Thursday, January 29, 2004

NIH under attack for sex research

WaPo recently reported that the NIH is under attack. The backstory emerges in paragraph four:

But a recent one-two punch has put the NIH on the defensive. Late last fall, a conservative religious group released what it said was evidence that the NIH was financing scientifically useless studies of morally repugnant behavior, triggering a congressional inquiry. In December, an article in the Los Angeles Times suggested that improprieties were occurring in collaborations between NIH scientists and drug companies. Those claims prompted a fresh round of congressional questions.

ScienceNOW goes into more detail (non-free subscription required):

NIH began a sweeping review of its human sexuality research portfolio after the House came close to eliminating funding for four sexual research grants in July, and some lawmakers raised more questions at a 2 October hearing. A House Energy and Commerce committee staffer then forwarded to NIH a list of about 198 grants compiled by the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative advocacy group (Science, 31 October 2003, p. 758). The research topics ranged from research on AIDS and risky behaviors, such as drug use, to preventing teenage pregnancy. The Coalition's Andrea Lafferty called the studies "smarmy" and a waste of taxpayers' money.

Not so, says Zerhouni in a two-page letter sent to Commerce Committee chair Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and two senators. "The peer review process ... worked properly," and "I fully support NIH's continued investment in research on human sexuality," Zerhouni wrote. An attached six-page summary by institute directors provides detailed justification for three specific grants, including a study of prostitutes and truck drivers that NIH says will help prevent spreading HIV from truckers to their wives, and a conference on sexual functioning that could "improve the lives of millions of Americans" and shed light on dysfunction.

C'mon, if we can't count on government to fund scientific research into sex, then what the hell can we count on the government to fund? Is there anything that the average taxpaying American citizen cares more about than sex?

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