Higher scrutiny for the NIH

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Yet unfortunately, the scientists and researchers at the NIH spending O.P.M. (other people’s money)—that of the American taxpayer—have very different priorities, and not all of them here in America.

Most taxpayers are already shocked and angry to know how deeply in debt we are to the People’s Republic of China—more than $1.1 trillion as of May 2011. Yet the federal government believes that prioritizing research conducted or overseen by the Chinese government is of great importance, with more than $90 million heading overseas during the last decade alone.

This is where the priorities of the NIH get really scary, for two reasons.

First, some of the research performed in China and funded with taxpayer dollars is not the sort of hard science one would expect. A six-month investigation into NIH grants uncovered that the study of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among prostitutes, some of whom are only 14-years old, has been conducted in the name of the American taxpayer, in a region infamous for sex trafficking.

Some of these studies researching sex workers around Chinese mining camps uncovered prostitutes, some of whom made their “sexual debuts” as young as 11-years old, in conditions where any rational observer would demand action and the rescue of these victims.

This leads to the second concern, one where the NIH goes to great lengths to conflate hard scientific research with their questionable behavior-based and foreign research.

Typically, the peer review process is designed to catch these ethical flaws and meritless grants before they see the light of day.

Should a particular field of research violate specific portions of the federal code which are reinforced by commonly accepted standards of human rights and ethical norms outlined in the Helsinki Accords, the entire project should be stopped cold.

The operative word here is “should.”

Of course, federal code is very clear about preventing these lapses of ethical integrity.  Simply put, research endangering the individuals participating is impermissible.  Yet it seems the NIH blindly allows these sorts of grants to wash through.

Closer inspection, however, reveals a disturbing pattern at the NIH where these illicit and sometimes immoral grants seem to slip through the process unnoticed and unchallenged.

Take, for instance, studies that include measurements of the male anatomy, a funding priority pointed out and instantly dismissed in the media because the NIH claimed it didn’t fund the research directly. NIH merely funded the post-doctoral studies of the guy who conducted the research.

In other words, NIH didn’t pay for the ruler; it just paid for the hand that held the ruler. Got that?

The litany of absurdity doesn’t stop there. Circuit parties on cruise ships, the effects of subway noise, text messaging for smokers and paying participants to mail in their toenails for nicotine analysis all made the cut. All four of these were funded with stimulus money.

Taxpayer money was even given to determine whether a mother rat would abandon her babies if given cocaine. Who doesn’t know that drug addicts, human or animal, abandon their children?

These lapses of ethical integrity, combined with the truly odd and often offensive grants NIH continues to allow even in the spotlight of media scrutiny, demands an answer to the question:  Where are the adults at the National Institutes of Health?

Congress has the ability to stop this misallocation of resources toward pet projects and institutional corruption. A six-month moratorium on behavioral science and foreign research would send the message that the “circuit party” on the taxpayers’ dime is over.

Congressional hearings as well as an immediate investigation into the spending priorities of NIH would set the record straight, and be a welcome sign to the American taxpayer that their concerns and voices are being heard.

The institutional rot and lack of ethical integrity at the National Institutes of Health must come to an end. Taxpayers can’t afford it, Americans deserve better and those who stand to benefit from real scientific progress are waiting.

Andrea Lafferty is President of the Traditional Values Coalition, an interdenominational and multi-racial public policy organization speaking on behalf of 43,000 churches nationwide.