Bush Administration's Promotion of Ideology Over Science

Rep. Waxman releases a new report that finds numerous instances where the Bush Administration has manipulated the scientific process and distorted scientific information to further a political and ideological agenda. At the request of Rep. Waxman, the minority staff of the Government Reform Committee has developed a website, www.politicsandscience.org , that documents the Administration's record of promoting ideology over science. (Aug. 7, 2003)

Report: Politics and Science in the Bush Administration (pdf)

highlighted excerpts from

The Bush Administration has manipulated, distorted, or interfered with science on health, environmental, and other key issues.   See examples below.

Abstinence-Only Education

President Bush has consistently supported the view that sex education should teach "abstinence only" and not include information on other ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. [1] White House Spokesperson Ari Fleischer has asserted that "abstinence is more than sound science, it's a sound practice . . . . [A]bstinence has a proven track record of working." [2]

In pushing an "abstinence only" agenda, however, the Bush Administration has consistently distorted the scientific evidence about what works in sex education. Administration officials have never acknowledged that abstinence-only programs have not been proven to reduce sexual activity, teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. [3] Instead, HHS has changed performance measures for abstinence-only education to make the programs appear successful, censored information on effective sex education programs, and appointed to a key panel an abstinence-only proponent with dubious credentials.

Performance Measures
Over the past three years, Congress has appropriated over $100 million in grants to organizations that sponsor abstinence-only education. In November 2000, under the Clinton Administration, HHS developed meaningful, scientifically sound outcome measures to assess whether these programs achieved their intended purposes, including the "proportion of program participants who have engaged in sexual intercourse" and the birth rate of female program participants. [4]

In late 2001, however, the Bush Administration dropped these measures and replaced them with a set of standards that does not include any real outcomes. Rather than tracking pregnancy or sexual activity, these measures assess attendance and the attitudes of teens at the end of the education program, including the "proportion of participants who indicate understanding of the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from premarital sexual activity." [5]

Such standards are not scientifically valid. A 2001 review of scientific evidence concluded that "adolescents' sexual beliefs, attitudes, and even intentions are . . . weak proxies for actual behaviors." [6] That is, even if teens pledge to remain abstinent, they may not actually do so. According to a major HHS-funded report, two "hallmarks of good evaluation" in programs designed to reduce teen pregnancy rates are evaluations that "[m]easure behaviors, not just attitudes and beliefs" and "[c]onduct long-term follow-up (of at least one year)." [7] However, the Bush Administration's standards for measuring the success of abstinence-only programs contain no reports or assessments of actual behavior or health outcomes and do not require any minimum followup period.

The result is that the performance measures appear constructed to produce the appearance that scientific evidence supports abstinence-only programs when, in fact, the best evidence does not.

"Programs That Work"
Until recently, a CDC initiative called "Programs That Work" identified sex education programs that have been found to be effective in scientific studies and provided this information through its web site to interested communities. [8]

In 2002, all five "Programs That Work" provided comprehensive sex education to teenagers, and none were "abstinence-only."

In the last year, and without scientific justification, CDC has ended this initiative and erased information about these proven sex education programs from its web site. [9]

Appointment to CDC Committee
The Bush Administration appointed a prominent advocate of abstinence-only programs, Dr. Jay McIlhaney, to the Advisory Committee to the CDC's Director. This committee is charged with providing advice on "policy issues and broad strategies for promoting health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury and disability." [10] Dr. McIlhaney was appointed to this prestigious position despite the fact that in 1995 the Texas Commissioner of Health under then­Governor George W. Bush questioned his professional credibility, writing:

[M]any of the items in [Dr. McIlhaney's] presentation [on sexually transmitted diseases] are misleading and are quoted incompletely . . . . The only data which was reported in the presentation are those which supported his bias on the topics he addressed. Intellectual honesty demands that he present all the data. [11]

As recently as April 2002, Dr. McIlhaney asserted in congressional testimony that "there is precious little evidence" that comprehensive sexual education programs are "successful at all." [12] This assertion, however, is inaccurate. A 2001 review found that comprehensive sex education programs that both encourage abstinence and provide information on contraception have been shown in scientific studies to delay the onset of sexual activity and can result in greater use of potentially life-saving condoms and other contraceptives. [13]

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[1] See, e.g., White House, President Discusses Welfare Reform and Job Training (Feb. 27, 2002) (online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/02/print/20020227-5.html).

