Your next director of the NIH will be.....

Jul 08 2009 Published by under General Politics, NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

Yup, you guessed it. This guy.

White House Press Office:

Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Francis S. Collins as Director of the National Institutes of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.
President Obama said, "The National Institutes of Health stands as a model when it comes to science and research. My administration is committed to promoting scientific integrity and pioneering scientific research and I am confident that Dr. Francis Collins will lead the NIH to achieve these goals. Dr. Collins is one of the top scientists in the world, and his groundbreaking work has changed the very ways we consider our health and examine disease. I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead."


He has chops, no doubt about that. His bio from the press release.

Francis S. Collins, Nominee for Director, National Institutes of Health, Health and Human Services
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project, served as Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health from 1993-2008. With Dr. Collins at the helm, the Human Genome Project consistently met projected milestones ahead of schedule and under budget. This remarkable international project culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. In addition to his achievements as the NHGRI Director, Dr. Collins' own research laboratory has discovered a number of important genes, including those responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington's disease, a familial endocrine cancer syndrome, and most recently, genes for adult onset (type 2) diabetes and the gene that causes Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. Dr. Collins has a longstanding interest in the interface between science and faith, and has written about this in The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 2006), which spent many weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He has just completed a new book on personalized medicine, The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine (HarperCollins, to be published in early 2010). Collins received a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Virginia, a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Yale University, and an M.D. with Honors from the University of North Carolina. Prior to coming to NIH in 1993, he spent nine years on the faculty of the University of Michigan, where he was an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007.

As far as I am aware the biggest knock against him, in terms of NIH directions that might affect us peons, has to do with his fondness for gignormous science (like the Human Genome Project) which might be seen as putting an additional squeeze on good old modular budget R01 funding. Of course, we have no idea if his plans for NIH include embiggening science or not but this NIH funded investigator will certainly be keeping his ears tuned...
Added: The Chronicle was complaining about the lack of a Director just....today!

The National Institutes of Health has now been without a permanent director for about nine months, and concern over the delay may be growing among universities.
The unease was evident today when Mark O. Lively, the newly elected president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the nation's largest coalition of biomedical-research groups, met with reporters here to lay out an agenda for his year in office.

16 responses so far

  • S. Rivlin says:

    My concern, which echoes the concern of many responders on PZ's blog from about two months ago, is Collins's theological philosophy. In my opinion, that philosophy could be a much greater problem for Federally funded American Medical Research.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    And how exactly would his particular brand of theological philosophy be expressed in a detrimental way within his role as NIH Director, should he be approved?
    I mean, we are not talking about the National Institutes of Evolution and Ecology here...

  • whimple says:

    Likely by equivocation of Collins' peculiar brand of theological philosophy with endorsement of more traditional brands of theological philosophy. It's a small step from there to the conclusion that if God will solve your problems, you have no need of science, so why bother spending all that money?

  • Alex says:

    It's a small step from there to the conclusion that if God will solve your problems, you have no need of science, so why bother spending all that money?

    Um, I'd say it's quite a big step. I mean, I get why a religious person could take that step, but when you look around you find plenty of people who happen to be religious believers yet are also scientists or at least pro-science. Yes, yes, you can say what you like about why they should or shouldn't think that way, and maybe you're right, or maybe you're wrong, but either way, the evidence suggests that somehow there are plenty of people who proclaim religious belief but somehow support science funding.
    If we go on evidence, as opposed to slippery slope arguments, then there is no reason to conclude that a person must be sympathetic to ruining biomedical science simply because that person happens to be religious. Instead, you should look at the person's track record. Sure, some religious people do want to ruin biomedical science, but plenty of them don't. Instead of assuming that "all those people must think alike" you should look at the individual's track record.
    So, does Collins have a track record of doing good science, supporting good science in his leadership roles, and administering scientific programs effectively? Those are the questions to ask. Maybe the answers are negative (I simply don't know enough about him) but I wouldn't rush to any conclusions simply because he's openly religious and "all those people think alike."

