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Authors

  1. Malone, Ruth E. PhD, RN

Article Content

I recently discovered that my name is on a so-called hit list that identifies researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and was being circulated to conservative members of Congress. The Washington, DC-based Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) developed the list, which names more than 150 researchers whose projects focus on sexuality, HIV, or other issues the coalition deems offensive-or "awful and pornographic," in the words of the coalition's Web site. I was included, apparently, because I am funded by the National Cancer Institute to study the tobacco industry's targeting of and marketing to gay and lesbian people. My husband says that I turned white when I saw my name, but now I'm seeing red, which is why I'm writing to AJN to alert nurses of this threat to research integrity.

 

It's important that nurses know how the research funding process works. The NIH doesn't just hand out money. Groups (called study sections) of well-known, senior researchers from across the country review submitted research proposals, discuss and score them, and make funding recommendations to the NIH based on specific, rigorous criteria. This procedure minimizes bias and makes for good science and wise use of public funds.

 

The TVC claims that the researchers they've identified-some of whom study prostitutes, drug users, and other marginalized or unpopular groups-are working on projects that constitute a misuse of public funds. The organization thus wants Congress to revoke funding for these projects. Yet the populations being studied are known to have highly complex health problems and difficulty accessing or using services effectively, which can result in greater suffering and higher costs. Patients such as these sometimes require unconventional approaches. The more we understand them, the better we can serve them.

 

You may think that because you don't conduct research, this issue doesn't affect you. But it does. The freedom to pursue inquiry-even into politically unpopular topics-is an important American value. Most nurses support the notion that every person, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, economic status, and sexual orientation, is worthy of care. The creators of this "hit list" would like to suggest that nurses are wrong in this belief.

 

As a researcher, I'm proud of my team's work. As a nurse and citizen, I'm angry about this politicization of science. Please contact your congressional representatives and demand that the NIH remain independent of political second-guessing. If all scientific studies have to conform to the beliefs of particular political or religious groups, we may as well go back to believing we live on a flat Earth.

 

Ruth E. Malone, PhD, RN