[2] White House, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer (Jan. 27, 2003) (online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/01/20030127-2.html).

[3] D. Kirby, National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy , at 88 (May 2001) ("[T]here do not currently exist any abstinence-only programs with reasonably strong evidence that they actually delay the initiation of sex or reduce its frequency").

[4] 65 Federal Register 69562­65 (Nov. 17, 2000).

[5] These new measures are:

· Proportion of program participants who successfully complete or remain enrolled in an abstinence-only education program.

· Proportion of adolescents who understand that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

· Proportion of adolescents who indicate understanding of the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from premarital sexual activity.

· Proportion of participants who report they have refusal or assertiveness skills necessary to resist sexual urges and advances.

· Proportion of youth who commit to abstain from sexual activity until marriage.

· Proportion of participants who intend to avoid situations and risk, such as drug use and alcohol consumption, which make them more vulnerable to sexual advances and urges.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SPRANS Community-Based Abstinence Education Program, Pre-Application Workshop (Dec. 2002) (online at http://www.mchb.hrsa.gov/programs/adolescents/abedguidetext.htm).

[6] D. Kirby, supra note 3, at 78.

[7] National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Get Organized: A Guide to Preventing Teen Pregnancy , 136 (Sept. 1999) (online at http://www.teenpregnancy.org/resources/reading/getorgan.asp).

[8] CDC, Programs That Work (archived version online at http://web.archive.org/web/20010606142729/www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/
dash/rtc/index.htm).

[9] CDC, Programs That Work (online at http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/rtc/) ("Thank you for your interest in Programs that Work (PTW). The CDC has discontinued PTW and is considering a new process that is more responsive to changing needs and concerns of state and local education and health agencies and community organizations").

[10] CDC, Secretary Thompson Appoints Nine to CDC Advisory Committee (Feb. 20, 2003) (online at http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/pressrel/r030220d.htm).

[11] Letter from Dr. David R. Smith, Commissioner of Health, to Mr. Tom E. Smith, Executive Director, Medical Institute for Sexual Health (Jan. 23, 1995).

[12] Testimony of Dr. Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., Subcommittee on Health, Committee on Energy and Commerce, Welfare Reform: A Review of Abstinence Education and Transitional Medical Assistance , 107th Cong., 51 (Apr. 23, 2002).

[13] D. Kirby, supra note 3, at 171 ("[A] number of programs that discussed condoms or other forms of contraception and encouraged their use among sexually active youth also delayed or reduced the frequency of sexual intercourse").


Condoms

Social conservatives have long opposed government efforts to support birth control. In recent years, some have claimed that condoms are not very effective in protecting against sexually transmitted diseases and have pressed federal agencies to adopt this viewpoint. [1] Under the Bush Administration, scientific evidence on the effectiveness of condoms has been suppressed or distorted to reflect this conclusion.

Web Sites
In October 2002, CDC replaced a comprehensive online fact sheet about condoms with one lacking crucial information on condom use and efficacy. The original information, titled Condoms and Their Use in Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs , included sections on the proper use of condoms, the effectiveness of different types of condoms, and studies showing that condom education does not promote sexual activity. [2] It noted that "a World Health Organization (WHO) review . . . found no evidence that sex education leads to earlier or increased sexual activity in young people." [3]

A revised fact sheet was subsequently posted entitled Male Latex Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases . The new fact sheet lacks instruction on condom use and specific information on the effectiveness of different types of condoms. It begins by emphasizing condom failure rates and the effectiveness of abstinence. It also drops the discussion of the evidence that sex education does not lead to increased sexual activity. [4]

Like the CDC, the State Department's Agency for International Development (USAID) has censored its web site to remove information on the effectiveness of condoms. As recently as February 2003, USAID's web site included two detailed documents on condom effectiveness. The document The Effectiveness of Condoms in Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections stated: "Latex condoms are highly effective in prevention of HIV/AIDS" and "Public and government support for latex condoms is essential for disease prevention." [5] The document USAID: HIV/AIDS and Condoms also stated that condoms are " highly effective for preventing HIV infection." It called condom distribution a "cornerstone of USAID's HIV prevention strategy." [6]

