Tuesday, April 24, 2018

NIH reply to my open letter (and a legal question from a peasant)

Intro

My previous post contains my open letter to Francis Collins. It got a lot of readers. Many were from NIH. But who exactly at NIH is listening?

I was hoping that Francis would reply.

My ignorance

I do not know what constrains Francis. For this I defer to a diversity of those who know more. I am grateful for all progress. There are good people at NIH.

However, I do not know why m.e. has an insanely low level of urgency and priority.1

Congress will ask questions, and if NIH's hands are tied (as NIH frequently avers) then Congress can help untie them. Why not talk to Congress now?

My request

I figured that Francis could tell Congress that a major disease is firing rounds up the tailpipe of the United States of America (and the world). Forgive my "Top Gun" language.

Congress isn't composed of biologists, so it relies on this man to tell them what things need research.

I am just a peasant, however.

NIH reply

A spokesperson kindly replied on [2016-06-10 Fri]. They got facts wrong about me, my letter, and the point it made, but I don't care. I'd rather NIH do biology.

They also praised themselves on Trans-NIH. I won't comment. This goes over to the diversity of experts.

What I care about is a legal question.

A rule

NIH responded to my request with this rule:

NIH employees, as a part of the Executive Branch of the Federal government, cannot lobby or advocate for any particular cause or legislation.

Does this rule truly prevent Francis from telling Congress about m.e.?

What I want to know

What I want to know is:

  1. Francis Collins testifies frequently. Is m.e. off limits?
  2. Did NIH meaningfully reply?

I would have been happy to modify the wording. We seek science, not clever jousting, so it matters whether this rule is a sincere reply.

Lawyers

I was curious, so I asked a lawyer whether agency heads can tell Congress what things need scientific research.

I was told that Congress's power to investigate is coextensive with its power to legislate. Translated into peasantese, this apparently means yes.

I'll leave it to legal eagles to comment. But it would be strange if agency heads could not talk about their subject, so it sounds about right. Maybe it's even their duty.


I am a peasant, but it seems to me that, at least if Congress asks Francis (perhaps at our request), he can tell them about the disease and the tailpipe thing.

And quite possibly he can do so in his regular testimony.


By the way, my letter said "CDC lobbied for Tuskegee syphilis experiment to be continued". Perhaps that was before this rule? Was it part of Executive?

Previous testimony

I also did a quick search.

In the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health Roundtable Discussion on Health and Medicine Issues on September 10, 2014, Francis apparently said this (needs official confirmation):

And think about the difference that would make, had we in 2014 been in the position to distribute rapidly tens of thousands of doses, in collaboration with our colleagues at GSK, of this vaccine, how much different would this be and how many lives would have been saved.

I have no opinion on Glaxo's product or this testimony.

But doesn't it seem strange that Francis can't tell Congress about m.e.?

(I am probably splattering my peasant confusion all over.)

NIH ethics site

At some point later, I went to the NIH ethics site. For health reasons, I did not spend much time on it.

There seemed to be a lot of language like this:

Direct executive branch communications to a federal, state, or local legislative body through proper official channels are permitted.

Lobbying and Publicity or Propaganda Guidelines

This is illustrative of what confuses me. Can Francis testify about m.e.?

Does it depend on whether he deems it significant? Does he, therefore, not deem it significant?


Suppose Ebola hit USA soil in large numbers without Congress knowing the seriousness of it, and NIH's hands were tied (as they frequently aver).

Would he forgo telling Congress for fear of violating the rule?

Does the rule only apply to m.e. and related diseases? Does Moral Law also except m.e. and related diseases? What is required to make them non-exceptions? If we jump those hoops, will he testify as soon as possible?


I don't want a focus group figuring out the right words to tell us. (That fits my peasant definition of propaganda.) I want science.

SPAME

A cookbook I read as a child gave an origin for the term "hush puppy". If a dog needs food, and you are eating dinner, you can throw it one to it to make it quiet.

This describes my feeling about NIH policy.

We hear SPAME — Special Pleading Against M.E. M.e. and related diseases are treated as not deserving. And when we point out that they are urgent, we get thrown a hush puppy.


I don't know the reason for this policy.

My take

There are good people at the NIH trying to do what they can. I want us to nurture our relationships with those people.

I'd like to be able to say the same of NIH leadership. Despite a lot of self-praise and a few actions, their results are not commensurate with the disease's urgency and priority, or with NIH's strengths and opportunities.

Perhaps employees will tell us what holds leadership back. By this, I don't mean, "perhaps authorized personnel will convey more excuses and bureaucratic jargon" but rather, "perhaps NIH ordinary employees will tell us candidly about NIH leadership's incentives, attitude, and policy".2

Conclusion

We need you, Francis.

Samuel

P.S.

I never found the rule.

Footnotes:

1

I also do not know why the NIH trial was initially set up so offensively (comparison groups and justification for the woo group — why do parts of NIH not have a scientific worldview?, cohort, and personnel decisions — likewise), but I will concentrate on the present. Incidentally, I would include related diseases in this post, but don't know enough.

2

I have no beef with the spokesperson who contacted me; she performed the duties assigned to her according to policy.

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