Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., the director of the National Institutes of Health, today announced his plans to step down at the end of October 2008 to pursue writing projects and explore other professional opportunities.
Unsurprising since this is a political appointment and all. You did know that, right? More importantly and probably more concerning will be the dance of the IC Directors.
UPDATE: see writedit's take.
The directors of the NIH Institutes and Centers are slightly less political in nature but there are still allegiances. And the highly activist Directors can have immediate impact on what research grants get funded, etc. So the scientists who are funded by an IC which has a Director resign may want to pay some attention. A long interval of an Acting Director can, conversely, maintain status quo on the funding side but may seriously side-line Congressional advocacy for the IC's mission.
Ting-Kai (TK) Li already announced he will step down
Ting-Kai Li, M.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) since November 2002, announced today that he will step down from his post and retire from Federal service, effective October 31, 2008. Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., the NIAAA Deputy Director since February 2008, will serve as Acting Director of the Institute while a search for a new Director is initiated.
"I leave NIAAA/NIH feeling that my tenure has resulted in greater transparency, accountability, trust, and stability of funding for alcohol research. Research supported by NIAAA in the past 5 years has reframed our understanding of alcohol dependence in several ways by demonstrating that it is a developmental disorder that has its roots in childhood and adolescence. While initiation of drinking is largely influenced by peer and family environmental factors, the transition to habitual and dependent drinking is strongly influenced by genetic factors. This has important prevention and treatment implications." as Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Okay, with my usual disclaimers in mind, who should take over the helm of the NIH and/or the NIAAA?
I have no opinion on the NIH job. It is just so political and it traditionally goes to an MD, no? And my traditional areas of interest, the brain sciences, just don't seem to fit with a general NIH-wide director so I'd hesitate to nominate any neuroscientist types.
In terms of NIAAA I think the alcohol field would do well to think of Nora Volkow, the current NIDA director. She has a rather vibrant and colorful personality that I think has gone down very well in terms of getting attention paid to NIDA's interests. It is all very well and good to slip a highly respected member of the attached scientific community into the Director's chair, but let us remember that the job is fundraising. Both internally at the NIH and with Congress, the mission of an IC director is to keep the money flowing in the direction of his or her Institute and his or her scientific domains. That means one wishes for a person who can present the health issues and the scientific issues in a way that Congresscritters can understand. In a way that captures their divided attention. Dynamic personalities are key for this purpose and in fact trump the most elite scientific credentials.