How would you like some posturing Congress Critter to de-fund your grant?

July 24, 2009

Apparently Rep Issa (R; CA) has been successful in getting his amendment to prevent the NIH from funding three research projects through the House of Reps (or was it just committee?). We’ll have to follow this to see how it goes. The grants are apparently:

(Ed note: RePORTER FAIL! can’t figure out how to direct link projects..I’ll work on it. Update: CRISP to the partial rescue)
Great isn’t it? There you are, fighting to get your project funded, surmounting the usual procedural hurdles in the grant process. Finally, you get the grant funded and can get down to the business for which you are employed- doing good science in the interests of national, nay worldwide, public health. And some politician wants to prevent further funding of your project in the middle of the award period for naked political posturing purposes. Grand.
This is not new. Remember Rep Toomey?

Let me remind you of how that prior incident went down in 2003. From the floor debate in Congress in an attempt to prevent funding of grant numbers R01HD043689, R03HD039206, R01DA013896, R01MH065871 and R01HD039789 :

(Congressman Toomey): I want to mention the four that my amendment would specifically exclude and forbid further funding from. These are projects, grants that are under way now and have already been funded by the NIH in the past, and we would, with this amendment, shut off further funding for.
One of them is a study on the sexual habits of older men. A second is a study on San Francisco’s Asian prostitutes and masseuses. A third one is a study on mood arousal and sexual risk-taking. And let me just share with my colleagues a highly sanitized and abbreviated summary of their grant application. If I actually read the whole thing, I suspect I would be admonished for the language I would be using on the House floor, so I will read just a little summary.
This is a proposal, which says: “In a series of laboratory studies, mood and sexual arousal will be induced and then their individual and combined effects on sexual risk-taking will be examined.” Those are not my words. Those are the words of the applicant for the grants.
There is another study on American Indian transgender research. The proposal, which is based on the proposition that American Indian and Alaskan native lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and too-spirited individuals are a drastically understudied and underserved group.
Mr. Chairman, I ask my colleagues, who thinks this stuff up? And, worse, who decides to actually fund these sorts of things? Well, unfortunately, the NIH has done so. These are the exceptions, and not the rule. This is not a general criticism of the NIH. But the point is these are not applications that are worthy of taxpayer funds.

Yep. Ongoing projects, already reviewed and funded that a Congress Critter decides in his infinite wisdom and scientific acumen are not “worthy of taxpayer funds”.
Additional coverage of the issue from the APA is here.
Note from that prior transcript that some Congress Critters get it:

(Regula) I strongly urge the Members to resist the temptation to select a few grants for defunding because they do not like the sound of them based on one paragraph out of what probably was a number of pages of information. It would set a dangerous precedent and put a chill on medical research if we start to micromanage individual NIH grants.
This has worked well over the years. We have had enormous progress because of these grants in achieving medical knowledge and giving the public a better health care system. I do not think this body, this committee, wants to get into the process of reviewing 120,000 grants and trying to pick 40,000 out of that group for funding.

…and there was more, it makes for an interesting read. The point is that we, as scientists, need to keep the pressure on our Congressional representatives to understand the value and process of NIH funded scientific enterprise. So that when some clown wants to posture, and picks some seemingly juicy PR fruit out of the NIH portfolio, the forces of reason vote him down.
Oh, and I should point out that this is not just the work of random obscure Congress Critters out to get some press while in the minority. Again, the prior event was not isolated to Toomey:

APA staff recently learned that an apparent “hit list” of sexual health grants was sent to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) following the October 2 testimony of NIH Director Elias Zerhouni. At a joint hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, several Members of Congress asked the NIH Director for an explanation of the medical benefits of a list of ten sexual health research projects. The list included studies of the sexual behaviors of older men, risk behaviors of prostitutes and a conference on sexual arousal. This line of inquiry followed on the heels of a House amendment proposed by Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) in July that would have rescinded funding for five of these same grants at NIH. That amendment was defeated by a slim vote of 212-210.
When NIH officials asked for a copy of the original list mentioned during the hearing, a much longer list of over 150 grants was sent that addressed several issues related to HIV/AIDS, high-risk sexual behaviors, stigmatization of homosexual populations, and substance abuse. The list, compiled by the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), also contained the names of a number of researchers who received no federal funds, but who, in the past, had studied issues related to homosexuality.

