Dear Mr. President

Oh man, I am so glad you won. Whew! Mitt Romney just scared the hell out of me. And Ryan a heartbeat away from the presidency? No way!

I know you have a lot on your plate right now, but … I’m going to toss one more serving up there.

“ABCD by 2023” is an ambitious scientific research project I’d like to see Americans undertake. Briefly, it’s a 10-year Apollo-style project against four diseases: Alzheimer’s. Birth defects. Cancer. Diabetes.

For the rest of it, I hope you’ll forgive me for presenting it as a presidential speech:

ABCD by 2023  (1,163 words, about 10 minutes to deliver) *

One of the major issues of this presidential campaign, for all of the candidates, has been the economy. Yet in speaking of the economy, and of so many other issues – issues of national security, energy issues, issues of the global environment – we have reacted to emergencies now before us, rather than taking a more thoughtful, proactive approach, to foresee and avoid potential emergencies to come, and to foresee and help create the countless opportunities which may lie in our future.

America has had a number of great victories in military battles, but one of our greatest victories in recent memory was not a victory of war, it was a victory of this type of forward-looking proactivity, a victory of invention and research, a victory in an epic quest for a quintessentially American achievement.

That quest, President John F. Kennedy’s vision to place a man on the moon, and bring him safely back to earth, brought not just a renewed pride for Americans, and not just a new measure of admiration around the world, it brought a cavalcade of new discoveries that went far beyond those we found on the moon.

It brought us new materials, new sciences, new medicines and new techniques in medical monitoring, new discoveries and inventions that helped speed us into this amazing age of computers and technological miracles we live in today.

It also helped bring about greatly accelerated economic growth, and it placed a new spotlight on the necessity, even the urgency, of a commitment to education, particularly science education.

The strength of a nation is measured not simply in its military might, but in the power of its commitment to discovery and advancement.

The security of a nation rests not just in gateways and guards but in ideas and discoveries that help ensure the present and future well-being of the citizens who call that nation their homeland.

The wealth of a nation is measured not simply in dollars, but in the equity of education residing in the minds of its citizens.

Every problem in the world today, from the starvation and want that still plagues us in so many places in the world, to the grave environmental dangers that will face us in coming years, to our own recent economic woes, is susceptible not to wishful thinking, not to blind optimism, but to the solutions of hard work and clearheaded, forward-looking reason and science.

In that light, I am today announcing my commitment to invest once again in America’s scientific greatness, to propel our nation back to the forefront of science education and scientific research.

I am as proud as I can be of our nation’s space program, and I want us to continue to take that road to the greater achievements we have all imagined. But I also want us to push back the frontiers here on earth.

To that end, I vow to devote my presidency to a ten-year Apollo-type program in medical research.

President Kennedy presented us with a difficult quest, but one which was describable in three short sentences. “Put a man on the moon. Bring him safely back home. Do it in ten years.” Stated in those simple terms, that goal sparked our imaginations and set us ablaze with the desire to actually do it.

I doubt I can match the inspiring words of President Kennedy, but I would like to state my own goal in equally simple terms: Put an end to four incurable diseases. Save millions of American lives and families. Do it in ten years.

But to state it even more simply: “ABCD by 2023.”

I know every American over age 50 looks forward to continued aging with great concern. We face not just killers, but destroyers of the mind that leave us alive but rob us of our selves. The greatest of those robbers may be Alzheimer’s. Therefore, I call on Congress and all Americans to commit with me to a ten-year program to find a definitive cure for A, Alzheimer’s.

Every young American looks forward to the joy of building a family, yet all of us face the specter of birth defects. Therefore, I call on Congress and all Americans to commit with me to a ten-year program to discover and perfect all possible preventatives and cures for B, birth defects.

Every American, every citizen of the world, of every age, faces the dread possibility of cancer. I call on Congress and all Americans to join with me in declaring a ten-year campaign to find cures for C, cancer of all types.

Finally, a disease both debilitating and deadly for those children and adults stricken with it, a disease on the rise in America, Diabetes. I call on Congress and all Americans to commit, as I do, to a ten-year program to end D, diabetes. To cut new cases to zero, and to cure those already afflicted with it.

There is not a single extended family in America which has been untouched in some way by one or more of these diseases. The toll of each one by itself, but especially the toll of them all together, has been devastating – killing and wounding more of us annually than all the wars we have ever engaged in.

If we work together, if we commit ourselves fully to this fight, with funding, with research, with a renewed commitment to science education, and with the infinite resolve of which Americans are capable, there will come a day when we will look out over America and see a multitude of senior citizens still healthy and aware, still productive, who might otherwise have slipped into the deadly twilight of Alzheimer’s.

We will see millions of babies growing up to enjoy healthy, happy lives when they might otherwise suffer disability or death.

We will look out and see millions of family members and loved ones alive and well who might formerly have died of cancer.

And we will see millions more who will happily know diabetes only as a word from medical history books.

Just as the Apollo program was, this quest will be difficult. But just as the Apollo program provided huge returns, these cures, and the research that will make them possible, will pay vast dividends to American security, productivity, wealth and world influence.

More importantly, for every individual set on the path to health and personal well-being, and for every family member who loves them, the value of the successful achievement of each of these goals will be the value of life and health itself.

As president, I will take up this challenge. In turn I will challenge Congress, the American people, the high schools and colleges and universities of our nation, the scientific and medical communities, and the compassionate, supportive communities of faith, to join with me in achieving this goal.

I believe we can do this. I believe we should. I believe we must.

I hope to have the support of every American in reaching for this most difficult star.

I thank you.



* Those of you who don’t happen to be the president, some of you may have seen this might-be speech last year. In slightly edited form, I’ve posted it before.

