The new chair of the House of Representatives science committee has drafted a bill that, in effect, would replace peer review at the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a set of funding criteria chosen by Congress. For good measure, it would also set in motion a process to determine whether the same criteria should be adopted by every other federal science agency.
Whether or not you think of this as a partisan attack on science, it challenges the idea of science as an independent way of pursuing knowledge. The fact that this is even on the table, and could be taken seriously, shows how effective the attack on science has been. It seems to reflect a terrible paradox: on the one hand, social scientists are pissing some people off in a big way, which is a good sign we are doing something right in the inconvenient truth department; but on the other hand, I don’t see a lot of people rising to our defense, which suggest we matter to fewer people than we should.
This bill may or may not go anywhere, but anyone who cares about evidence-informed governance and the ability of the US to solve its problems ought to be concerned.
Nothing threatens a know-nothing more than the prospect of someone knowing something. Hence there has been increasing pressure on and from some in Congress to reduce government funding of social science research. I hope every reader of this blog is aware that an appropriations rider added by Tom Coburn has drastically restricted NSF funding of political science research. That’s an ugly development, on par with the scandalous cuts to CDC that put paid to its gun research agenda years ago.
But the big funder of social and behavioral research in health is the NIH. In the past two weeks, I have heard via two different insiders that the agency is under pressure to significantly cut back on social and behavioral research, at least research with any important links to public policy. Now it is true that NIH does far too little policy-relevant research as it stands, but many fine researchers do important work related to law and policy with NIH support, and the important influence of law on health means we need more, not fewer, NIH-supported careers.
So I am hoping I am getting false information. What are you hearing?
HJF is seeking a Bioethicist to provide support under an NIH-funded contract to the Division of AIDS (DAIDS) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of NIH, located on Rockledge Drive in Bethesda, Maryland. Under the NIH Contract, HJF’s separate operating division, HJF-DAIDS, provides scientific and operations support to DAIDS including the Basic Sciences Program (BSP). Responsibilities include researching and preparing background materials on bioethical issues relevant to NIH/NIAID research for use by NIAID staff; reviewing clinical trial protocols upon request; working with NIAID staff to identify, coordinate, and resolve issues concerning ethical principles and the application of United States and international regulations and ethical guidelines in international settings; providing expert input in planning and organizing stakeholder meetings on bioethics topics. Excellent research, oral communication and writing skills needed, and experience and advanced training in bioethics required.
For more information and to apply, please see www.hjf.org and click on Careers.
Caroline Miles Visiting Scholarship – The Ethox Centre – University of Oxford DEADLINE: 2nd April 2013
The Caroline Miles Visiting Scholarships, funded by the Ethox Foundation, are awarded annually to post-doctoral or early-career researchers to enable them to spend up to a month at the Ethox Centre working on a topic relating to one of the Centre’s four main research areas: clinical ethics; research ethics; public health ethics; or global health bioethics.
For more information about the scheme and the application procedure, please visit the Ethox website at http://www.ethox.org.uk/.
Seton Hall Law School Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy is offering two scholarships to attend the Healthcare Compliance Certification Program, June 10-13, 2013, a multi-day educational program that addresses the myriad of legal and compliance issues faced by the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. The award recognizes promising health law students with an aptitude for and commitment to a career in health law focusing on legal and compliance issues within the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical technology industries.
Submission deadline is February 8, 2013. Details regarding eligibility, judging, and requirements can be found here.
The Public Health Law Research program’s Strategic and Targeted Research Program funds research to fill critical gaps in the public health law evidence base. As part of this effort, PHLR is offering dissertation grants to train doctoral students in public health law research methods, including the development of legal datasets. PHLR invites current PhD students in accredited doctoral degree programs to apply.
Dissertation grants will be awarded for up to $20,000 each for 12 months maximum, and they include qualitative or quantitative studies of the health effects of specific laws or regulations and/or related underlying mechanisms of effect, and mapping studies that create a multi-jurisdictional dataset of laws suitable for quantitative research.
Up to $100,000 will be available under this program. Learn more about the call for proposals and how to apply: http://phlr.org/strp
As I’ve written about previously on this blog, the consequences for the FDA of budget sequestration under the Budget Control Act of 2011 could be fairly severe (as well as raise some interesting legal questions). In a recent Online First piece for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Hamilton Moses and E. Ray Dorsey note that sequestration would also have a serious impact–to the tune of $2.5 billion–on the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the primary source of public funding for biomedical research in the United States.
