SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
AIDS, sex scientists on federal list fear their research is in jeopardy
A government document naming 157 scientists who study AIDS and human sexuality is alarming university researchers, who call it a Republican "hit list" that may be used to target prevention programs that some members of Congress find offensive.
National Institutes of Health program officers, who are responsible for overseeing research funded by the federal agency, have been asking members on the list for thumbnail descriptions about the "public benefit" of their projects, which in most cases have already been approved and funded, according to several scientists familiar with the list.
Named on the list are researchers from some of the most prestigious universities in the country, including Johns Hopkins University, Harvard and UCSF.
The purpose of the inquiries, NIH has told members of Congress, is to help the agency defend those grants should they come under attack. But many researchers, drawing hints from notations included in the document, see the process as a step toward shutting down their work.
In a letter sent Monday to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, labeled the list "scientific McCarthyism" and called for an investigation to determine exactly who wrote the document. As ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform, Waxman said researchers have been calling his office, fearful that they would be subpoenaed. As to the origin of the list, Waxman told Thompson that "there are strong clues that this was an inside job. Officials within HHS appear to have been directly involved in the creation of this list."
According to the Associated Press, an electronic copy of the list includes comments from The Traditional Values Coalition about several studies, including one by a Michigan researcher about teenagers' sexual and mental health. The comments read: "Promotes a 'sex positive' attitude among teens; endorses sexual behavior and condom use among teens."
Andrea Lafferty, the coalition's executive director, told the Associated Press that the grants were a "total abuse of taxpayer dollars."
"We know for a fact that millions and millions of dollars have been flushed down the toilet over years on this HIV, AIDS scam and sham," Lafferty said. "We know what it takes to prevent getting the disease. It takes not engaging in risky sexual behaviors."
Sixteen current UCSF researchers are included on the list, as is UCLA professor Tom Coates, who until September was director of the UCSF AIDS Research Institute. The list includes more than 250 different grants, 14 of which are his projects.
The only way to clear the air, Coates suggested, is to call a public hearing, where he said he and other fellow researchers can defend their work.
Coates said that the disclosure of the list has created a huge stir in the AIDS research community.
"The general feeling is one of fear and intimidation," he said. "Anyone who has engaged in this kind of research and sees their name on such a list wonders if one's funding is going to be in jeopardy."
Among the other UCSF researchers named on the list are Nancy Padian, whose project is studying sexually transmitted diseases within groups of Latino youth in San Francisco's Mission District; William Woods, who is studying HIV risk in bath houses and sex clubs; and Ruth Malone, who is studying the tobacco industry's targeting of gays and lesbians.
The concern for possible funding loss is based in precedent. In July, Congress fell two votes shy of passing an amendment that would have stripped funding of a continuing study of HIV among Asian prostitutes in San Francisco massage parlors.
Chronicle news services contributed to this report.
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Created: November 19, 2003
Last modified: January 14, 2004
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