  • whimple says:

    If we go on evidence, as opposed to slippery slope arguments, then there is no reason to conclude that a person must be sympathetic to ruining biomedical science simply because that person happens to be religious
    Two words: George Bush

  • Alex says:

    Oh, absolutely, Bush was awful. However, there are plenty of other people who (1) happen to support science and have good ideas for it and (2) happen to be openly religious.
    So, should we look at Bush and conclude that "all those people are alike" or should we look at individuals and their track records?

  • Alex says:

    BTW, religiosity is heavily influenced by cultural background. If being openly religious automatically disqualifies one from a significant position in the scientific community, irrespective of whether that person has a good track record as a researcher, mentor, advocate, and leader, then you are leaving out large groups of people.
    Just looking down my hallway at a non-religious university, I see a number of excellent researchers, teachers, and active members of the campus and professional communities who are also openly religious. A few are from under-represented groups. A few are rising stars. Would you automatically oppose them if they were considered for Dean of the College of Science, President of a professional organization, Editor of a journal, or some other position of leadership in science?

  • microfool says:

    I think looking at his track record, as Alex suggests, is much more fun and productive than knee-jerk reactions to his personal interests.
    The little I know about Collins is that he led a huge project of great public interest from what was eventually a smallish IC. I've heard that there was a lot of value placed on programmatic discretion while he was in charge of that IC (though this seems to be more common in the smaller ICs than the larger). Those who worked with him, however briefly, loved it (from what I have heard).
    Translating to the directorship of NIH:
    # He will not have as much direct control over IC priorities and practices, but has demonstrated some skill in coalition building, which will be necessary.
    # Will he be effective in communicating with the Congress (past says yes)?
    # Will he value the big science initiatives (roadmap) of his predecessor?
    # What about the balance between basic, translational, and clinical research?
    # Will he continue the reforms of enhancing peer review? Does he have different priorities in that effort?
    Has anyone read his latest book on health care? Any tea leaves in there?

  • JSinger says:

    So, does Collins have a track record of doing good science, supporting good science in his leadership roles, and administering scientific programs effectively?
    The answer would be that his track record is superb, even before you get to his role in leading the human freaking genome project. He's also a really nice guy, albeit a ferocious competitor. (No lab competing against his, let alone Celera, worried about him sitting back and waiting for God to sort things out.)

  • msphd says:

    Yeah, I'm not a fan of the Huge Funding Lumps approach.
    I'm also wondering if we'll ever have a female head of the NIH in my lifetime.
    And why it's always the same friends-of-friends white guys.
    Oh well. I guess it's not really a surprise.

  • DrZZ says:

    I'm also wondering if we'll ever have a female head of the NIH in my lifetime.

    You were born after 1993 when Bernadine Healy left as NIH director?

  • Jonathan says:

    Who was Ruth Kirschstein, chopped liver?

  • penniless_bison says:

    To be honest, I didn't watch the clip. Seeing as he GERM THEORY DENIALIST and an antivaxxer, how the hell can we give any merit to what Bill Maher has to say about potential NIH directors? If Maher had his way, we'd do away with the NIAID entirely!
    Is a Christian who believes in evolution and sees no conflict between science and religion really such a problem?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I didn't watch the clip
    umm. right. well if you had you would have seen that it was an interview with Collins and I posted it so you could see his own description of faith issues....
    Who was Ruth Kirschstein, chopped liver?
    She was only ever an Acting Director, keeping the seat warm in between political appointments. Cool that a woman was in this role, yes, but not as good as a confirmed Director. DrZZ, thanks for reminding the kids these days about Healy.

  • lylebot says:

    Kind of off topic, but a woman was just appointed head of DARPA---Regina Dugan, mechanical engineering PhD. Should be a big step up from the previous Bush-appointed guy who by all reports hated science (I exaggerate slightly).

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