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In Praise of Scientific Curiosity

October 24, 2017
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

Director Emeritus
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View Dr. Briggs’ 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.


Comments are now closed for this post.

Visionary and insightful comment. Thanks for your efforts Dr. Briggs and best wishes on your retirement. 

I’m so glad to be able to post a comment in your honor. I first heard of your name back in 1974, when working as an intern in one of the first studies done in “Hospital Universitario de Caracas” (Venezuela) when I was involved in a study quantifying renin blood samples in a group of patients hypertensive patients so to prove that renal artery stenosis increased renin causing their hypertension.  Many years have past; I became an OBGYN and immigrated to the USA. I got this NIH e-mail titled: In Praise of Scientific Curiosity, I read the name and it rang-a-bell. I checked my publications’ bibliography and see your name: JP Briggs, and I see you are also a woman. It was great to meet the face of a researcher whom I read so long ago. It was like meeting a long lost pen-pall. When I saw the opportunity of adding my comment, I jumped at the opportunity to tell you how important your scientific papers were for me and to possibly tell you my humble story that is also based on spreading the use of better diagnostic methods for clinical advancement. As the Acting Director of the Division of Clinical Innovation, maybe I could ask for your help in getting us in contact with any university or minority institution in the USA that would be interested in adding point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) in their everyday clinical practice. This way, we could apply for a pilot study for minorities in rural areas. This particular funding opportunity is offered in the RFA-MD-17-006 being the last day this November 15th.  We are 3 different NGOs that work together teaching ultrasound to birth-attendants, nurses, midwives, and physicians in different parts of the world. This file is the PowerPoint presentation done at the last 2017 AIUM meeting showing what we did in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala in 2016 (file removed).

Thank you so much for your dedicated service!  I have used the NCCIH’s information as a mainstay research tool in promoting wellness in our business!  It takes a full range of treatments among multiple dimensions to become well!I agree - Stay curious & Open-minded!  Integrate all treatments so you can have the best outcome!  Standard protocols are not always enough for individuals.  Do the research and treat the whole person.  I am a lucky survivor of a Grade IV glioblastoma and I had a multitude of treatments and a lot of prayers!

Thank you Josie for your leadership. Your vision, tenacity and curiosity has advanced the field of Integrative health and medicine. Best wishes in whatever comes next for you. Deep gratitude. Mary Jo Kreitzer

This page last modified October 24, 2017