Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do scientists self-censor in politically charged grant applications?

If you study prostitutes, would you tell the NIH?
via Scientific American

Half of scientists whose federally funded research — most of it about sex and AIDS — was subjected to extra scrutiny by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2003 after conservative members of Congress questioned its merits say they now censor wording in their grant applications that might raise "red flags" at the agency, according to a new survey.

Five years ago, Rep. Patrick Toomey (R-PA) proposed a bill amendment that would have pulled funding for five grants. The legislation failed by a 210 to 212 vote, but after that, members of a House and Senate committee asked NIH Director Elias Zerhouni to explain the “medical benefit” of those and five additional grants. Because of a clerical error, those ten grants turned into about 250 grants by 157 investigators that Zerhouni ordered reviewed.

That review led to Zerhouni to say the research was valid in a January 2004 letter to members of Congress, and no funding was pulled.

Still, the scientists were still skittish in the years after. When 82 of them were surveyed in 2005 and 2006, more than half said they leave out words in their funding requests such as "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," "sexual intercourse," "anal sex," "homosexual," "homophobia," "AIDS," "bare-backing," "bath-houses," "sex workers," "needle exchange" and "harm reduction," according to the survey published in this week's PLoS Medicine.

Read the rest here.

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