NIH director defends funds for criticized
By Robert Stacy McCain
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Friday, January 30, 2004
- The director of the National Institutes of Health said his
agency will continue to fund sex research, including studies
involving pornography and prostitution that have been criticized
by House Republicans.
"I fully support NIH's continued investment in research
on human sexuality," Dr. Elia A. Zerhouni wrote in a letter
to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, that bypassed
the Republican committee chairmen who oversee the agency.
The director's letter reported on NIH's "comprehensive review"
covering several projects criticized by congressional Republicans
and conservative activists.
Those projects included a $147,000 Northwestern University study
that paid women to watch pornography, another that studied prostitutes
at truck stops and one that examined "two-spirited"
transvestites in American Indian cultures.
The letter to Mr. Kennedy echoed Dr. Zerhouni's remarks earlier
this month to an agency advisory committee. "When we looked
at the public health relevance, there was no question that these
projects should have been funded and should continue to be funded,"
the director told the NIH panel, according to the Chronicle of
Critics say the NIH sex studies divert federal tax dollars from
potentially life-saving research. Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican,
called Dr. Zerhouni's defense of the projects "an unbelievable
"Do I need a Ph.D. to understand why it is a sensible prioritization
to spend hundreds of thousands of research dollars to pay women
to watch porn, while countless Americans are suffering from dehabilitating
diseases with no cures?" Mr. Souder said in a statement.
The NIH director said he is "initiating discussions ...
to ensure that this research is better presented to the public
so that they may understand the relevance of this research to
public health and that it is prioritized appropriately."
The battle over taxpayer-funded sex research has escalated steadily
in Congress over the past year. In July, the House rejected in
a 212-210 vote a measure sponsored by Rep. Patrick J. Toomey,
Pennsylvania Republican, that would have eliminated federal funding
for five sex studies.
Democrats have defended the research. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California
Democrat, accused Republicans of "scientific McCarthyism"
for questioning the sex studies. "Imposing ideological shackles
on this research would be a serious public health mistake,"
Mr. Waxman wrote in an October letter to Health and Human Services
Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, whose department includes NIH.
Although Dr. Zerhouni's letter to Mr. Kennedy outlined various
sexual research projects, it did not specifically address the
project most often cited by critics of NIH sex research: Northwestern
University psychology professor J. Michael Bailey's study that
paid female subjects as much as $75 each to "watch a series
of commercially available film clips, some of which will be sexually
explicit" in order to monitor their body's sexual arousal.
Rep. Dave Weldon, Florida Republican, condemned as "disgusting"
the NIH decision to fund the Bailey study.
In November, Northwestern announced an ethics investigation of
Mr. Bailey, who has been accused of violating federal law by
failing to obtain consent from subjects used in research for
his recent book, "The Man Who Would Be Queen."
One of the complainants in the ethics probe described
under the pseudonym "Juanita" in Mr. Bailey's book
consulted the professor in 1996 to obtain psychological
approval for sex-change surgery. "Juanita" filed an
affidavit with the university saying that two years after undergoing
the surgery, she had sex with the professor. His book subsequently
cited her behavior as validating Mr. Bailey's theories of sexuality.
NIH is "clueless" for defending Mr. Bailey, said University
of Michigan professor Lynn Conway.
"Taxpayer money is not just being wasted in sex research
at Northwestern University it's being used to exploit
and defame transsexual women in the name of science," said
Ms. Conway, a pioneering computer scientist who was born male
and underwent sex-change surgery in 1968.