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NIH bending to pressure from right?

/ Source: The Associated Press

Dr. Liana Clark says she is reconsidering whether to seek federal financing for new research into birth control use among teenagers after Washington questioned the value of her initial study.

“I just keep thinking that this is a bad nightmare and I’m actually going to wake up from all this,” said Clark, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who received a $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health for her project and to earn an advanced degree.

“If politics is going to play a role in this, how can I go there?” Clark said.

NIH is telephoning 157 such researchers who were awarded grants for projects on AIDS and sexual practices in response to complaints from the conservative Traditional Values Coalition.

‘Sending a dangerous message'

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the phone calls from to the scientists are “sending a dangerous message” that research is being subverted to an ideological agenda.

NIH spokesman John Burklow said his agency simply was responding to a request from Republican lawmakers who were given a list of the research grants. The projects include studying subjects such as teenagers’ sexual activity, sex and drug use among truckers and sexually transmitted diseases among Mexican immigrants.

Burklow said the calls were not intended to threaten researchers that they could lose their funding but to inform them that their names were on a list being circulated in Washington.

He said officials also were trying to put the research into the context of the agency’s “scientific mission.”

The Traditional Values Coalition, in an electronic copy of the list, commented on several studies, including one by a Michigan researcher about teenagers’ sexual and mental health. The comments read: “Promotes a ’sex positive’ attitude among teens; endorses sexual behavior and condom use among teens.”

Andrea Lafferty, the coalition’s executive director, called the grants a “total abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

“We know for a fact that millions and millions of dollars have been flushed down the toilet over years on this HIV, AIDS scam and sham,” Lafferty said. “We know what it takes to prevent getting the disease. It takes not engaging in risky sexual behaviors.”

Lafferty said she brought her concerns to Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“He said they were looking into it,” Lafferty said.

Government 'hit list?'

Ken Johnson, Tauzin’s spokesman, said the committee is not investigating individual grants.

“We are looking broadly at the overall grant management program,” Johnson said.

Waxman, a Democrat on the committee who previously has criticized the Bush administration for interfering with science, called the list a “hit list” and questioned whether federal agencies aided in its compilation.

“Every grant passed a rigorous peer review at NIH, the world’s leading medical research agency, before receiving funding,” Waxman said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. The health institutes are part of HHS.

NIH officials could have read the grant applications if all they sought was information, Waxman said.

HHS officials denied any role in putting together the list and said all the information was publicly available through two databases

Earlier this year, Waxman complained to Thompson that his department was keeping a close watch on groups that promote condom use to combat AIDS and favoring programs that advocated abstinence as the only way to prevent the disease.