Monday, September 22nd, 2014
Half-True
Phillips
"Our government has spent $2.6 million to teach Chinese prostitutes how to drink responsibly."

Judson Phillips on Wednesday, July 27th, 2011 in a "Washington Post" opinion piece

Founder of Tea Party Nation claims U.S. government has spent $2.6 million to teach Chinese prostitutes how to drink responsibly

America has a spending crisis, not a debt crisis, Judson Phillips, founder and chief executive of Tea Party Nation, argued in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post on July 27, 2011. He called the federal government bloated and lambasted legislators for funding too many wasteful programs.

And then he offered a few examples.

"Americans rightly think there is something wrong when our government has spent $2.6 million to teach Chinese prostitutes how to drink responsibly," Phillips wrote.

We fact-checked a similar claim during the midterm elections. The claim was that members of Congress voted for the project as part of the stimulus. Actually, the project was not part of the stimulus, and members of Congress had no way of knowing research funding would go to study prostitutes. Because of these other distortions -- that the op-ed doesn't make -- we gave the 2010 claim a Pants on Fire.

But there's not nothing here.

In November 2008, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health awarded a 5-year, $2.6 million grant to Wayne State University in Detroit to allow Dr. Xiaoming Li, professor and director of the university's Prevention Research Center, to "establish and evaluate whether an alcohol and HIV intervention center can assist in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS among sex workers in China," according to a university press release announcing the grant.

According to the release, "The findings could have ramifications for at-risk populations throughout the world."

The research will take place specifically in Guangxi, China, where the sex trade is prevalent and the rate of HIV is ranked third among the country's provinces, the release states.

A spokesman for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health told us the ad distorted the aim of the project.

The grant "was not awarded for that purpose," John Bowersox told us via e-mail back in November 2010. "Rather, the researchers will use the grant to develop, implement and evaluate an alcohol use and HIV risk reduction intervention program among female sex workers in China. This is in line with previous studies showing that social norms and institutional policy in commercial sex venues greatly influence alcohol use and sexual behavior among the sex workers in those venues. Studies such as these are needed to translate and adapt interventions that have proven to be effective in the U.S. to other settings and to learn from other conditions and cultures to inform our understanding of the causes, consequences and differences in HIV-related risks, morbidity and mortality in diverse populations. Preventing HIV infection is NIH’s highest priority for HIV-related research. We need to explore a range of research avenues in vulnerable populations around the world to learn the best ways to control the transmission of HIV."

Bowersox noted that the grant went through the NIH's two-tier review process, "which includes a scientific and technical review as well as consideration by an Advisory Council that includes public representatives. The Council makes recommendations based on alignment of the grant application with the research priorities of the NIH."

The grant first came into the national discussion after CNSNews.com (The Right News. Right Now) ran a story under the headline, "U.S. Will Pay $2.6 Million to Train Chinese Prostitutes to Drink Responsibly on the Job."

In an interview with CNSNews.com, Professor Li said, "The purpose of the project is to try and develop an intervention program targeting HIV risk and alcohol use. So basically, it’s an alcohol and HIV risk reduction intervention project."

"We want to get some understanding of the fundamental role of alcohol use and HIV risk," Li told CNSNews.com. "We use the population in China as our targeted population to look at the basic issues. I think the findings will benefit the American people, too."

The CNSNews story ran on May 11, 2009. That was about the time that a lot of Republican members of Congress were putting out lists of stimulus projects they said were wasteful or unrelated to job creation. But, as the CNSNews.com story noted, the grant for the project was awarded in November 2008. That's pre-stimulus. It's also pre-Obama administration. 

But Phillips did not refer to the spending as a stimulus program. Nor did Phillips assign responsibility for funding it to any particular party (though earlier in the article, he referred to the "Obama-Pelosi-Reid axis of fiscal evil"). However, Phillips does distort the purpose of the grant. And while some may question the actual purpose of the grant, it was awarded by the National Institutes for Health based on its own internal review process and was determined to be within the institution's mission and priorities. There is an alcohol intervention aspect to the project, but the larger purpose is HIV study and prevention. We rate the claim Half True.