USAID then substantially altered its web site. The document The Effectiveness of Condoms in Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections is no longer available. The document USAID: HIV/AIDS and Condoms states only that "condom use can reduce the risk of HIV infection" and "[w]hile no barrier method is 100 percent effective, correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and some other STIs." [7]

International Negotiations
The Bush Administration has also promoted unscientific positions on condom use internationally. In December 2002, the U.S. delegation at the Asian and Pacific Population Conference sponsored by the United Nations attempted to delete endorsement of "consistent condom use" as a means of preventing HIV infection. U.S. delegates took this position on the grounds that recommending condom use would promote underage sex. [8] Contrary to these U.S. claims, scientific studies have shown that comprehensive sex education delays the onset of sexual activity. [9] The U.S. opposition to "consistent condom use" was rejected, 32­1.

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[1] See, e.g., Family Research Council Advisory Board Member Dr. John Diggs, Testimony before the Health Subcommittee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, 107th Cong. (Apr. 24 2002) (online at http://www.frc.org/get/pd02d3.cfm).

[2] CDC, Condoms and Their Use in Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs (Sept. 1999) (online at http://www.house.gov/reform/min/pdfs/pdf_inves/pdf_admin_hhs_info_
condoms_fact_sheet_orig.pdf).

[3] Id.

[4] CDC, Male Latex Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (2002) (online at http://www.house.gov/reform/min/pdfs/pdf_inves/pdf_admin_hhs_info _
condoms_fact_sheet_revis.pdf).

[5] USAID, The Effectiveness of Condoms in Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections (accessed Jan. 28, 2003 at http://www.usaid.gov/pop_health/aids/TechAreas/
condoms/condom_effect.html) (emphasis added).

[6] USAID, USAID: HIV/AIDS and Condoms (accessed Feb. 10, 2003 at http://www.usaid.gov/pop_health/aids/TechAreas/
condoms/condomfactsheet.html) (emphasis added).

[7] USAID, USAID: HIV/AIDS and Condoms (Apr. 2003) (online at http://www.usaid.gov/pop_health/aids/TechAreas/
condoms/condomfactsheet.html).

[8] U.S. Stance on Abortion and Condom Use Rejected at Conference , San Jose Mercury News (Dec. 17, 2002).

[9] D. Kirby, National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy , at 88 (May 2001) ("a number of programs that discussed condoms or other forms of contraception and encouraged their use among sexually active youth also delayed or reduced the frequency of sexual intercourse").


HIV/AIDS

President Bush has said that international efforts to fight HIV/AIDS should be concentrated on "programs that work, proven best practices." [1] At home, however, the Administration has obstructed the development of science-based policies and research on HIV/AIDS among the gay population.

In January 2003, President Bush appointed marketing consultant Jerry Thacker to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Mr. Thacker has described homosexuality as a "deathstyle" and referred to AIDS as "the gay plague." [2] Mr. Thacker has also promoted "reparative therapy," a process by which homosexuals are "reformed" through religion. [3] According to the American Psychological Association, such therapy lacks an evidence base and attracts patients because of social pressure and ignorance. [4] Shortly after the appointment was made public, Mr. Thacker withdrew his name from consideration for the Council. [5]

At NIH, officials have told scientists who study HIV and AIDS to prepare for political interference with their research. In May 2003, the New York Times reported that HHS may be applying "unusual scrutiny" to grants that used key words such as "men who sleep with men," "gay," and "homosexual." [6] Experts responded that such scrutiny can only undermine effective science to combat AIDS. Dr. Alfred Sommer, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, commented, "If people feel intimidated and start clouding the language they use, then your mind starts to get cloudy and the science gets cloudy." [7]

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[1] White House, Remarks by the President during Announcement of Proposal for Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis (May 11, 2001).

[2] AIDS Panel Choice Wrote of a 'Gay Plague'; Views of White House Commission Nominee Draw Criticism , Washington Post (Jan. 23, 2003).

