward goals that are short-term and practical. Not that there's anything wrong with it! But that is not where scientific breakthroughs come from, and it is not where ultimate cost-effectiveness comes from. The irony is that with federal and private funding of science at an all-time high, and with a record number of researchers working at laboratory benches, there is a narrowing of research activities and a shortening of the time horizon.

Back in the 1970s, when life science research was a relatively small enterprise by today's standards, the renowned cardiologist Julius Comroe made the case for basic research to the US Congress in the form of an unbiased statistical survey of medical breakthroughs. He took 10 major medical advances of the previous three decades, agreed upon by a panel of 70 clinicians and an equal number of scientists, engineers and administrators.

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