NIH PEER REVIEW THREATENED: HOUSE BARELY DEFEATS ATTEMPT TO STOP NIH GRANTS

 

 

Waxman Expresses "Outrage" Over 'Hit List;' The Scientific Community Reacts

 

Rep. Henry Waxman's 10/27 letter to Sec'y Thompson

 

Rep. Henry Waxman's 10/28 letter to Sec'y Thompson

 

Rep. Tom Lantos 10/30 letter to Sec'y Thompson

 

Rep. Waxman’s Politics and Science website

 

Sexual Health Research Once Again an Issue; Rogers, Waxman Defend NIH Research

 

NIH Peer Review Threatened:  House Barely Defeats Attempts to Stop NIH Grants

Sexual Behavior Research at NIH Threatened

Grants Targeted by House Amendment

Transcript of House Floor Debate on the Amendment offered by Rep. Toomey

See how your Representative voted

2002 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior

 

 

 

 

“Who are these peers?” the late Senator Russell Long (D-LA) once asked during a post-midnight Senate debate on earmarking Federal funding many years ago.  On July 11, the process used to award grants at the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation once again came under attack during the House of Representatives’ debate on the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill.  Combine the questioning of peer review with grants given to study topics viewed by some as illegitimate for Federal funding, such as research on sexual health, and you have the formula for a 212-210 vote on the House floor, barely defeating an amendment to stop funding for five research grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), would have eliminated money for research he deemed “much less worthy of taxpayer funding than the kind of research the NIH is generally doing to cure…devastating diseases.”  He and co-sponsor Rep. Chris Chocola (R-IN) cited five grants, each of which, as Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH) explained, had passed through the NIH’s “elaborate two-tiered peer review process that is mandated by the Public Health Service Act.” 

Regula, strongly opposing the amendment, further explained the process:  “Outside review panels of distinguished scientists from universities nationwide gather to review each  application,  which  can  easily  run   on   to  several  hundred  pages… Then  these    recommendations are reviewed by advisory councils comprised of scientists and members of the public whose nominations are cleared through the Department (of Health and Human Services).”  The Chairman of the full House Appropriations Committee, Rep. C.W. ‘Bill” Young (R-FL), also spoke in strong opposition to the amendment, calling it “mischievous.” 

 

The studies Toomey objected to included:  an analysis of a longitudinal data set of aging males to examine trends in their sexual behavior and how it impacts the quality of their lives; a study of drug use and HIV-related behaviors among Asian female commercial sex workers in San Francisco to ascertain intervention strategies to promote protective behaviors; surveys of American Indian and Alaskan Native lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and two-spirited populations at risk for multiple health and mental health problems; systematic research on emotional states and sexual risk-taking; and an examination of spatial and temporal linkages between human population and the environment in the Woolong Nature Reserve of China.

 

The Way to Ruin Science Research

 

Rep. David Obey (D-WI), ranking Democrat on the Appropriations panel, also condemned Toomey’s amendment, arguing “that the day 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 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.”  Obey also reminded his colleagues that grants that sound silly today can often lead to important discoveries, citing a study on Polish pigs that led to the development of a new blood pressure medicine. 

 

Democratic House Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), echoed Obey in a statement issued following the debate:  “The [Toomey] Amendment offered today was an attempt to undermine the peer-review process.  Decisions about medical research should be made by scientists, not by politicians promoting an ideological agenda.”

 

Also defending peer review and the grants under scrutiny were Reps. Brian Baird (D-WA) and Mike Rogers (R-MI).  They specifically defended the research in China, suggesting, as Baird noted:  “The research has to do with population dynamics, the pressure on an ecosystem that supports the pandas, and the development of a population, including how those people can provide fuel and food for their children.”  Rogers noted that the research could also lead to understanding the transmission of diseases, such as SARS, from animals to humans.

 

Rep. Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham (R-CA), also spoke against the amendment, saying “I personally believe that things and discoveries should be left up to NIH…once you get into politicians…directing what NIH does, it is not what you are trying to eliminate, it is the whole broad perspective of what we could do in the long run… In the past, many of the diseases were politicized… and I want to stay away from that.”  In the end, however, Cunningham voted with Toomey.

 

Despite all this and the efforts of many groups in the science community, including COSSA, to persuade the House of the importance of peer review and the research under question, the amendment only failed by two votes.  In addition, the House report accompanying the Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations bill states emphatically:  “The Committee reiterates its longstanding view that NIH should distribute funding on the basis of scientific opportunity.  The Committee urges the Director and the Administration to continue to resist pressures to earmark, set aside and otherwise politicize these resources...  The Committee does not presume to judge which criteria should take precedence or carry the greatest weight in individual funding decisions, but urges NIH to consider the full array of relevant criteria as it constructs its research portfolio.”  Apparently, there were 210 Members of the House who thought otherwise.  Russell Long may be dead, but his words continue to echo through Congress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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