Researchers have been quietly complaining for years about the gigantic piles of cash being burned on bioterror defense -- while threats like tuberculosis, which kill millions every year, are given short shrift.Finally, these microbiologists are starting to get organized, and speak out in public. From the Times:
More than 700 scientists sent a petition on Monday to the director of the National Institutes of Health protesting what they said was the shift of tens of millions of dollars in federal research money since 2001 away from pathogens that cause major public health problems to obscure germs the government fears might be used in a bioterrorist attack.The scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners and a biologist who is to receive the National Medal of Science from President Bush in March, say grants for research on the bacteria that cause anthrax and five other diseases that are rare or nonexistent in the United States have increased fifteenfold since 2001. Over the same period, grants to study bacteria not associated with bioterrorism, including those causing diseases like tuberculosis and syphilis, have decreased 27 percent, the petition said...signers of the petition insisted that the government was making poor trade-offs. "These projects obviously take money away from basic research in the United States," said Sidney Altman, a molecular biologist at Yale who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989. He said that while a risk of bioterrorist attack existed, he considered it "a very minor factor" among all the threats faced by the nation. "There's no question that microbiology has suffered" by the focus on obscure organisms, Dr. Altman said.THERE'S MORE: Nick directs our attention to this handy (and depressing) chart, showing just how out-of-whack the biodefense spending numbers are.AND MORE: "The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has repeatedly claimed that the biodefense boom has not adversely impacted funding for public health research," the Sunshine Project's Edward Hammond notes in a release. "But NIH data does not support [that] position. In fact, analysis of competitive grant data shows double digit declines in funding for high priority public health diseases since the end of 2001."