Rep H. Waxman (D-CA) reacted. Assertively.
This little Toomey event in 2003 was the first time I started paying attention to the ways in which political interference in the scientific process could get personal in a big hurry. Especially for our colleagues that work with hot-button social issues such as reproductive health, gender identity, homosexuality, family dynamics, child rearing, substance abuse, mental health…the list goes on and on of topics that might look attractive for political point-scoring to one Conressional Rep or another. Let us not comfort ourselves that this is unipolar partisan stuff either…Congress people on the left could very well start intervening in vaccine studies, anything having to do with alt medicine, autism, block collaborative efforts with industry and even go after the use of animals in research for political purposes. The fact that this has not been attempted yet is of little comfort.

No Responses Yet to “How would you like some posturing Congress Critter to de-fund your grant?”

  1. Orac Says:

    Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. I got a mass e-mail from my university mere minutes ago telling us about this, but the damned idiot who sent it out didn’t include any of the details, and I was left wondering what the hell the university was trying to warn us about.


  2. Anonymous Says:

    You are an idiot. This stuff is junk science and a waste of money. Good for Toomey, etc. for stopping you and these projects.


  3. Max Says:

    Some of the criticized projects sound a bit weird, but anyway it’s not a lot of money. Letting politicians hand pick grant with which they disagree is the end of science with results. It’s like science in former east bloc, politicians decide about the results, not the actual study or experiment.


  4. NJ Says:

    You are an idiot.

    Said the crayon-writer to the distinguished scientist.
    Try to remember tomorrow, anonymous one: Socks first, then shoes.


  5. Dude, as of September 1, those CRISP links are gonna go bye, bye.


  6. Christ on a popsicle stick! They can do that??


  7. potencja i impotencja , leki zwalczajace , zamow juz dzis a w kilka dni bedziesz mial je juz u siebie.


  8. Christ on a popsicle stick! They can do that??

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!! Have you ever read the US Constitution?


  9. Neuro-conservative Says:

    DM — I suspect this is a case of selective outrage on your part. You say you oppose political intervention in teh skienz. Do you oppose political intervention by HIV/AIDS activists, which has resulted in 10% if the entire NIH budget going to a single disease?
    This chart demonstrates that 10x as much money is spent (per US death) on AIDS relative to breast cancer, and 70x as much as heart disease. The most up-to-date data indicates that HIV/AIDS alone gets more than half the amount spent on all cancer research.
    Perhaps the disproportionate AIDS funding is justified, based on the global scale of the problem. However, I don’t think that this decision has ever been openly placed before the general public (as opposed to interest groups that have a strong agenda). Would these priorities survive an open debate?


  10. DrugMonkey Says:

    N-c, there is a HUGE difference between general priority setting and singling out specific proposals. Congress has business in the former but not the latter.


  11. Neuro-conservative Says:

    Yeah, I don’t really disagree but there is a certain karmic aspect with this particular research area.
    Live by the political pandering to a vocal minority, die by the political pandering to a vocal minority.


  12. microfool Says:

    Biomedical science is a vocal minority.
    How many research areas affect a majority of the US population?


  13. funky chicken Says:

    Don’t these studies seem more like WHO projects than NIH?


  14. Neuro-conservative Says:

    Uh, microfool, I would say that a majority of the US population suffers from and dies from disease at some point in their lives. I see how you got your moniker.


  15. I always thought it would be the creationists who would create this kind of havoc. Oh well.


  16. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!! Have you ever read the US Constitution?
    As a matter of fact, I have. There’s really no need to be condescending CPP. My surprise was founded in this:
    “there is a HUGE difference between general priority setting and singling out specific proposals. Congress has business in the former but not the latter.”
    I thought that was pretty well covered under “limitation of powers”, but then, we didn’t have an NIH way back when the constitution was written.


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