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NCCIH Research Blog

In Praise of Scientific Curiosity

October 24, 2017

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Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

Director Emeritus

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View biographical sketch

As I wrap up matters here at NIH and think over my tenure as Director of this Center, I have a few very brief final reflections. The topic of this post is scientific curiosity.

Much of the research that NCCIH supports would be classified as translational science. I have emphasized translation. I have worked to bring a rigorous, stepwise understanding of the translational process to the oversight of our research portfolio. We at NCCIH care deeply, of course, about delivering practical information to the American public. Our mission to define the safety and effectiveness of a broad range of nonmainstream health practices results in a research portfolio with an abundance of very practical, translational studies.

Nevertheless, it is important that we not let our emphasis on translation have the unintended result of letting basic studies get a bit sidelined. Our portfolio concerns itself with such fascinating ancient practices as acupuncture, meditation, and yoga. I raise the worry that in our (understandable) push to test the efficacy of these practices for various health conditions, we have shortchanged research that would help us understand what actually happens to the mind and body during these interventions.

So, I offer a cheer for scientific curiosity and a reminder of the importance of fundamental mechanistic research—for its own sake. True breakthroughs are usually driven primarily by scientific curiosity. Let’s remember that the practical applications may be a surprise.

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