The National Institutes of Health are coming under
congressional scrutiny for a series of studies – including one on truckers’
sexual habits – that some members of Congress say waste taxpayers’ money, The Washington Post reported.
A series of hearings, including one Jan. 22 in the Senate,
examined the institutes’ finances.
The trucking sex study, which was conducted by Emory
University, was titled “Trucker Networks, Drug Use, and Disease Transmission.”
The school’s Web site says the following about the study: “With
primarily male heterosexual truckers at their center, trucker risk networks
include such diverse groups as: men who have sex with men including ‘truck
chasers’ and sex workers (CB hustlers, ‘buffaloes’); female sex workers (CB
prostitutes, ‘lot lizards,’ ‘traveling ladies,’ American and Mexican brothel
workers, motel sex workers, street walkers/hustlers); female ‘truck chasers’;
drug dealers/pushers/runners and pimps; ‘polishers,’ ‘lumpers,’ homeless, and
hitchhikers; trucking company and truck plaza employees; home setting social
and risk contacts; and other sexual and drug contacts on the road.”
Many of the NIH’s studies are worthwhile, Todd Spencer,
executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association,
said. However, “based on our knowledge of this one about trucker sexual habits,
we saw that then and we see it now as nothing more than a waste of tax dollars.
“The justification that they used to appropriate the money
for this study was the habits of traveling people in Africa,” he said. “And in
Africa, truck drivers are among the only people in the population that are
mobile. So if AIDS is going to be spread it very well could be spread
significantly and to a large extent by truckers in Africa.
“But that’s not the situation in the U.S.,” Spencer said.
“Everybody in America is mobile or has the ability to be mobile.”
Spencer said the trucker study had the effect of
“potentially disparaging this occupational group.”
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-PA, led the NIH hearing before the
Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
According to his Web site, the hearing was called to examine the current
processes and procedures in place at the National Institutes of Health to avoid
conflicts of interest. In addition, the subcommittee planned to examine two
potential conflicts of interest that were raised in a Los Angeles Times article Dec. 7, 2003.
In response to the concerns, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of
the National Institutes of Health, told the subcommittee the NIH planned
to create a task force to review its relationships with private firms for
potential conflicts and recommend changes.
The controversy started when several of the studies, particularly
those on sexual topics, were pushed into the public view by the Traditional
Values Coalition, a Washington, DC-based conservative group.
opposed to research, but research dollars are scarce,” Andrea Lafferty,
executive director of the coalition, said on the group’s Web site. “Choices
have to be made. Are we going to research finding a cure for juvenile diabetes
or the sex lives of Mexican workers before and after they come over the
However, The Post reported
that Zerhouni had investigated the grants challenged by the Traditional Values
Coalition, and said last week
he thought all of those studies were of legitimate public health value.
Spencer said “the bottom line is – at least when it comes to
that [trucker] study – it’s a waste of tax dollars.”
“I don’t doubt that some of the studies that NIH is involved
in would be beneficial,” he said. “This one clearly was not. Had the proper
peer review or background check – had that been done, the agency should have
been able to find a more appropriate way, a better way to spend that money.”
--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor
Mark Reddig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.