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May 19, 2004 1 min read
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Politics Watch

Scientists and researchers across the country are once again rallying to keep politics out of federally financed scientific research.

The newest round of protests is aimed at Congress, after an amendment to halt funding for five federal research grants was narrowly defeated last summer.

To avoid another close call, a group called the Coalition to Protect Research began circulating a petition last month asking federal lawmakers to respect the peer-review process at the National Institutes of Health.

The coalition is an ad hoc group made up of 30 science groups—including the Washington-based American Psychological Association and the Society for Research in Child Development, based in Ann Arbor, Mich.—that represent researchers studying education and children’s health issues.

Nearly 2,400 individuals signed the petition the first week it appeared online, according to Angela L. Sharpe, the deputy director for health policy at the Consortium of Social Science Associations, based in Washington. Her group is helping spearhead the coalition, whose missive is posted at www.cossa.org.

“We’re using this to let people know this is a concern,” Ms. Sharpe said. “The peer-review process is the appropriate way to go to decide where federal NIH funds should go.”

All five grants targeted for elimination last July had been approved by external peer-review panels at the institutes. The grants supported studies on aging males’ sexual behavior; drug use and HIV- related behaviors among Asian female sex workers in San Francisco; emotional states and sexual risk-taking; Native American lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered populations; and links between the human population and the environment in a Chinese nature reserve.

According to U.S. Rep. Patrick Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican who sponsored the grant-cutting amendment, those five studies were “much less worthy of taxpayer dollars” than other work the institutes are conducting.

In February, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge, Mass.-based group, began circulating a petition accusing President Bush’s administration of manipulating and suppressing scientific advice that conflicts with White House policy.

Deborah Viadero

A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 2004 edition of Education Week

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