Human Genome Project debate: reply to E. Jordan
Paul R. Chernoff
chernoff at cartan.berkeley.edu
Sat Jun 2 02:51:11 EST 1990
(I am posting this for my colleague Michael Syvanen (syvanenm at mizar.ucdavis.edu)
to whom replies should be directed. )
This is a response to two postings by Elke Jordan which were intended to
rebut the posting "Keep the Human Genome Project out of the NIH".
Elke Jordan argues that the HGP has not caused the existing funding crisis
at the NIH, and that it won't squeeze out basic research in the future. I agree
with her first point; there are many factors which have led to the current
crisis in investigator-initiated research funding. The HGP, being new and
partially funded, has only contributed to the larger problem. But, given the fact
that a funding crisis exists, I am extremely concerned about what is going to
occur in the near future. The aim of our original posting was to get the HGP removed
from the NIH before it causes really serious problems.
Elke Jordan, along with other HGP advocates, argues that the HGP is not
expensive enough to drain funds from other research. She claims that the HGP
is less than 1% of the NIH budget. But this is not a meaningful way to look at
its cost. We ought to compare the size of the HGP budget to the budget for non-
targeted investigator-initiated basic research. The HGP is requesting $200
million for 1992. If such items as AIDS, drug and alcohol research, and minority
grants (three areas whose budgets will not be cut) and also intramural research,
training, fellowship, and clinical grants, and center grants were subtracted from
the total NIH research budget, we could see more clearly the magnitude of the HGP
budget compared to the budget for nontargeted investigator-initiated basic research.
It is regrettable that this more useful breakdown of the budget data does not seem
to be readily available to the public.
We have heard an estimate that the latter figure currently comes to
about $1.5 billion dollars. If this is indeed so, then the $200 million
dollars requested by the HGP for 1992 would come to about 12% of the current,
relevant grant budget. If the cost of the Project were to double, as some have
predicted, we would be looking at over 24% of the current relevant budget.
We urge the NIH to make this breakdown of the grant budget available to
Elke Jordan and other HGP advocates have argued that the Human Genome
Project will be funded with "extra funds" or "new" money. This is not convincing.
What does "new" money mean, anyway? "New" money would be money that could only be
raised for the Human Genome Project. This means that no matter how hard the
administration and the scientific community lobbied, they could not convince
Congress to come up with another dime for the NIH, unless designated for the
Human Genome Project. How can anyone claim this knowledge? Where is the
evidence? Who believes it?
I have a suggestion. How about replacing the Human Genome Initiative with
the "Non-Targeted Investigator-Initiated Grant Initiative"? If we took
the time and effort to explain to the public why non-targeted independent
investigator grants are the best scientific investments, perhaps we could forget
about "new" money or old money, and simply raise *enough* money to carry on basic
University of California, Davis
Mike Syvanen (SYVANENM at MIZAR.ucdavis.edu)
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