ACTION ALERT . . .
A September 9, 2004, Amendment to Appropriations Bill Threatens
Integrity of Federally Funded Basic Research
NOTE: As of the afternoon of 9/09/2004, this unprecedented amendment passed by a voice vote. Thus, no further action is needed at this time by the social science community in responding to Congress on this particular amendment. Because these grants are already completed and the researchers had already received their NIH funding, the action's effect is largely symbolic. You may want to read a Sept. 9 letter from Rep. Henry Waxman urging defeat of the amendment; it follows the original Action Alert text below. The American Association of Universities (AAU) also sent a letter (PDF file) urging the amendment's defeat.
Original Action Alert text as of 09/08/2004:
National Institutes of Health Under Fire for Mental Health Research
Reliable sources indicate that U.S. House Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), a first-term member from Lubbock, Texas, is planning to offer the following amendments to the LHHS (Labor, Health and Human Services) Appropriations FY 2005 bill when the House resumes consideration of the bill on Sept. 9, 2004. This effort consitutes a serious attack on the peer review process of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It represents an ominous development in congressional meddling in the scientific review process of the world's most prominent and world-respected health research institution.
Neugebauer's bill: Prohibits the National Institute of Mental Health at the NIH from further funding a grant studying "what makes a meaningful day?" for college students. The amendment would not cut any funding to NIMH; it would simply prevent the Institute from funding this grant and free up any funds that would otherwise go to this grant for other mental health grants.
Neugebauer's bill: Prohibits the National Institute of Mental Health at the NIH from further funding a grant studying dorm room wall decorations and college students' webpages. The amendment would not cut any funding to NIMH; it would simply prevent the Institute from funding this grant and free up any funds that would otherwise go to this grant for other mental health grants.
In July 2003, a similar attack was launched by congressmen, and ASA, among other responses, issued a formal statement. Below is question-and-answer material you should consider using in contacting your representative to help counter this latest attack.
Once again, Members of Congress are charging that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding inappropriate research. A new amendment is expected during the House debate on the Labor, HHS bill that would seek to curtail funding for grants involving basic research on mental health issues funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Here is some additional background information about this latest attack. We ask that you continue to support the scientific review process and vote "no" on any amendment that seeks to rescind funding from peer-reviewed research.
Is This Research Outside of the NIH or NIMH Mission?
NIH is the premier biomedical and behavioral research institution in the
world. Its mission is to support science to improve the health and well-being of all humanity. At a time when genetic control over diseases is
tantalizingly close but not yet possible, knowledge of the behavioral
influences on health is a crucial component in the nation’s battles against the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. Appropriately, NIH supports a large and robust portfolio of research on all aspects of human development and disease.
Contrary to the assertion that NIMH’s mission should focus solely on severe
mental illnesses, and away from promoting mental health, the Public Health Service Act (Report 102-546) provides a clear picture of congressional intent regarding NIMH’s mission: “The research program established under this subpart shall include support for biomedical and behavioral neuroscience and shall be designed to further the treatment and prevention of mental illness, the promotion of mental health, and the study of psychological, social, and legal factors that influence behavior…”
Basic social science research in health promotion is critical for the
development of effective prevention strategies, diagnostic tools, and
treatments for mental and emotional disorders. Protective factors and other sources of human resilience—such as courage, hope, optimism, and the capacity for joy—may well serve as buffers against depression and other mental disorders.
Why Do We Need This Research?
Two of the studies currently under question are examining college-aged
populations and how identity and self-expression relate to their mental state and personality. Examining the young adult population is critical for a number of reasons:
Studies have shown that the prevalence of depression and severe psychological problems among college students is growing: 61% reported feeling hopeless, 45% felt so depressed they could barely function, and 9% felt suicidal;
Studies have shown that psychological distress peaks during the freshman year of college, and roughly one third of college freshmen experience feelings of depression and sensations of being overwhelmed;
The average age of diagnosis for bipolar disorder is 21 years and 27 years for unipolar depression; and
5% of college students drop out of college due to psychiatric disorders;
furthermore, emotional adjustment has been shown to be as or more important than academic adjustment in predicting school retention.
