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.