- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001

College students drink for different reasons."Players," or men who seek many women sexual partners, are motivated by "sensation propensities" and "sexual narcissism."

All that may sound like common sense, but common sense is not so common or cheap when the government is involved. Every year,the federal government plunks down hundreds of millions of dollars so that pseudo-scientific researchers can laboriously confirm the obvious (see above) or provide a scientific veneer for leftist cliches.

All across the country, federal money underwrites psychology professors whose research often appears little more than a remarkable exercise in banality of both the political and non-political variety. In fiscal 1999, the National Institutes of Health gave more than $364 million to college psychology departments for research and development. Money is fungible, of course. The grants help subsidize professors who are already paid handsomely for their often less than arduous toils in the groves of academia. (Fiscal 2000 figures are not yet available, but preliminary data suggests the gravy train continues.)

Indeed, the largess to an essentially privileged special interest group represented by the far-left American Psychological Association-operates below the radar screen. When the Pentagon pays $435 for a hammer that's a national scandal. But, let the government plunk down, hundreds of millions of dollars each year for psychological studies with no apparent practical benefit and almost no one objects." This stuff has not been exposed," says psychiatrist Sally Satel, author of "PC, M.D. How Political Correctness is Corrupting Medicine." "It's an enormous misallocation of resources."

The money comes from different research bodies under the NIH's auspices, such as the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction. The research is supposed to "enhance health." Among recipients of NIH grants, the psychologists seem particularly beholden to rather dubious and trendy theories. When a chemist or physicist receives money for research at least he's a practitioner of hard science. We all know the rules of physics. Or the periodic table of chemistry. What are the time-honored rules of psychology? If anybody in Congress or the new administration ever gets serious about waste at the NIH, these studies are probably the best place to start.

When not proving the obvious, psychology professors often make crass political assertions the starting point for their research. Thumb through their studies and you'll find cliches about sexism, both "blatant and subtle," racism and virtually every -ism you can shake a stick at. No wonder: Applications for NIH grants are "peer-reviewed" by other psychology professors who sit on the review committees. He who pays the piper calls the tunes.

Lately a whole slew of studies have explored most every angle imaginable about "self-esteem." Once the exclusive domain of left-leaning educators and "Stuart Smiley," the saccharine sweet self-help guru on "Saturday Night Live," "self-esteem" is now investigated by at least 72 studies currently funded by the NIH. Professors, mostly psychologists, research the intersection of self-esteem with weight, racism, sexism,alcoholism, homosexuality and even tobacco use among Arab-American teen-agers.

Besides self-esteem the other big obsession for psychological researchers is, of course, social ills. Many of these government-subsidized studies and professors assume that individuals are largely at the mercy of social forces.

No wonder that Christine Iijima Hall, a former Arizona State University psychology professor, finds personal responsibility a dangerous distraction.

In a much cited paper, which appeared in the June 1997 American Psychologist, the APA's flagship publication, she explains that "Rather than placing the responsibility and blame on clients" for a whole host of ostensible mental disorders "psychologists must see that societal forces such as racism are operating."

Criticize any of this stuff and you will likely be accused of interfering with science. But who has really politicized the grant process? Leftist dogma quite literally influences how every grant is awarded, with quota-mongers eager to determine a sufficient number of money is set-aside for studies that ostensibly benefit women and minorities.

In 1993, Congress mandated the inclusion of women in research studies. Vivian Pinn, director of the Office of Research on Women's Health at the NIH, brags about the quota system. "Every grant application is reviewed for scientific merit and compliance with inclusion guidelines, including the need for analysis for sex and gender difference in health outcomes," she wrote in the May 5, 2000 USA Today. "Of the 5,089 studies last year, the vast majority (4,015) included both women and men. Just 244 included only men, and 740 studies were designed to study women only."

These figures, of course, literally bespeak a gender imbalance, but not the kind that gets the NIH into trouble. Meanwhile, the quota-mongering is likely to escalate. President Clinton on Nov. 23 signed legislation to establish the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the NIH. The Center treats health problems as largely political problems. Just as many psychologists prefer, personal responsibility the degree to which an individual's behavior might cause or exacerbate a particular affliction gets short shrift. But society comes under a microscope. With a budget of $50 million for fiscal 2001, the new office is charged with conducting and supporting research on mental and physical health disparities among minorities which could be a consequence of "socioeconomic status" and other external factors.

Squeezed between political dictates and groups whose self-appointed spokesman easily take offense, it is hardly surprising the NIH funds particularly banal psychological studies. Consider research about alcohol consumption. Boise State University professor Rob Turrisi has received five NIH grants worth more than$600,000 for his work on drunk driving and binge drinking. In 1999, Mr. Turrisi published the startling results of his NIH-funded study of the drinking habits of a wide swath of college freshman. His conclusion: college students drink for different reasons. Therefore, a "one-sized fits all approach" to the problem of college drinking is misguided.

You can find more trenchant insights inside a fortune cookie-for a fraction of the cost.

Evan Gahr is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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