Opinion Pieces Criticize Congressional Questioning of NIH Sexual Health, AIDS Grants
Congress recently investigated hundreds of NIH-funded research projects -- including projects on sexual health and HIV/AIDS -- that were included on a list prepared by the Traditional Values Coalition. In what many people said was a mix-up, a congressional staff member in October sent NIH a list of more than 200 grants representing more than $100 million in funding instead of a shorter list of 10 grants that conservative House members have questioned for several months. The longer list was prepared by TVC, which says it represents 43,000 churches nationwide. As a result of the longer list being sent, NIH began calling researchers whose grants were on the list as part of a report for Congress on broad categories of grants (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/24). Two recent opinion pieces criticized the congressional grant investigation. The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report summarizes the opinion pieces below:
- Jeffrey Drazen/Julie Ingelfinger, New England Journal of Medicine: Politics has "no place" in the NIH grant-review process, which selects research to fund "based solely on its merits," Drs. Drazen and Ingelfinger, two NIH grant recipients, write in a NEJM opinion piece. Grants for work on social issues are "crucial to the mission of the NIH" and are particularly important when the United States and the world are facing the "particularly violent scourge" of HIV/AIDS, they say. The grant-review process includes "intense scrutiny by many respected scientists" and contains steps to evaluate "both the science and the ethics of every application," Drazen and Ingelfinger write. When grants are awarded following the peer-review process, researchers should then be "left to focus on their work and should not be diverted by wasting time responding to the whims of interest groups," Drazen and Ingelfinger conclude (Drazen/Ingelfinger, NEJM, 12/4).
- Alan Leshner, Philadelphia Inquirer: The congressional inquiries into the NIH grants did not represent "healthy scrutiny" but were "assaults on science ... aimed at imposing ideology and religious doctrine on the awarding of individual research grants, intervening in and thereby subverting the scientific peer review system that has served both science and national needs so well," Leshner, executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, writes in an Inquirer opinion piece. The House members who questioned the grants "don't like the fact that HIV is spread through sexual contact," but a policy of "national denial" will not make the HIV/AIDS epidemic go away, Leshner writes, adding that when science is attacked on ideological grounds, its "integrity and usefulness are threatened." The public "cannot afford for moralistic dogma to replace scientific judgment when the public's welfare is at stake," Leshner concludes (Leshner, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/3).