Stimulus funding for Syracuse University sex study questioned

August 25, 2009

An economic stimulus grant for sex research at Syracuse University has won the attention of Republican critics in Washington.


The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $219,000 stimulus grant for psychology professor Michael Carey to study the “hookups” of 500 freshmen women.


The project description says there appears to be an increase in hookups, defined as sexual encounters between adolescent partners who have no expectation of romantic commitment. But there is little scientific investigation of it. The research will measure the prevalence of hookups in the first year of college and explore the mental and physical health consequences of it.


The grant was reported by the New York Post Monday in a story that played with the wording of “stimulus” funding for sex research.


Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, sent an e-mail Monday, pushing reporters to ask Rep. Dan Maffei, D-DeWitt, about the grant. Mazzola used his own play on words to say, “I think the people of Central New York would rather be ‘hooked up’ with jobs instead of more questionable stimulus spending.”


In a telephone interview, Mazzola said the economic stimulus bill was passed too quickly and was sold as an investment in more long-term economic solutions.


“I think it’s questionable on its surface,” he said. “Is it necessary? Because stimulus was sold as a new investment in infrastructure. It was sold as job creating. It was sold as a new way forward for America.”


Abigail Gardner, Maffei’s spokeswoman, said the NRCC is rooting for the failure of the recovery act and every other bill passed by Congress.


“Combating unwanted teen pregnancies, which are on the rise in Syracuse, and searching for ways to prevent sexually transmitted diseases is no joking matter,” she said. “These kinds of studies go to the heart of ensuring the long-term economic viability of communities.”


Carey said he applied to the NIH in 2008, before there was any discussion of an economic stimulus bill.


“I did not prepare an application to create jobs or stimulate the economy,” he said. “I prepared an application of scientific study to address an important public health problem and I think that is a valuable contribution to society.”


He said the grant will create one new part-time job and pay parts of salaries for three people who are already employed. He said most of the grant money will not be spent on staff. Other expenses include medical testing and evaluation. Researchers will also pay $10 an hour to the women who participate in the study.


The $787 billion economic recovery package included $8 billion for the National Institutes of Health to award to researchers. The NIH, the country’s top research agency, looked for projects that were ready to go and could be done in two years, with no special emphasis on the number of jobs they would create, an agency official told The Post-Standard for a July report.


Scientists interviewed for that story said they were answering surprise phone calls from the federal government, saying projects that had been rejected in the past would now be funded. Other grants at New York institutions will study malt liquor and marijuana use, teen pregnancy, Lyme disease, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia.


The Post-Standard also reported last month that the NIH has no requirement that equipment purchased with stimulus money be made in America. Cornell University is shopping for a $500,000 microscope that will be made in either Germany or Japan.


NIH stimulus grants can be searched by congressional district or institution.

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