  • katkinkate

    Sounds like a good idea. Do you think it would get past those science committees that are loaded with anti-science god botherers? Does the President have the power to bypass the committees that hand out the money?

  • machintelligence

    The problem with “curing” cancer is that it isn’t just one disease. Hell, even individual tumors are not of a single cell type, and as you treat them the most resistant cells survive, so now you are also fighting evolution by natural selection. this XKCD sums it up nicely:
    If you live long enough, you will eventually die of cancer. The trick is to live that long.

    • Drewzilla

      machintelligence wrote:

      The problem with “curing” cancer is that it isn’t just one disease.

      Hank Fox wrote:

      I call on Congress and all Americans to join with me in declaring a ten-year campaign to find cures for C, cancer of all types.

      I believe that’s why he wrote cures, to signify the fact that there isn’t one cure to cancer.

  • Nick Gotts (formerly KG)

    Important as medical research is, it pales into insignificance beside the need for urgent action, and research, to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. That should be the top priority for Obama’s second term. If it is not, history will judge him very harshly – if we’re lucky.

    • Hank Fox

      The key concept here is that this is something proactive and inspiring. We both know about the importance of climate change, but it’s an existing problem, requiring a REactive solution. Nothing inspiring about it; the only way to sell it is with fear motivation. Speaking just for myself, I’m tired of being afraid — the legacy of the Bush years. I’m ready for a vision of hope, a quest for something big and difficult, something Americans will consider worth doing. If our historic fascination with science is rekindled, and we become enthusiastic about tackling climate change, so much the better.

  • Crudely Wrott

    Hank, have you actually tried to send this challenge to the president? If not, please do. It is time to do so. Also send it to your state congress critters. I mean it.

    – personal aside: I deeply appreciate the growth and maturity of your writing in terms of eloquence and relevancy as time goes by. It’d be a real pleasure to saddle up and ride with you over the mountain to a cold, clear lake and catch them wiley trouts for our breakfast. Failing a pasture full of horses readily at hand, your blog brings me such welcome pleasures and evokes treasured memories of when I could ride up there and did catch them trouts. See you up the trail, pardner.

  • TB at BlueCollarWorkman

    It’s a neat idea really. I remember learning about the 10 year thing with Kennedy and how well that did for the people. IT would be really cool, it’d make people feel all pro-American again instead of disjointed, and it might help jobs. I agree — send to Obama!

  • Rebecca Hensler

    Usually, here in the rational thinking community, I respond to writing with my brain. But the moment I saw your inclusion of birth defects, my (metaphorical) heart was touched as well.

    Sometimes it feels like birth defects, and the families who spend the first weeks or months of their children’s lives in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and particularly those of us who bring our babies home in a box of ashes, rather than a carseat, are invisible to the rest of the world.

    Thank you, Hank, for speaking out on our behalf. Any time you are ready to run, you have my vote.

  • sheila

    ABCD is important. Climate change and overpopulation are even more important. If crop failures become the norm, we won’t live long enough to worry about ABCD.

    Free birth control for Americans is a fantastic start. Now can we please, please work on cutting back on the fossil fuels and bring birth control to the rest of the world?

    • Randide, O che sciagὺra d’essere scenza coglioni!

      As a C survivor and as one with D, I would beg to differ about not living long enough to worry about ABCD.

      Right or wrong, Hank’s proposal stands a significantly higher chance of getting mainstream support in America than something as (needlessly) controversial as cutting back on fossil fuels or climate change.

  • dm

    a or b you HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH CRITICAL THINKING join the socialist faith #atheist

  • joann daun

    I was hoping to share discussions about the book Edmond Cohen wrote about the mind control of the Bible and how we as people are being taught to self-hypnosis . Very scary to find out that the Bible is a psychological device to cause mind-control and a group neurosis , even to the point that they try to tell you how to vote . If you have ever had a problem with this or need to talk to someone about it to get it off your chest or should I say out of your mind , I would love to talk to someone about. joann

  • usagichan

    Happy that you got the best choice of the two there. One thing that struck me though – How many hundreds of million dollars were spent on the campaign. If only you could get them to spend just a proportion of that on medical research, perhaps you might get some progress.

    Still that’s democracy I suppose – where mutual name calling becomes more important that saving lives (although perversely ending them explosively (as long as it is the right sort (i.e. those of folks far away)) seems to be considered a massive plus).

  • Nathanael

    Cancer and birth defects are not single diseases. Our current understanding of biology indicates that cancer is, roughly speaking, the natural state of cells, and any sequence of failures in the complex mechanisms for policing and killing cells will cause cancer. Birth defects, similarly, spring from a very large number of different causes.

    This is why Nixon’s “War on Cancer” failed and why it’s not a suitable subject for an “Apollo Program”.

    In contrast, stopping global warming IS a suitable subject for an “Apollo Program”. Global warming is caused by emission of a very small number of greenhouse gases.

    • Nathanael

      It does seem from this blog post that you weren’t aware of Nixon’s “War on Cancer”. We tried it once. If you’re thinking politically, trying again would be rather anticlimatic politically to anyone old enough to remember the first try.

    • Shayne O

      My guess is that a war on birth defects and a war on cancer might well be two sides of the same blade, they are both at core genetic diseases.

      We’re really talking a 100 year project here. But one thats worth it, and if its treated like a priority , we’ll see lots and lots of payoffs along the way.

      Heck lets get really ambitious. 200 year project, human immortality and the warp drive (if its possible!)

  • c2t2…

    Miss you, Hank. Hope you’re doing okay!

    (Substantive comment? pfft!)

  • mikecline


    Love your blog and this article in particular. As a poster said above, you should send this to the president. Who would be against it?

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