The uncertainty of science: A policy change in how the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) awards grants during the Obama administration has had a profound influence on the research of mental-health in the United States.
An analysis by Nature suggests that the number of clinical trials funded by the NIMH dropped by 45% between 2009 and 2015. This coincides with the agency’s launch, in 2011, of the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) — a framework for research on the mechanisms of mental illness. The NIMH’s roll-out of RDoC included asking researchers to focus more on the biological bases of behaviour — such as brain circuitry and genetics — than on the broader symptoms that clinicians typically use to define and classify mental illness.
The NIMH’s embrace of fundamental research has infuriated many clinical researchers, who see it as an attempt to invalidate their methods — and say that there is scant evidence to support the idea that using RDoC will lead to greater insight or better treatments for mental illness. Many of these researchers also note that NIMH funding for clinical trials has declined steadily over the past decade, adding to the perception that the agency now favours research that uses the RDoC framework.
Read the article. I have no idea if the change in NIMH policy is a good or bad thing. What disturbs me however is the federal government’s overall top-down control over mental-health research. Rather than obtain funding from many different sources — which would allow for the greatest flexibility and the most creativity — this research field appears to depend almost entirely on NIMH grants. Thus, the particular preferences of that agency dictates the nature of the research, whether or not its preferences are right.