The Big Bad Wolves ?>

The Big Bad Wolves

There has been a lot of congressional huffing and puffing recently challenging the validity of peer review.  Some members of Congress are taking controversial stands, claiming that certain types of peer-reviewed, scientific research are a waste of taxpayer dollars.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., added an amendment to NIH funding legislation that would defund three specific NIH peer-reviewed grants related to HIV/AIDS research.  Particularly worrisome is that the amendment passed the House.  While Issa’s amendment most likely will be removed in final versions of the bill funding NIH in 2010 (Labor/HHS/education appropriations), it is startling that such an amendment would be approved on the House floor.

In a more nuanced approach, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has sent a letter to the NIH asking for specific information regarding the grant review of several specific studies involving HIV/AIDS research.  Congressional oversight is important, but given the nature of the press release, this feels more like a witch hunt.

Why defund specific grants when you can rid of entire research fields?  To prevent the federal government from “wasting federal research funding,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has introduced an amendment to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding any political science research.

Not only is this a dangerous idea, but Coburn’s timing was bad.  Days after he introduced his amendment, Dr. Elinor Ostrom, an NSF-funded political scientist since the 1970s, was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics.  Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., seized on this moment to highlight the importance the NSF’s political science research and its importance to national security.

The support of Mikulski and other research champions has built a house of brick around peer review.  But watch out.  The wolves are just outside, hoping to blow the house down.

2 thoughts on “The Big Bad Wolves

    1. HIV research is an easy target because certain types of human-based studies require research on people at high-risk to contract the disease. But well designed studies like these can have far-reaching implications for the prevention and treatment of HIV in general. Peer-review panels and the scientific community know this and have funded these studies based on their scientific merit.

      While ideologically-driven, political attacks may seem like a good way to score political points with certain special interests, they threaten to undermine the health of America’s scientific enterprise. Let’s leave science to the scientists.

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