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AAAS Denounces Coalition Efforts to Stop Health Studies

AAAS, the world’s largest general science society, has denounced efforts by a grassroots lobbying church organization to block critical public health research on moral grounds.

“We can’t let moralizing trump sound science when the public’s health and safety are at stake,” said Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of its journal, Science. “The spread of HIV/AIDS, drug abuse and other public health crises cause tremendous human suffering all over the world. If we’re ever going to get a handle on these issues and help to improve human well-being, we must learn more about them through high-quality, peer-reviewed research.”

Leshner’s comments came in response to the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), a lobbying group opposed to homosexuality and abortion that announced plans Wednesday to call for a U.S. Justice Department investigation into federally funded studies tied to health, sexuality and drug-abuse issues. The TVC has developed a “hit list” of more than 200 projects funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Studies on the group’s list investigate, for instance, how various drug-use patterns affect the spread of AIDS.

“They’re targeting legitimate studies that promise to give us new insights into how certain behaviors contribute to diseases like AIDS,” Leshner noted. “The question of whether or not such behaviors are moral is irrelevant: They occur frequently and they are key factors in the spread of disease. We must have the courage, as scientists and citizens, to understand and confront them. Society deserves no less.”

Scientific oversight of federally funded research is essential to ensure that taxpayers’ contributions toward public science are well spent, Leshner noted. But, he added, all NIH-funded studies are subject to a highly competitive and rigorous peer-review system. Attempts by special interests groups to undermine this peer review “are a disservice to the public, and should not be tolerated,” he said.