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Politics seen to affect research funding

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Public universities in states with members on the appropriations committee in the U.S. House of Representatives received an average of 9 percent more funding for biological research than universities in states that were not represented, says a study by the University of California, Berkeley.

Of the grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health between 1983 and 2002, 3 percent to 7 percent were subject to political influence, says the study, “Politics and Funding in the U.S. Public Biomedical R&D System.”

In 2001 and 2002 alone, committee members directed a total of $1.7 billion, or 4 percent of the $37.4 billion awarded by the National Institutes of Health, to institutes in their states.

Reviews of grant applications by members of the scientific community have been largely ineffective at preventing committee members from directing funds to their constituencies, the report says.

“Legislators use their power in setting research field-level priorities to cleverly work around the peer process to achieve their desired outcomes,” Deepak Hegde, author of the study and doctoral student at UC-Berkeley, says in a statement.

The National Institutes of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides 85 percent of federal support for biological, medical and psychological research, the study says.

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