In 1991, the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) rescinded funding for a survey of adolescent health risk-taking behavior. The decision overturned a series of scientific and ethical peer and administrative reviews of the research, which had been chosen in a competitive evaluation of proposals to advance knowledge about the prevention of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and other diseases. The cancellation, coupled with congressional action to block similar research, left a gap in scientific data about adolescent health risk taking. The cancellation may also encourage the further use of political criteria in evaluating proposals for scientific research. Procedures for funding scientific research should be reformed to protect peer review from arbitrary political intervention. Through a discussion of this decision and its consequences for AIDS prevention research, principles that justify autonomous peer review are clarified and a reform that could strengthen it is discussed.
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