Thursday, September 2, 2010

When it comes to science, Leno just doesn't get it

Last night, I watched the Tonight Show monologue as I usually do before bed. Jay Leno did his usual bits about current news topics, joked about Paris Hilton's cocaine arrest, etc. Then he asked the audience to decide whether the project "Studying Stoned Monkeys" was a government-funded project or a "wise-ass student" project. The audience seemed to find it hilarious that it was actually a government-funded research project.

I took to the NIH RePORTER database to try to find the project that Leno was poking fun at. I found one NIH-funded R01 study based at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio (Lance R. McMahon, PI) that may be the basis for Leno's joke. The study, "Pharmacotherapy of Cannabinoid Withdrawal: Pre-Clinical Studies" aims to use pre-clinical symptoms of cannabinoid (marijuana) withdrawal in primates to find pharmacotherapies that may help to prevent withdrawal symptoms and help to decrease dependence on marijuana. Yes, referring to the project as "Studying Stoned Monkeys" is quite funny. (Imagine seeing that as the proposal title in a review session?) However, this really is an important study with public health implications. Leno's joke at the expense of this project shows just how little the general public knows and understands the science that is funded by taxpayer dollars. The NIH Public Access Policy was a step in the right direction. Now the public has access to manuscripts of publications resulting from all recent NIH-funded projects. However, the relevance of these projects needs to be more widely conveyed, in terms that individuals with non-scientific backgrounds can understand. The New York Times and other publications seem to do a great job of bringing current research into the mainstream media. It is my hope that other news publications will follow suit. How amazing would it be if, alongside photos of major celebrities, People Magazine profiled a new researcher every week? It might long as that researcher looks good in a bathing suit...

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