non-scientists meddling in funding science

August 7, 2009

Darrell Issa (R-CA) meddles in the NIH

Darrell Issa (R-CA) meddles in the NIH

ScienceInsider recently reported that representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) succeeded in stripping the funding of a study for HIV/AIDS in prostitution from an NIH funding bill. The overseas studies are aimed at understanding how the disease spreads (and how to halt it). Apparently Issa thought it was a waste for the researchers to fly over to Thailand when they could just take a $3.10 train across down. And rather than argue the point, the bill’s manager, David Obey (D–WI), accepted the amendment and moved on.

The stripped funding for the three specific grants totaled $5 million. The entire NIH funding bill was $31 billion. As I see it, this is a great example of politicians trying to score points. Not only were the studies a part of the scientific peer-review process, but they are actually incredibly important for us to understand the inextricable relationship between drugs, disease, and prostitution. You either fund the NIH for a certain amount or you don’t, and let it decide how to apportion that money. Congress doesn’t tell the CIA or FBI what to spend money on and what not to, do they?

If we’re going to get past the dogmatic aversion to drugs and prostitution (controversial, I know; perhaps I’ll post on those later), we need to understand how they interact with sexually transmitted diseases. Even if nothing legally changes here, we can certainly develop better policies for reducing the number of drug-addicted and diseased-infected prostitutes.

Non-scientists deciding not to fund certain research (like human cloning) is one thing. After all, it’s taxpayer money (and thus, in the politicians’ minds, theirs), but it is not their place to decide how that research is carried out. That’s the job of the grant reviewing committee. That’s why we have those committees, to decide what proposals meet the aims of the grant.

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