Field of Science

Politicians take money away from research

Science under attack: Congress should stop playing politics with the peer-review process.

This editorial in Nature complains that politicians are interfering with the peer-review process of the NIH.
In a depressingly familiar display of irresponsible politicking, the US House of Representatives has taken aim at three studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Representative Darrell Issa (Republican, California) introduced an amendment killing the projects on 24 July, during a debate on the NIH's 2010 budget. The House passed the amendment by a voice vote.
So the politicians were successful at taking away money from researchers that had already been awarded the funds.

Basically, the republicans are taking aim at studies that spend money abroad. They can say all they want that HIV has already been studied (what an ingenious claim), there is still no cure and plenty of people getting infected as we speak.
Issa was unhappy that the studies looked at substance abuse and HIV risk behaviour, and that the subjects were outside the United States. One focused on Russian alcoholics, another on female sex workers in China and a third on female and transgender prostitutes in Thailand. All three passed muster with NIH peer reviewers, and together would cost about $5 million over five years. Issa wanted that money to be spent at home, and complained that HIV had been heavily studied already. But his reasoning is specious: alcoholism, prostitution and HIV do not respect borders, and any behavioural information that could help slow the transmission of HIV is crucial. Some 33 million people are infected worldwide, and a vaccine is nowhere in sight.
It seems fitting with the idea that knowledge is as dangerous as it is beneficial, which the conservative Americans live with these years. But before we put all the blame on the republicans (though the notion did come from them), note that the bill was passed in a house with a democrat majority.


  1. One more piece of evidence that Dems and Repubs are, under the bullshit all of one mind. That mind being the sort which immediately seizes any vaguely usable excuse to divert valuable resources towards things which will get them paid, get their sponsors to pay them more, and give them more bullshit talking points with which to convince people to give them more opportunities to get paid.

    One of the reasons I've been focusing on religion so much lately is that it is actually less depressing than politics.

  2. I am actually of the observation that, while also very concerned about getting paid as well as re-elected, dems really aren't as ideologically blinded as the reps. It is, for instance, quite clear and well-known the the reps are more so married to a religious doctrine that you yourself know so well, despite the fact that any sane person can see there is a conflict with science, for example. Or with proof of being born in Hawaii, for another.

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  4. Thanks for the info... I didn't know this one.

    Issa is a real tool. Not so much a loony himself as an amoral "authoritarian leader" who gets and maintains supporters by acting like a loony. Repubs in CA tend to be particularly horrid, since the state is really polarized, gerrymandered, and the laws here have allowed the political minority to become very powerful obstructionists.

    However... there is something to be said for favoring US based work. Not in this case I think (where the work seems US based, but the subjects are overseas). The example that pops to mind is the "DNA fingerprinting of Bears" McCain made fun of in the election. Yeah the study was actually well worth doing (and the potential 'winners' is the mining industry), but the actual bulk of the lab work was outsourced to a company in Canada. That last part is wrong IMO... spend more on the lab work and have it done in US university labs. All part of the building of infrastructure and training the next generation.

    Anyways, funding scientific studies/projects subject to the whims of the special interests and general public is very bad. We get to see this regularly as politicians trot out lists of "absurd" earmarked projects... of course the overwhelming majority are quite merit worthy and are only absurd sounding when mis-described to a largely ignorant public. (Funding science by earmark has some real negatives, but that is a discussion for another day.) As bad a sausage factory as the NIH, NSF, ect proposal review process is, it is far better leave it alone rather than letting politicians line-item veto projects.


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