While Doctors Moses and Dorsey acknowledge that the immediate consequences of such a cut would primarily affect young researchers and new applicants for funding, “exacerbat[ing] tensions between large infrastructure projects . . . and small investigator-initiated grants, which historically have been the primary source of new clinical insights,” they also argue that sequestration presents an opportunity to reevaluate our emphasis on publicly funded biomedical research. In their telling, sequestration would be just the most recent step in a nearly decade-long trend of reducing federal funding, a trend that “presents an opportunity to reshape biomedical research.” Moses and Dorsey call for new private sources of research support, ranging from specialized financial instruments like Biomedical Research Bonds to an increased role for public charities and private foundations. The future of biomedical research, they argue, will be built on the private sector, not the federal government.
The challenges of shifting the burden of funding research to the private sector are many, of course. One particularly challenging question is whether private funds could effectively replace NIH’s significant role in funding “basic” research. Bhaven N. Sampat’s new article “Mission-Oriented Biomedical Research at the NIH” in Research Policy provides some context for the scale of the problem. Citing a 2010 study by Dr. Dorsey himself, Sampat notes that although NIH funding accounts for only about a third of U.S. biomedical research funding, “there is a sharp division of labor, with NIH funding concentrated further upstream, on ‘basic’ research than private sector funding” from private sector pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device firms. Although the role of private foundations has grown in recent years, Sampat notes that NIH funding continues to exceed all such funding “by a factor of six . . . .” Assuming we continue to value basic research, the capacity and willingness of private actors to fund such research thus remains a major question mark.
This week’s Twitter Round-Up features an “American Idol-style” selection of research grant winners, the problems facing children in Syria attempting to be vaccinated, and a review of where we stand with current patient health information privacy and security.
Michelle Meyer(@MichelleNMeyer) retweeted an article about a newly emerging landmark case in the United Kingdom. In the suit, a childless couple denied IVF funding due to the woman’s age is suing Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (because he is “ultimately accountable for healthcare in England”) on the basis of age discrimination. Thought to be the first venture to sue the Health Secretary concerning decisions about this NHS fund rationing, this case also will be the first instance where age discrimination laws have been employed to try for fertility treatment. (12/3)
Alex Smith (@AlexSmithMD) shared an article about a problem patients must deal with when approaching post-hospitalization care: Medicare’s offer to pay for hospice care or for a Skilled Nursing Facility (S.N.F.), but only rarely at the same time. Not only does the choice create a financial predicament, but it also has extensive repercussions for the patient’s health. Calls for a combined benefit process between hospice/palliative care and S.N.F. have been made, including a proposed “concurrent care” demonstration project in the Affordable Care Act. (12/6)
Dan Vorhaus (@genomicslawyer) linked to a summary of the Ponemon Institute’s Third Annual Benchmark Study on Patient Privacy & Data Security, reporting on the challenges still being faced to safeguard protected health information (“PHI”). (12/6)
Michelle Meyer (@MichelleNMeyer) additionally retweeted a link explaining Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s attempt to deal with the rising difficulty of choosing which research grants to support: an “American Idol-style” public online voting. With almost 6,500 votes cast, the public engagement experiment picked a project hoping to research methods for integrating genomic sequencing into newborns’ routine medical care. When future grant holders are struggling to award between a set of equally deserving project proposals, this push for public involvement (after having confirmed scientific rigor) may have intriguing implications. (12/6)
Daniel Goldberg (@prof_goldberg) also linked to a study in Denmark testing the relationship between socio-economic status (SES) and blood pressure levels. Despite having a healthcare system that is free and equal-access regardless of factors like SES, the study found that SES had a “significant effect on BP [blood pressure] control” in this survey. (12/7)
Arthur Caplan(@ArthurCaplan) posted a report by UNICEF on the efforts by parents in the Syrian Arab Republic to get their children vaccinated. With many medical centers destroyed by the conflict, and with health practitioners having to operate and transport supplies in the dangerous environment, children have been unable to receive routine vaccinations for several months. This campaign aims to provide such vaccinations (specifically for measles and polio) to children, having advertised via churches, mosques, schools, television, and even by SMS to get greater coverage. (12/7)
Frank Pasquale(@FrankPasquale) included a book review of Pharmageddon by David Healy, a look at how pharmaceutical companies are excessively influencing the medical industry particularly with “diagnostic categories and clinical guidelines.” The result, according to Healy: a society where people “think about their bodies as a bundle of risks to be managed by drugs,” with a workforce that is “getting ‘sicker,’” and with “major pharmaceutical companies…banking on further overdiagnosis and overtreatment,” all “undermining universal health care.” (12/8)
Note: As mentioned in previous posts, retweeting should not be considered as an endorsement of or agreement with the content of the original tweet.
