Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Powerful Approach to Philanthropy: Establish an Annual Prize

I've been thinking about how to give charity wisely. Perhaps my decision can help inform your philanthropic plans.

I've decided to create and fund an annual prize: The Nemko Prize in Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience. Each year, there will be a competition for the best young scientist studying the cellular and molecular (including genetic) bases of brain function. Of course, brainpower can be used for good and for ill but optimizing our ability to think is, net, a high-potential approach to improving humankind.

I chose a prize for young scientists as a bang-for-the-buck vehicle for my donation because the prize's existence may encourage a number of brilliant people to pursue research in this vital area and the winner's career will be abetted at the stage when such a prize can make the difference between getting a prestigious research position or not.

Even though the Society for Neuroscience is charging me much more than the amount of the Nemko Prize to administer it, I've decided that is a wise investment because The Society for Neuroscience is  the world's largest and most prestigious organization of researchers studying the brain. It has 42,000 members. It will solicit nominations for the prize to a very wide yet ideally targeted audience and will engage a committee of luminaries to review the nominations.

I'm excited that at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting, I will both be giving the award to the winner as well as presenting a 2 1/2-hour workshop on career and life management for researchers.

9 comments:

Rex said...

I think a prize for holistic research studying the link between diet and diseases of the nervous system would be highly appropriate since funding for this kind of research is virtually non-existent and is the best hope for humanity to overcome degenerative diseases including but not limited to diabetes, ms, heart disease, alzheimer's, etc. All of these conditions have been shown to be connected to diet in some way and the reductionist approach of studying chemicals and molecules in isolation will never unlock the answers...

Marty Nemko said...

No doubt, rigorous studies of if and how diet affects brain structure and function will be helpful, one of many potentially fruitful research areas.

Rex said...

Have you read the China Study? Only 3.6% of all research funding in the NIH is devoted to studying nutrition, and most of that goes toward creating supplements! If you really wanted to shake things up, creating a prize specifically for holistic nutrition research concerning brain disease would make a lasting and valuable contribution...Alzheimer's is a disease of affluence and virtually non-existent in healthier cultures...diet is the most plausible explanation for this...there is randomness in genes, but it's not that random...

Marty Nemko said...

Yes, I have read the China study but there is much foundational research that needs to be done to ascertain the molecular links to diet, if only because the public does not readily change dietary habits. Indeed, Dr. Dean Ornish found that of people who have had heart attacks and told they must change their diet or die, most returned to their fat-filled diets within six months.

In addition, diet is far from the only factor affecting brain function, normal and otherwise. Genes matter, as do myriad individual physiological differences that affect the expression of genes. And of course, there's the environment, but that area is extremely well-funded. My little prize would add a mere grain of sand on a beachful.

After extensive consultation with luminaries in the field, it seems clear that the wisest scope for my prize is a broad one: the molecular and cellular bases of brain function. Unless we understand things at the molecular level, preventives and curatives will be too limited in their power.

Rex said...

I disagree...

Understanding the molecular links to diet is a wild goose chase...even if you covered the entire planet in supercomputers and hooked them together and devoted all the world's health research budgets to understanding these links, we would never be fully capable of understanding how they all fit and operate together...it's just too complicated...better to just understand the components of a healthy diet and then educate people...

Also, the idea that the public does not readily change dietary habits should not count as an argument for not educating people about proper nutrition...It's very difficult to change behavior in adults, but it's very easy to mold behavior in children...a better approach would be to educate young mothers and modify existing school lunch programs...after all, each school is funded by local taxes, and parents want what's best for their children...Once enough holistic research on this topic has been done, judging from public interest in nutrition, people will change...

Last, there is only one curative: diet. No drug will ever be as effective as what nature has already developed...genes are a tiny part of the picture in this regard...

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, Rex, for your thoughtful comments. The most important point, I believe, in your comments is that the bottom-up approach (start with molecules) may or may not be as wise as a top-down approach.

Scientists continue to debate which is more fruitful, which is why I accepted the Society for Neuroscience's recommendation that the Nemko Prize's scope be left broad enough to include both bottom-up and top-down approaches.

Marty Nemko said...

Rex, by any chance, are you Rex Jung?

Rex said...

No I am not Rex Jung...I understand your reasoning...Hopefully the society of neuroscience will see the light someday...

ST said...

One day, I somehow got hooked on watching a Dr. Oz show about diet and the brain. The guest was going on about how bad metals are that we're getting in our diet. There was more, but basically a diet of veggies, fruit, beans and whole grains. No dairy, meat, etc. So, then I went online to Dr. Oz' web site and saw another guy talking about the brain and diet and he was talking about brain power foods, and one, a seafood, he said, because we'd get the copper we need for the brain. I was left a little confused.

I think diet is the most controversial health topic there is, because there's so much conflicting information and, correct, people want to eat what they want to eat and what tastes good. If people really wanted to eat more broccoli type foods, fast food places would figure out how to make it work.

With recent books out now like Pandora's Lunch Box and Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, the best thing to do is follow Michael Pollan's advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

I looked up Rex Jung, and he seems to be more interested in the brain and creativity.

FYI: the link to the prize doesn't seem to work in the post:
<a href="http://www.sfn.org/Press-Room/News-Release-Archives/2013/Nemko-Prize>Nemko Prize</a>

 

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