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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
NIH Faces Criticism on Grants; Coalition Assails 'Smarmy
Rick Weiss
October 30, 2003
Washington Post (10.30.03) - Thursday, October 30, 2003

The Traditional Values Coalition, a public policy organization that says it represents more than 43,000 member churches, yesterday said it will ask the Justice Department to investigate how scores of health and sexuality studies received federal funding through the National Institutes of Health.

An official at NIH, which is internationally renowned in part for its peer-review system of evaluating proposals, said the studies are an important part of devising better public health and education strategies. But TVC called them "smarmy projects" representing at least $100 million in wasted federal funds. TVC's call is the latest volley in its escalating conflict with NIH and the agency's congressional and institutional supporters, who see the attack as part of a larger effort to foist conservative religious values on the federal scientific enterprise.

"We have nameless, faceless bureaucrats doling out money like a federal ATM to do things like study the sex habits of Mexicans before and after they cross over the border. This doesn't pass the straight-face test," said TVC Executive Director Andrea Lafferty.

Calling TVC's tactics "scientific McCarthyism," Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has in the past four days sent two angry letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson asking him to stand up to TVC and support NIH.

Lafferty yesterday took sole responsibility for compiling and sending to Congress a list of about 200 NIH projects related to sexuality, AIDS and risk-taking. Waxman had expressed suspicion that HHS officials or others in the Bush administration helped compile or release the list. Yesterday, in a letter to Waxman, Thompson denied any HHS involvement but did not address Waxman's request for information on any meetings or communications between HHS and TVC.

"We can't have moralizing and ideology trump science when it comes to protecting the public health," warned Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nation's largest general science organization. "It's vitally important that we understand the processes by which public health problems spread if we're ever going to get a handle on issues as important as HIV/AIDS and drug abuse."