When President Trump released his first budget, it included a trillion dollars in discretionary spending cuts. He’s shifting funds from more liberal priorities over the last eight years toward more conservative initiatives, including border security and defense.
He’s targeting an overall 10-year spending cut of $3.6 trillion, projecting a balanced budget within a decade. The president’s budget highlights America’s new direction, “focuses resources on direct services and proven investments while streamlining or eliminating programs that are duplicative or have limited impact.”
Scientific and medical research efforts on the chopping block include programs that aren’t focused on specific advances that will help Americans.
When the recent interim budget keeping the government operating until September was approved, the media trumpeted this as a major short-term Democratic victory. However, this new budget finds the president holding firm on plans to cut long-term spending.
Despite the predictable wail of doomsayers, research will be cut by just 17 percent. Left intact are more than a hundred billion funding dollars in 2018.
Cuts target unproductive research. While government funding of biomedical research has been an important American priority for more than a century, Trump’s budget signals that he won’t offer carte blanche to those who want to fund agenda-driven, often impossible-to-reproduce studies.
Funding support levels will vary from past priorities. Trump’s budget continues to support the cancer “Moonshot Initiative,” supporting cancer research, prevention and treatment and focusing on identifying a cure for cancer. This initiative intends to generate the same kind of single-minded initiative that, in the 1960s, put a man on the moon within a decade.
With strong support for goal-oriented research, Trump’s budget eliminates funding for pointless projects like the Fogarty International Center. Fogerty is a unit of the National Institutes of Health, but instead of supporting America’s research infrastructure it promotes medical research overseas.
Eliminating Fogarty highlights the contentious issue of funding overseas research, conducted away from easy oversight. The NIH and the Environmental Protection Agency have spent billions funding politically focused or agenda-driven offshore research, including research that could have been conducted in the United States.
Trump’s budget continues investment in valid research, but he and Congress are finally challenging the unspoken assumption that all research is good research. Attempting to weed out agenda-driven research “validating” pre-ordained conclusions, Congress has begun inquiries into the French-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the little-known, but increasingly controversial Italian Ramazzini Institute.
During the Obama years, they received somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million in NIH and EPA grants, delivering “politically correct” results often at odds with more objective research.
Focusing on Ramazzini Institute in particular, Congress is investigating blatant conflicts of interest in the NIH, seeking to learn if it misspent U.S. tax dollars while funding those two institutions. Spotlighted is the cozy relationship between federal bureaucrats issuing grants and foreign researchers who accept those grants to conduct research intended to promote a political agenda.
Congress recently demanded documented explanations from President Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, exploring blatant financial links between the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Science and Ramazzini. Collectively, IARC and Ramazzini received more than $300 million in U.S. research grants since 1985 — and since 2000, Ramazzini “fellow” Linda Birnbaum serves as director at that institute. She controls those generous purse-strings.
Under her direction, nearly $200 million were granted to Ramazzini, funding dubious research such as statistically insignificant increases in cancer among male rats exposed to cell phones for nine hours per day.
Congressional frustration has been voiced by Space, Science and Technology Committee Chair Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Oversight Subcommittee Chair Darin LaHood, R-Illinois, who are “concerned that contracts awarded to the Ramazzini Institute … may not meet adequate scientific integrity standards.”
Ramazzini claims that it received just 1.5 million euros from the United States between 2009 to 2016. However, Congress cites funding received by Ramazzini Institute and Ramazzini fellows since 2009 totaling at least $92 million. Congressman Smith, wondering what we received for nearly $100 million, says that it’s “unclear what services were rendered” under NIH contracts with Ramazzini.
This is not the first time Ramazzini has been under congressional scrutiny. In 2012, the House Oversight Committee challenged EPA funding of poorly done Ramazzini research. Using shoddily conducted rat tests, Ramazzini produced unsupportable findings. Caving under public scrutiny, the EPA abandoned use of those Ramazzini Institute findings. However, those funds were not returned, and Ramazzini continues to receive NIH and EPA funding.
A similar congressional probe was launched late last year into NIH grants made to the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer. Operating under the World Health Organization, IARC receives annual funding from NIH, without much in the way of oversight.
IARC was recently criticized by government and scientific bodies around the world for using shoddy research to reach pre-ordained, politically motivated conclusions. For example, IARC claimed that common, effective and thoroughly tested chemicals — such as glyphosate, an ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer — “might be carcinogenic.” This unsupportable conclusion stands at odds with published peer-reviewed research.
Regarding these IARC studies, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House oversight committee, warned NIH: “Despite this record of controversy, retractions, and inconsistencies,” the IARC continues to be awarded substantial NIH funding to conduct further bogus research. He’s demanded an accounting, noting that IARC’s standards are “inconsistent with other scientific research.”
President Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint calls for funding research focused on American priorities, instead of funding notorious IARC/Ramazzini-style politically motivated research.
The White House budget continues support for federally funded research on measurable outcomes — such as the cancer “Moonshot Initiative.” This budgetary priority supports U.S.-based research, cutting research dollars farmed out to offshore research organizations. Researchers operating offshore are harder to monitor. They compete with U.S. researchers, siphoning dollars that could enhance American research infrastructure, cushioning overall research budget cuts.
In the face of presidential budget-cutting and congressional outrage over misused funds, Ramazzini’s and IARC’s continuing U.S. funding is far from certain.