There is a deepening crisis in the funding of legal services in the United States. The House of Representatives has proposed cutting the budget of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), one of the main funders of legal assistance to America’s poor, to an all time low in inflation-adjusted terms. Other sources of funding, such as Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA) are also way down due to low interest rates. More than 135 state and local organizations providing LSC assistance are now in a precarious position. The community was already decimated by the last round of cuts in January 2011, that led to the laying off of 1,226 lawyers and support staff at LSC-funded organizations, and 81,000 fewer low-income Americans receiving aid. This is all occurring at a time of extremely high unemployment and state budget cuts in services supporting low-income people, meaning demand for many of these services is going up.
The deepening crisis in funding of legal services only makes more pressing and manifest a sad reality: There is and always will be persistent scarcity in the availability of both criminal and civil legal assistance. Given this persistent scarcity, this Article will focus on how existing Legal Service Providers (LSPs), both civil and criminal, should ration their services when they cannot help everyone. To illustrate the difficulty these issues involve, consider two types of LSPs, the Public Defender Service and Connecticut Legal Services, that I discuss in greater depth below. Should the Public Defender Service favor offenders under the age of 25 instead of those older than 55? Should other public defenders offices with death eligible offenses favor those facing the death penalty over those facing life sentences? How should Connecticut Legal Services prioritize its civil cases and clients? Should it favor clients with cases better suited for impact litigation over those that fall in the direct service category? Should either institution prioritize those with the most need? Or, should they allocate by lottery?
These are but a small number of the difficult questions faced by those who have to ration legal services. Very little has been said as to what principles should govern the rationing of legal services. This is surprising given that civil and criminal LSPs are often funded through a mixture of government funding and charitable support in such a way that they should be answerable on questions of justice, and because their decisions whether or not to support a client is likely to have significant effects on that person’s life prospects. Thus, it seems as though the rationing decisions of LSPs deserve significant ethical scrutiny.
In my new article Rationing Legal Services, forthcoming in the peer-reviewed Journal of Legal Analysis (and available for free download in draft form now), I seek to remedy this deficit in the existing literature by engaging in a comprehensive analysis of how LSPs should allocate their resources given the reality of persistent scarcity. Luckily, this work does not have to begin at square one. There is a developed literature in bioethics on the allocation of persistently scarce medical goods (such as organs, ICU beds, and vaccine doses) that I use to illuminate the problems facing LSPs and the potential rationing principles they might adopt.
One set of fascinating questions that has been raised is when the university should reign in the ability of faculty members to take on directorships and other outside activities. While these issues have been well-known in the sciences and medicine, increasingly it has come home to roost in the law and other faculties. The Harvard Law School recently adopted a new conflicts of interest policy, as part of a Harvard-wide revision of its policies.
Here is a question that has received less discussion from what I have seen, though it may become more pressing given Coursera, EdX, and other online teaching venues. The New Yorker profile of my Harvard Business School colleague and world-renowned teacher Clayton Christensen reported that he has recorded videos lectures (complete with good-looking young men and women actors playing students and laughing at the right moments, what a perk!) for the University of Phoenix’s lecture series, for significant remuneration. Imagine that this series (or one of these other non-Harvard platforms) were to offer to pay half a million dollars to me to teach a 4-hour Civil Procedure (or health law or bioethics and the law course) that would in part mirror the teaching I do of the course at Harvard Law School. Should Harvard have a veto right over me doing so? Should it demand “a piece of the action” and revenue sharing agreements as a condition of letting me participate? After all, I am in some ways trading on my capitol for teaching at Harvard, and potentially also diluting the reputational value of Harvard instruction (the informercial would go “You don’t need to go to Harvard to get a lecture from a Harvard Prof! Only $9.99!”) How can the rules governing patent and other IP ownership in the life and other sciences help us develop a sensible policy? Would or should things be different if I gave these lectures for free on YouTube rather than selling them? [Disclosure: Harvard DOES have a policy on conflicts of commitment, though I am unaware of it speaking specifically to these issues about online lectures, but happy to be corrected].