February 8, 2010 3:29PM

Senate Health Bill May Violate First Amendment

Today, the Cato Institute released "Scientific Misconduct: The Manipulation of Evidence for Political Advocacy in Health Care and Climate Policy," by George Avery of Purdue University.

Avery points to a troubling provision of the Senate-passed health care bill that Democrats are trying to get through the House:

In a section creating a new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to conduct comparative-effectiveness research, the bill allows the withholding of funding to any institution where a researcher publishes findings not “within the bounds of and entirely consistent with the evidence,” a vague authorization that creates a tremendous tool that can be used to ensure self-censorship and conformity with bureaucratic preferences....As AcademyHealth notes, “Such language to restrict scientific freedom is unprecedented and likely unconstitutional.”

He warns that government bureaucrats aren't likely to let that power go unused.

In July 2007, AcademyHealth, a professional association of health services and health policy researchers, published results of a study of sponsor restrictions on the publication of research results. Surprisingly, the results revealed that more than three times as many researchers had experienced problems with government funders related to prior review, editing, approval, and dissemination of research results. In addition, a higher percentage of respondents had turned down government sponsorship opportunities due to restrictions than had done the same with industrial funding. Much of the problem was linked to an “increasing government custom and culture of controlling the flow of even non-classified information.”

Avery observes that such power enables bureaucrats to engage in "data manipulation to cover inconvenient findings," much as the scientists at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia appear to have done.  Indeed, he points to evidence of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials suppressing an, ahem, inconvenient internal debate.