[3] Gays Shocked at Bush Choice for AIDS Panel , San Francisco Chronicle (Jan. 23, 2003).

[4] American Psychological Association, Resolution on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation (Aug. 14, 1997) (online at http://www.apa.org/pi/reslgbc.html)

[5] Choice for AIDS Panel Withdraws after Criticism , Washington Post (Jan. 24, 2003).

[6] Certain Words Can Trip up AIDS Grants, Scientists Say , New York Times (Apr. 18, 2003).

[7] Id.

 

Report: Politics and Science in the Bush Administration (pdf)


see the entire website: www.politicsandscience.org

 

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Monday, June 28, 2004
HHS Restricts Communications between U.S. Scientists and WHO Officials

A new HHS policy requires the World Health Organization to submit all requests for expert scientific advice to political officials at HHS who pick which federal scientists will be permitted to respond. The new policy and two recent Administration decisions to withdraw federal scientists from major international health conferences are part of a disturbing pattern of political interference in global health issues.   
 read more


29 June 2004 09:52

More than 4,000 scientists have signed a petition accusing George Bush of twisting their work to further his political agenda. Andrew Buncombe investigates the war between the White House and the men in white coats

For Michael Greene, there was little hesitation. The Harvard professor has spent much of his life working in the field of reproductive health, and when - in his capacity as a member of a federal advisory committee - mhe was asked his opinion about a new emergency contraception, he had few doubts about recommending that it be licensed.

And neither did the overwhelming majority of his colleagues on the committee, formed by the US federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Indeed, the distinguished panel voted 23-4 in favour of selling the "morning after" pill Plan B without prescription. The FDA almost always follows its experts' recommendations.

But not this time. Despite the wealth of expert opinion, the FDA rejected the committee's view, claiming that there was insufficient data. Committee members were incensed. E-mails flew back and forth, talking of resignation and political interference in the scientific process. "People are very angry," says Greene. "The issue here is much larger than just Plan B. The decision is blatantly contrary to the science and the facts, and so blatantly politicised."

But critics say that this is just one modest example among dozens of the way in which the administration of President George Bush is manipulating and twisting science for its own extreme ideological ends. On issues from global warming to lead in drinking water and the alleged link between breast cancer and abortions, this administration, like no other before it, is turning science into a political battleground.

Suddenly, science is responding in what is almost certainly an unprecedented revolt against the government. Earlier this year, the non-profit group, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), put together a petition that has so far been signed by more than 4,000 scientists, among them 20 Nobel prize-winners, demanding that the Bush administration change its behaviour. It also published a 38-page report detailing the government's scientific distortions.

"Successful application of science has played a large part in the policies that have made the United States the world's most powerful nation, and its citizens increasingly prosperous and healthy," the report says. "Although scientific input to the government is rarely the only factor in public policy decisions, this input should always be weighed from an objective and impartial perspective to avoid perilous consequences. Indeed, this principle has long been adhered to by presidents and administrations of both parties in forming and implementing policies. The administration of George Bush has, however, disregarded this principle."

The result of this politicisation, say disgruntled scientists, has resulted not only in flawed policies but the very undermining of American scientific ideals - and even perhaps the nation's founding principles. What has transpired, Lewis Lapam noted recently in Harper's Magazine, which he edits, has been "the systematic substitution of ideological certainty for reasonable doubt across the entire spectrum of issues bearing on the public health and welfare... [a] rejection of the scientific method in favour of the conviction that if the science doesn't prove what it's been told to prove, then the science has been tampered with by Satan or the Democratic Party".

There are few issues where the evidence of scientific distortion is more apparent than that of reproductive health. On 22 January 2001, four days after his inauguration, Bush reinstated the so-called Mexico City policy, which denies federal funds to family- planning groups that provide abortion counselling or services overseas.

Since then, led by its born-again evangelical leader, the government has waged war on anything that might be considered a "liberal approach" towards reproductive health. Condoms have been condemned as ineffective, and the administration has adopted "abstinence only" as the official approach towards sex education. Over the last three years, Congress has given more than $100m in grants to organisations that promote abstinence-only education.

