Friday, November 15, 2002

From Science 298 (5594): 703
1) To avoid getting advice that is discordant with the administration's political agenda, the secretary [of HHS, Tommy Thompson] disbanded the National Human Research Protections Advisory Committee and DHHS's Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing, both of which were attempting to craft solutions to the complex problems accompanying genetic testing and research; solutions that apparently conflicted with the religious views of certain political constituencies.

2) To ensure that the department would get no unwanted advice from its environmental health advisory committees, the secretary has stacked them with scientists long affiliated with polluting industries. Fifteen of the 18 members of the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) have been replaced, many with scientists that have long been associated with the chemical or petroleum industries, often in leadership positions of organizations opposing public health and environmental regulation. Similarly, the secretary has appointed industry-supported scientists to DHHS's Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention, threatening a planned review by the committee of whether the Centers for Disease Control's definition of "elevated blood lead levels" in children is sufficiently protective.

From Science 298 (5597): 1335. Tommy is also fucking with low-level peer-review commitees:
In contrast to policy advisory boards, where the potential for political conflict is recognized and members are supposed to represent a range of views, study section members are selected for their expertise in research and may not consider the relevance of the projects they review to specific government policies.

This level of political interference with peer review is an ominous precedent for research throughout the federal government. I am not aware of attempts to manipulate the membership of other DHHS study sections, but many aspects of human biology and medicine are controversial, and there is no assurance that the same tactics will not be used elsewhere. All scientists who have served as reviewers or rely on study sections for expert, unbiased reviews should be concerned, and so should the end-users of the knowledge that federally funded research generates.

From Science 298 (5597): 1334b. An army appointee to its science board [ASB] was rejected by the White House (based on information from Open Secrets!) for contributing to McCain's campaign:
I went to the Web site (still active) and saw that a William S. Howard, a retiree from Fairfax, VA, had contributed twice for a total of $1000 to McCain's campaign. Because "S" is not my middle initial, I do not live in Fairfax, VA, and the zip code listed on the Web site is not the same as mine, and because I had made no such contributions, I asked the ASB to try to reverse the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] decision. They demurred, saying that they did not want to upset the OSD White House Liaison Office.

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