Perhaps you’ve heard of the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young efforts to allocate $315 million in federal funds to connect one tiny island in his state with an even tinier island of only 50 people. Well, he’s now been joined by Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. She has allotted a massive $75 million from taxpayers into the Veteran’s Administration (VA) budget, with the dictate that every cent go to a Texas advocacy scientist and his institution to study a non-existent illness.
The alleged illness is Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), and the beneficiary of Hutchinson’s taxpayer-funded largess is University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. Robert Haley. Even if you accept that GWS is real and that Haley has something to tell us about it (indeed, he even claims to have discovered it), you should find Hutchinson’s action outrageous.
As Science magazine pointed out in its May 5 issue, other researchers are “troubled by such a funding provision.” That’s because it “not only avoids the traditional peer-review process, but it also marks the rare – and possibly first ever – VA funding of a program outside its research network, and to a researcher whose theory [of GWS causation] hasn’t won much scientific support.”
Haley didn’t have to submit a grant proposal, as previously has been the solid rule for funding from either the VA or the National Institutes of Health, he just appealed to his senator. (Or she came to him, whatever.) If this becomes precedent, legitimate federally-funded medical research will eventually screech to a halt.
Why bypass normal channels?
First, there’s the sticky problem of GWS itself. Depending on your source, as many as one in four U.S. Gulf War vets have it. But epidemiological studies comparing all of these 700,000 men and women to matched non-vet controls keep on finding, as did the last one (in 2005), that “Ten years after the Gulf War, the physical health of deployed and non-deployed veterans is similar.”
Indeed, looking at both U.S. and British Gulf vets, the latest study found death “from all illnesses was lower among Gulf War veterans in comparison to those of non-Gulf War veterans.
Michael Fumento is a, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues as well as author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World .
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