APA and a coalition of scientific and public health organizations are seeking signatures from scientists and graduate students for an online petition that supports the peer-review process.
The petition was started in April by the Coalition to Protect Research (CPR), which is co-chaired by APA policy staff, to give scientists and health-care professionals a way of showing their support for the peer-review process. The effort comes after several peer-reviewed research projects were questioned during the past year:
- An amendment was introduced to the bill that funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that would have de-funded five peer-reviewed studies of sexual health. The bill failed to pass the House of Representatives in July by a narrow margin of 210-212; no companion amendment was offered in the Senate.
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee released to NIH in October a list of more than 150 peer-reviewed studies targeted by the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) for scrutiny. The list included studies related to HIV/AIDS, high-risk sexual behaviors, stigmatization of sexual minorities and substance abuse.
Some lawmakers questioned the value of the studies, such as research into cohabitation and race and ethnicity. TVC argues that, by funding the project, NIH is wrongfully promoting "unmarried cohabitation as a positive good."
In response, APA joined with 50 other organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Society, to form CPR in December. The group argues that research should be judged on its scientific merit, not ideology, and that the peer-review process is the best way to determine that merit. The group has been actively speaking with federal officials about its concerns and sponsored a congressional briefing on the issue in March that included psychologists Thomas Coates, PhD, and Janet Shibley Hyde, PhD.
Its latest project is the online petition, which in its first two days online garnered more than 1,000 signatures from psychologists, physicians, nurses, social workers and students. But more support is needed, says CPR co-chair Karen Studwell, JD, of APA's Public Policy Office.
To persuade lawmakers to support peer review in the future, she explains, the coalition needs to show legislators that people in their home districts support NIH's peer-review process. By signing the petition, she explains, graduate students can show their senators and representatives just that.
"Even if you're not planning to work a day in a lab," she says, "this is an important issue to support, because it's research that will inform the development of new treatments and interventions."
Indeed, support is needed from graduate students in all walks of study, says APA Science Student Council member Adam Carrico, a third-year health psychology student at the University of Miami.
"We are obligated to defend against these unprecedented intrusions into the scientific integrity of peer-review process," he says, explaining that the intrusions could deter the development of innovative treatment approaches, such as for HIV/AIDS prevention.
-D. SMITH BAILEY
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