A report published last year by the House of Representatives committee on government reform noted that this had only been achieved by manipulating the facts. "The Bush administration has consistently distorted the scientific evidence about what works in sex education," it said. "Administration officials have never acknowledged that abstinence-only programmes have not been proven to reduce sexual activity, teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Instead, [it] has changed performance measures for abstinence-only education to make the programmes appear successful, censored information on effective sex education programmes, and appointed to a key panel an abstinence-only proponent with dubious credentials."

If the administration can use science to turn common sense on its head - does anyone really believe that simply telling teenagers not to have sex will prevent pregnancies? - there is little wonder that it is prepared to manipulate the facts in more obviously "scientific" areas where ordinary people may be less equipped to decide for themselves. In one incident, the administration altered the National Cancer Institute's website to suggest that there was a link between abortion and breast cancer. The federally funded institute was forced to change the site after an outcry from scientists insisting that there was no such link.

It was in this environment that Barr Laboratories, the makers of Plan B, sought federal approval for their new emergency contraception. Though Greene's panel, along with the Non-Prescription Drugs Advisory Panel, voted last December to license the product, it was only this month that the FDA's acting director, Steven Galson, announced that he was overruling his experts. Galson denied that anyone outside the FDA had influenced his decision. "As is the case with a lot of these difficult decisions, there may not be agreement among people who are experts in data analysis," he said. He failed to mention, however, that 44 members of Congress had written to those on the committee urging them to reject the contraception.

James Trussell, a professor at Princeton University's Office of Population Research and a panel member, said that he believed that Plan B will only get approved if there is a change of government. "It is being done to reflect the philosophy of the administration. It is a very sad day," he said. "But this is not just limited to the FDA and just one decision. It's not an isolated thing. Bad policy is being made."

Indeed, the report drawn up by the committee on government reform lists 20 different topics, ranging from agricultural policy to ecological problems in the Yellowstone National Park, in which science had been twisted. The report concluded: "The Bush administration, however, has repeatedly suppressed, distorted or obstructed science to suit political and ideological goals. These actions go far beyond the traditional influence that Presidents are permitted to wield at federal agencies, and compromise the integrity of scientific policy-making."

Critics say that the administration has adopted three strategies to twist facts. The first is to manipulate the membership of advisory committees, stacking them with people who share its views. Elizabeth Blackburn, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, found out in February that she and a colleague were not to be reappointed to the panel after speaking out in support of research on human stem cells. They were replaced by three new members who opposed such research. "Not one of the newly appointed members is a biomedical scientist," she said.

In other cases, people with links to the industries that the panels are supposed to be monitoring have been appointed. Elsewhere, people have been asked about their views on abortion and the death penalty and their voting record. The Bush administration is even prepared to block the appointment to international bodies of American scientists. In April 2002, it ensured that Robert Watson - a critic of America's energy policy - was voted out of his job as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, after being lobbied by the ExxonMobil oil company.

The second strategy is simply to misrepresent the truth. In August 2001, Bush banned federal funding of research on new stem-cell lines, saying that there were already 60 such lines available. He was not telling the whole truth. In May 2003, the director of the National Institute of Health (NIH) confirmed that there were just 11 such lines available to researchers.

The final strategy, outlined by Martin McKee and Thomas Novotny in an article in the European Journal of Public Health, is to block funding for controversial issues. A federal analysis on air pollution that might have come up with information uncomfortable to the administration was blocked, while researchers applying to the NIH for funds on HIV research have been told to avoid using phrases such as "sex worker", "gay" and "anal sex" in their applications.

The administration dismisses charges of distortion. In April, Dr John Marburger, the President's chief science adviser, issued a report rebutting many of the accusations levelled by the UCS and others. (The UCS, in turn, issued an equally detailed rebuttal of his rebuttals.) "The accusations in the document are inaccurate, and certainly do not justify the sweeping conclusions of either the document or the accompanying statement," Marburger told Congress. "I believe the document has methodological flaws that undermine its own conclusions, not the least of which is the failure to consider publicly available information, or to seek and reflect responses or explanations from responsible government officials."

