WARNING: it was only going to be a matter of time before science began creeping into this blog. Who know it would be the ice bucket challenge that started it…
The ole’ ice bucket challenge: we’ve seen this thing for weeks now and knew it would be only a matter of time before we would be “nominated”. To be honest, we had hoped being in Europe would allow us to slip through the cracks and not take part. However, I should have known that if any one would draw me into this, it would be my uncle. So, with that being said, I braved the unseasonably cold temperatures and took part. Being that there still isn’t much going on here and Whitney said it was my turn to do a blog post, I figured I’d post on this. Believe it or not, there is a bit of story here that goes far beyond just dumping water on your head. Allow me to elaborate.
Unless you have been hiding in cave for the past 2+ months, you have certainly heard about the ALS ice bucket challenge. While a little silly (for lack of a better word), it does have some real potential for doing some real good (more on this in a bit). The ‘challenge’ basically consists of being challenged to dump a bucket of ice water on your head and donating to ALS. Easy enough.
The ‘challenge’ here in the Netherlands:
Let me preface this by saying that it has been quite cold here for the past week or two. Highs have been only in the high 50’s to low 60’s and at night it has been dipping into the 40’s. Add to this the daily occurrence of wind and rain and it results in an August experience that we are not really accustomed to. For a while, we were wondering if it was just simply how things go here, that fall starts much earlier than we are used to. However, a recent news article pointed out that this is the coldest August in the Netherlands in 30 years. Apparently temperatures are normally in the mid 70’s range for this time of year. Whatever the cause, it has been very cold for summertime.
Aside from the weather factor, the ice bucket challenge requires two very key elements: ice and a bucket. We have neither. Now I admit, not having a bucket is not a deal breaker. A large cooking pot worked just fine. However, the ice factor is a little harder to over come. Whereas a large majority of the houses in the United States will have ice makers these days, or at the very least, some ice trays in the freezer, the same cannot be said for The Netherlands. To start, it is VERY rare for your apartment to have a full size refrigerator. Most places have only a small, dorm room size refrigerator. The Dutch do not do large, in bulk shopping (food preservatives are used to a much smaller extent here). Instead, most people go to the grocery store multiple times a week, if not everyday. Thus, there is no need for a large refrigerator. Because of the small refrigerator sizes, freezer space is essentially non-existent. As you can guess, this means no ice. The same is true if you are out at a restaurant and order a drink. Ice in your drink is not common and requesting it is a sure sign of being a ‘foreigner’. So as you can guess, such factors resulted in a bit of a dilemma when it came to me taking part in this challenge. Luckily, Whitney and I are the classic foreigners and were able to find a few, very small ice trays at a local store. So while a little on the wimpy side, my “bucket” was complete with ice.
Beyond the ‘challenge’:
Now obviously the most important part of this whole challenge thing is the fact that it is done to benefit the ALS foundation. From what I’ve read, it has raised millions of dollars for ALS. That’s awesome. However, being that I work in science and research and plan to make a career out of it, I can’t help but to have some reservations. Allow me to explain.
Science is a VERY expensive field. All of the research that you hear about on the news comes at a sizeable cost. Every single pill, vaccine, or treatment that has been “FDA approved” for human use and is prescribed by your doctor has had to go through years of clinical trials and tests. Once again, these trials and tests are not cheap. In some rare cases, researchers do get a small amounts of money to pursue their fields from their appointments with Universities or Medical Centers. However, the vast majority of their research funding comes from applying to grants from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF). The problem is that the pool of money that NIH or NSF has to draw from to fund these potentially life saving trials is getting smaller and smaller with each science budget cut. Scientists and researchers tasked with finding and developing these life saving treatments are continually facing harder and harder economic pressures with less money to go around. Now I know there is an obvious argument to this: “everyone is facing harder times, not just the sciences”. I won’t argue this point. However, I will argue that those bankers and businessmen facing hard times will still be counting on those same drugs/vaccines/treatments that researchers could have developed had their funding not been cut. We all want to find the cure for cancer. However, that comes at a cost. Is it worth investing in? For a more relevant example, look at the current Ebola virus outbreak and the lack of a known treatment for it. The only way to find it is by funding research to study the virus.
Now, with all of that being said, I want to reiterate that I think this ice bucket challenge is fantastic. Again, it has raised millions for ALS. I specifically say “for ALS” because we can’t be sure that this money is actually going to research. Large non-profits like ALS do have fairly sizeable operating costs that they must meet. That’s something that can’t be avoided with such a large organization. At the same time, they also provide services and care for those with ALS. This is fantastic and I think nothing should change here. My concern is that once all of these costs are covered, how much does this leave for research? Is there enough to fund needed studies? It is only through focused, well-funded research that we will ultimately be able to beat such diseases (ALS, cancer, Ebola, etc.). This is where I’d like to see my donation used.
The irony in all of this is that, to my knowledge, there is really no way to directly fund research for a given cause (aside from just having enough money to fund a study yourself). I looked around a bit on the Internet and found a few sites that say they directly fund research, but I’ve never had any experience with them. Perhaps they do what they say? I’m not sure. The only real concrete option lies with changing the way our sciences are funded. Obviously, this gets into the realm of politics and it is not something I want to get into. I’ll just leave it at this: who you vote for and their willingness to fight for science makes a difference.
So, with that I end my rant on science. I did my ice bucket challenge and will donate to ALS. My hope is that if enough people are donating, a sizeable potion of this money will ultimately make it into the hands of researchers that can really work to make a difference in combating such diseases.
In other news:
Things here are still going well. Whitney had a second, follow-up interview with the biotech company she mentioned previously. They called back a few days later to let her know that they will now be contacting references and will call next week to discuss potential contract details. Normally, we would consider this very exciting news. However, here, we are not so sure. This process has now gone on for two months. You would think they could have contacted references a while ago. The way it stands, she has gotten no negative feedback, but they always stop short of offering her a position. Guess we will just wait and see. In the meantime, she has gotten quite good at yoga and keeps the house very clean. Her going back to work is really going to put a damper on my not having to do housework. Maybe we should rethink this…
Until next time,