"When we looked at the public-health relevance, there was no question that these projects should have been funded and should continue to be funded."
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/13/04
"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."
Rep. Ralph Regula -- Chairman, House
Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee,
fHouse floor July 11, 2003
I have served on the subcommittee that deals with NIH for a long time, and the one thing I came to understand very quickly is that the day that we politicize NIH research, the day we decide which grants are going to be approved on the basis of a 10-minute horseback debate in the House of Representatives with 434 of the 435 Members in this place who do not even know what the grant is, that is the day we will ruin science research in this country. We have no business making political judgments about those kinds of issues.
Rep. David Obey -- Ranking Member, House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, House floor July 11, 2003
"When you look at the impact of sexually transmitted disease, you're talking about HIV/AIDS and many others that affect millions of people and their reproductive lives."
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni USA Today, Jan. 13, 2004
"Decisions about medical research should be made by scientists, not by politicians promoting an ideological agenda.”
Democratic House Leader
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, July 2003
"Here we have people saying, 'I don't like how that disease was contracted, so I don't want to study that disease.' It's equivalent to sticking your head in the sand. It's very important that the scientific community rises up and objects to the imposition of ideology in these areas."
Alan Leshner, President and CEO, AAAS, Washington Post, 1/19/04
CPR sponsors Congressional briefing -- Lost in Translation: Public Health Implications of Sexual Health Research
NIH Responds to Congress (Download letter to Congress)
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The Scientific, Public Health and Advocacy Community Reacts. . .
Reaction to these developments from the scientific community has been quick. A number of groups have spoken out and individual researchers have defended their projects from the attacks by the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). COSSA Executive Director Howard Silver has noted that there are groups in this country who “want to keep their heads in the sand” when it comes to behaviors they don’t like. “Given the AIDS pandemic, the significant numbers of people with STDs, and the volatile mix of drug, sex, and disease, this research is necessary,” he added. “There is a vital public health interest in these studies and they deserve and merit government support,” Silver concluded. This support is provided by NIH through a merit review process that has made the Institutes the premier biomedical and behavioral research agency in the world.
Norman B. Anderson, Chief Executive Officer of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the first Director of the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), reiterated the value of the research being conducted by the NIH, noting that examining the "behaviors of at-risk research populations, such as prostitutes and drug users is crucial to public health. . . This research is absolutely necessary to fully understand how sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are spread from high-risk communities to those traditionally considered low-risk. This research is also necessary if we are to continue our national and international efforts to prevent these diseases," Anderson declared. Other reactions included:
"The spread of HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, and other public health crises cause tremendous human suffering all over the world. If we're ever going to get a handle on these issues and help to improve human well-being, we must learn more about them through high-quality, peer-reviewed research," said Alan I. Leshner, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Executive Publisher of its journal, Science. "The question of whether or not such behaviors are moral is irrelevant. They occur frequently and they are key factors in the spread of disease. We must have the courage, as scientists and citizens, to understand and confront them. Society deserves no less," he emphasized.
“The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) is deeply concerned about news reports implying that some 200 NIH-funded research grants on controversial, but critically important public health issues, largely dealing with sexual behaviors, are being subjected to extraordinary scrutiny as a result of pressure from either members of Congress or private advocacy groups,” said AAMC President Jordan J. Cohen. “While congressional oversight of the merit review process plays an essential role in ensuring appropriate accountability for the nation's investment in scientific research, the integrity of the oversight processes themselves should never be compromised by intrusion of extraneous sectarian or ideological issues.”
Statements of Support
Updated May 20, 2004