In a telephone interview, Marburger did not deny that there may be individual cases where scientists dispute the view of the White House. But he said: "What I am denying is that there is a systematic practice of undermining science, or manipulating or distorting it." He also said that as science pushed at the boundaries it was bound to come into contact with contentious issues. He regretted that science had become politicised, but blamed groups such as the UCS for that.

Marburger's office sent me information claiming that the Bush administration has raised the funding of research and development to levels not seen since 1968 and the Apollo programme. It also said that the National Academies' National Research Council had come out in favour of Bush's strategic plan for global warming, which it had earlier criticised. The academy actually said that the plan was "much improved" compared with an earlier draft, but that commitments to fund many of the newly proposed activities were lacking.

Despite Marburger's assertions, what appears beyond question is that an unprecedented number of American scientists believe that science is being manipulated as never before. Their anger is now seeping from the pages of medical journals and reaching the mainstream.

Kurt Gottfried, professor of physics at Cornell and the UCS chairman, said his organisation, as well as collecting the signatures of 4,000 scientists, had had many messages of support from people working for the government who were unable to make their concerns public. "In the first Bush administration, there were no problems. This whole issue is unprecedented
.


The minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee is continuing to investigate the state of scientific integrity in the Bush Administration. All submissions will be kept strictly confidential.
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NIH Succumbs To Right Wing Pressure On AIDS Grants
by Paul Johnson
365Gay.com Newscenter   Washington Bureau Chief

October 28, 2003

(Washington, D.C.) Fears earlier this year that the National Institutes of Health was about to begin a campaign to reduce or cut funding to gay positive AIDS initiatives appears to be coming to reality.

The NIH has begun questioning government-funded researchers about the value of their projects. The scientists being grilled are on list submitted to the agency by a group of conservative Republican lawmakers.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said calls are "sending a dangerous message" that research is being subverted to an ideological agenda.

The list was compiled by the Washington-based Traditional Values Coalition. It contains the names of 157 researchers with NIH grants.

NIH spokesman John Burklow said his agency simply was responding to a request from the members of Congress and that 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.

But Waxman called the list a "hit list". The California Democrat has previously has criticized the Bush administration for interfering with science.

"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.

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

The Traditional Values Coalition does not deny that it is opposed to studies on condom use and believes safe-sex education is a waste of money.

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."

Earlier this year scientists complained they were told by National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not to use the words gay or sex when applying for grants because their applications could come under unusual scrutiny by the Department of Health and Human Services or by members of Congress. (story)


Gay Sex Banned In AIDS Grants
by Doug Windsor
365Gay.com Newscenter   New York Bureau

April 19, 2003

(New York City) AIDS scientists say they are being warned their federal grants will be in jeopardy if they use words and phrases such as "gay", "men who have sex with men", "anal sex" or "sex workers".

The scientists speaking on condition of anonymity to the New York Times said they have been told that if their applications for grants to the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use the terms their research may come under unusual scrutiny by the Department of Health and Human Services or by members of Congress.

Bill Pierce, a spokesman for the health and human services department, told the Times that the department does not screen grant applications for " politically delicate content." He said that when the department singles out grants it is usually to send out a news release about them.

But an official at the National Institutes of Health, who asked that his name not be used told the paper that project officers at the agency who deal with grant applicants and recipients, were telling researchers at meetings and in telephone conversations to avoid so-called sensitive language. But the official added, "You won't find any paper or anything that advises people to do this."

The official said researchers had long been advised to avoid phrases that might mark their work as controversial. But the degree of scrutiny under the Bush administration has become "much worse and more intense," the official said.

Dr. Alfred Sommer, the dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, told the Times that a researcher at his institution had been advised by a project officer at N.I.H. to change the term "sex worker" to something more euphemistic in a grant proposal for a study of H.I.V. prevention among prostitutes. He said the idea that grants might be subject to political surveillance was creating a "pernicious sense of insecurity" among researchers.

Sommer said that if researchers feared that federal support for their work might be affected by politics, whether it was true or untrue, it could take a toll. "If people feel intimidated and start clouding the language they use, then your mind starts to get cloudy and the science gets cloudy," he said, adding that the federal financing of medical research had traditionally been free from political influence.



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