Behavioral Researchers Defend Peer Review and their Research
Congress returned this month from its August recess with action still pending on the FY2006 Labor Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Bill. The legislation, which funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other HHS and Education agencies, passed the House with an amendment attached that would prohibit the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) from funding two psychological research projects that had been awarded to Ed Wasserman at the University of Iowa and Sandra Murray at the University at Buffalo of the State University of New York. In July, Murray and Wasserman joined APA staff member Karen Studwell on visits with congressional offices of both their states, as well as staff of the appropriations subcommittees that would be involved in the conference negotiations between the House and Senate. Congressional members and staff alike were supportive of both the scientists and the NIH peer review process and provided some assurances that they would work to remove the language from the final legislation.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS met personally with the APA delegation and recounted past efforts of individual members of Congress arbitrarily criticizing the work of the federal research agencies and offered his support for removing the language during conference.
Calling the amendment a form of "unjustified scientific censorship," NIH Director Elias Zerhouni stated that "it undermines the historical strength of American science, which is based on our world renowned, apolitical and transparent peer review process."
Speaking on the House floor against the amendment, Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA) said that "the Neugebauer amendment…. represents a philosophical assault on the peer review process that serves as a hallowed barrier to scientific censorship… This is a slippery slope that I hope conferees will not slide down."
In a letter to each member of the House of Representatives, APA CEO Norman Anderson also stated, "For Congress to defund any grants in violation of NIH's exacting process is a blow to science, to scientists, and ultimately, to public health."
APA will continue to advocate against the inclusion of the Neugebauer language in the final FY2006 funding bill and to educate Congress during the coming year about the danger such efforts pose to both the scientific community and to public health.