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Public Affairs Update

  • Health disparities are more than a “genetic thing” . . . . Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), stressed the importance of taking environmental factors into account when explaining health disparities across races this month at a national conference on racial and ethnic health disparities. In the search for explanations of health differences, Collins warned against relying solely on “muddy and misleading proxies” that genetic variation and race represent. As an example of the “mixed blessing” wrought by drugs having differential effects, Collins mentioned the congestive heart failure treatment BiDil, the first FDA-approved drug designed specifically for blacks. He pointed out that the drug’s benefits likely are not dependent on race, but rather, on confounding variables related to the types of disorders different populations suffer because of non-genetic factors. ASA Past-President Troy Duster has repeatedly emphasized the danger of marketing drugs to specific races, as the false message many absorb is that people of different races are biologically different. National Medical Association President Sandra Gadson said, “If only genetic factors are considered, only genetic factors will be discovered.” A year ago, NHGRI added the Social and Behavioral Research Branch, within its Division of Intramural Research, to increase understanding of complex social and genetic interactions. At the 2005 ASA Annual Meeting, Vivian Ota Wang, Program Director of NHGRI’s Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications Program, spoke about research opportunities on a panel addressing science funding.

  • Applications sought for Human and Social Dynamics grants . . . . The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) priority area in Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) has announced competitions for FY 2006. This year’s solicitation emphasizes: Agents of Change; Dynamics of Human Behavior; and Decision Making, Risk, and Uncertainty. NSF anticipates spending $50 million on more than 100 awards. Full research projects will support multidisciplinary teams of three or more investigators from at least two different fields in multidisciplinary projects. Three-year awards of up to $750,000 will be made. Proposals are due February 21, 2006. Support is available also for exploratory research projects to perform preliminary activities that provide the basis for more elaborate work. NSF will also fund HSD research community development projects for interdisciplinary educational activities and other broad-ranging efforts, including research workshops and training activities. Exploratory research and community development grants for one or two years, with awards not exceeding $125,000. Proposals are due February 14, 2006. For more information, see

  • Government reports speedier grant review . . . . In December, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a pilot effort to significantly shorten its peer reviews of research grant applications to expedite scientists’ research—to the public’s benefit. The pilot will help new investigators, a promising and vulnerable group, applying for R01 grants. In early 2006, NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR), which organizes the evaluative peer review groups, will initiate the pilot. Details of the proposed pilot are described in the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts:
    . Also, NIH has announced it will begin phasing out paper applications and appendices. For R01 applications, electronic submission will begin on October 1, 2006 (see

  • Census releases more American Community Survey tables . . . . The U.S. Census released more than 600 additional base tables from the 2004 American Community Survey (ACS) in late fall. Included are 258 new base tables. Some new tables include: median age (by residence one year ago); place of birth (by language spoken at home and ability to speak English); place of birth (by marital status); means of transportation to work (by industry); and median monthly housing costs. A new ACS feature are Subject Tables, which are similar to the Census 2000 Quick Tables but with more detail. Additional data are on the Census American FactFinder website:

  • More organizations accredited for human research . . . . Six organizations— three academic health centers and three universities—have been recognized by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP) for their oversight of human research participants. The institutions receiving full three-year accreditation include Baylor College of Medicine, the University of California-San Francisco, East Tennessee State University, and the University of Arizona. Michigan State University and the University of Maryland- Baltimore earned “qualified” accreditation pending resolution of minor administrative issues. AAHRPP, launched in 2001 with the support of major academic and research ethics groups, became the sole organization of its kind when the Partnership for Human Research Protection announced its closing in 2005.

  • If only NSF titles were legitimate words in “Scrabble” . . . . The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced that its Science and Technology Studies (STS) Program and the NSF Societal Dimensions of Engineering, Science, and Technology (SDEST) Program no longer exist under those titles. The new, consolidated program title is Science and Society (S&S). The new program includes the following components: Ethics and Values in Science, Engineering, and Technology (EVS); History and Philosophy of Science, Engineering, and Technology (HPS); Social Studies of Science, Engineering, and Technology (SSS); and Studies of Policy, Science, Engineering, and Technology (SPS). The twice-yearly target dates for proposals are February 1 and August 1. Program details can be found at: