Hit List

A firestorm of controversy has surrounded a study on trucker sex habits and other National Institute of Health research projects.

Earlier this month, Emory University’s medical school announced it was seeking truckers and the populations they interact with on the road for research aimed at developing disease-prevention programs for those groups. An NIH grant funded the four-year study.

After that announcement, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman wrote he was outraged over the emergence of what he called a “hit list” of more than 150 scientists researching HIV/AIDS, sexuality and risk-taking behavior. The California Democrat, who is a ranking minority member of the Committee on Government Reform, made his comments in an Oct. 27 letter to Tommy Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Waxman says after the NIH received that list from Republican members of Congress, they used it to review research and began contacting the named investigators.

The Traditional Values Coalition, which describes itself as representing 43,000 U.S. churches for the purpose of monitoring federal spending, provided that list to congressional representatives, said Andrea Lafferty, the coalition’s executive director, in an Oct. 29 response to Waxman.

“Congressman, if you think you are mad, wait until you see how angry the American people get when they discover that you and your allies at NIH have been using federal tax dollars to study ‘lot lizards’ – prostitutes who service truckers in parking lots,” Lafferty writes.

She identified the Emory study, “Trucker Networks, Drug Use and Disease Transmission” as one of the studies the group considered poor use of federal dollars. “The ‘investigators’ taking federal money to follow prostitutes around truckstops are the bad guys,” she states later in the letter.

Other studies on the coalition’s list included “Race/ethnicity and the Meaning of Cohabitation,” aimed at understanding the meaning and implications of cohabitation. “Social Context and HIV Risk Among Mexican Gay Immigrants” describes homosexual and bisexual Mexican immigrants’ incorporation in U.S. gay life.

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Lafferty denounced the NIH research topics. “What plausible defense can be constructed for ‘investigating’ the sexual practices of prostitutes who service truckers?”

Waxman says in his letter that he first heard of the “hit list” Oct. 2, during a joint congressional committee meeting on the future of NIH. Congressional Republicans gave the NIH the list, which he described as a “a calculated effort to subvert science and scientists at NIH to a right-wing ideological agenda.”

He defended the grants as being sponsored by distinguished institutions such as Harvard and John Hopkins universities.

No official request accompanied that list for review of the research, Waxman wrote.

At Waxman’s request, the minority staff of the Government Reform Committee has begun “investigating issues where the Bush Administration has distorted, manipulated or suppressed science or the scientific process to further a political or ideological agenda,” according to Waxman’s presentation on www.politicsandscience.org.

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