NIMH Grants Under Scrutiny
Grant Title: Goals, Identity, and Meaning in Life
Grant Number: 5R01MH054142-08
University: University of Missouri, Columbia
Research Relevance: The proposed study of the importance of daily goals in life incorporates journal writing as a way to examine the role of
autobiographical memory, personality, and well-being.
· The proposed study has relevance to the prevention of mental
disorders as writing about stressful events or traumatic experiences may
improve mental health and well-being and may prevent the onset of depression.
· Understanding the use of goal setting as a treatment for those with mental or emotional disorders, combined with the importance of highlighting positive memories in cognitive behavioral therapy, is important to furthering treatment development.
Grant Title: Expressions of Identity in Virtual and Physical Spaces
Grant Number: 1R03MH064527-01A1
University: University of Texas, Austin
Research Relevance: Assessing the physical and virtual environments that
individuals choose for themselves may convey whether that individual is
suffering from depression or other psychological disorders. Information could assist in developing effective suicide prevention programs.
The environments that children and young adults surround themselves with can tell us a lot about their mental state and if they are suffering from or are more vulnerable to emotional disturbance or mental disorders; NIMH has concluded its support for this one-year basic research project.
How Does NIH Decide to Fund These Grants?
The NIH uses a rigorous peer review process to determine which grant
applications to fund. Thousands of scientists each year submit applications to the NIH requesting funding for their scientific proposals. Applications are evaluated initially by the NIH’s Center for Scientific Review and peer review groups composed of scientific experts from around the U.S. and the world. These groups (also called “study sections”) assess and rate the scientific and technical merit of the proposed research or training projects. Projects reviewed in a particular session are scored and ranked in relation to each other. The applications are then assigned to one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. A second level of peer review is conducted by the NIH National Advisory Councils of the respective funding Institutes or Centers, which are composed of both scientists from the research community and public representatives. These councils ensure that the NIH receives advice from a cross-section of the U.S. population in its deliberation and decision-making.
This system ensures that research conducted and supported with taxpayer
dollars is scientifically meritorious and serves to improve the lives of all people equally. Approximately 70 percent of meritorious, scientifically valid proposals do not receive funding through this process. The grants that receive funding, however, are the best in their fields.
If you have any questions, contact Lee Herring, Director of Public Affairs (of the American Sociological Association at email@example.com or 202-383-9005 x320), or, contact the Coalition for the Protection of Reserach's Angela Sharp (of the Consortium of Social Science Associations at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-842-3525) or Karen Studwell (of the American Psychological Association at email@example.com or 202-336-5585).
Below is a Dear Colleague that California Rep. Henry Waxman sent to Congress.
September 9, 2004
Protect Scientific Integrity at the National Institutes of Health
**Reject Amendments That Undermine Peer Review**
Today, amendments may be offered to the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill to strike funding from one or more research projects at the National Institutes of Health.
I urge you to vote against these amendments, which would undermine the integrity of scientific review at the National Institutes of Health.
All NIH-funded projects are approved on the basis of scientific merit after passing through a rigorous peer review process. These amendments represent an unwise attempt to micromanage science at our nation's leading biomedical research institution.
If offered, the amendment will face broad opposition. In recent months, more than 20 scientific organizations have objected to attempts to politicize scientific review at NIH.
For example, the Association of American Universities has stated: "Politicizing the process by which research is funded threatens the nation's capacity to advance scientific knowledge and improve public health. It is imperative that Congress and the Administration resist efforts to undermine the integrity of the NIH merit review process."
The Appropriations Committee leadership does not want Congress to go down this path. As Chairman Regula has stated, "It would set a dangerous precedent and put a chill on medical research if we start to micromanage individual NIH grants."
I am attaching a copy of a letter sent to members of Congress on behalf of 60 leading public and private universities across the country. If you have any questions, please contact Josh Sharfstein on the Government Reform Committee's minority staff at (202) 225-5420.
/s Henry A. Waxman
Henry A. Waxman
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Government Reform
Last Updated on January 08,