Address correspondence to: Gerald Weissmann, email@example.com .
First published June 1, 2006 - More info
Andrew Marks’ recent editorial eloquently reiterated a concern that many of us have voiced before, that the current policies and practices of the NIH are not serving the public well.
In no aspect of public life is the subversion of original science to bureaucratic need more evident than in the recent effort of the NIH, including its present director and the cadre he has enlisted, to centralize the direction of biomedical research. By means of extravagant Roadmaps or Translational Research Centers, they are crippling what has been the most successful research mechanism devised in the United States: the R01.
But in keeping with the custom of their band, the central planners are marching to music written a generation ago. In 1974, Lewis Thomas already complained that “It is administratively fashionable in Washington to attribute the delay of applied science in medicine to a lack of planning . . . Do we need a new system of research management, with all the targets in clear display, arranged to be aimed at?” (1).
Thomas also presented an alternative to the best-laid plans of NIH mice and men, to the notion that protocols from above can direct our science. Lewis Thomas again said, “What [research] needs is for the air to be made right. If you want a bee to make honey, you do not issue protocols on solar navigation or carbohydrate chemistry, you put him together with other bees . . . and you do what you can to arrange the general environment around the hive. If the air is right, the science will come in its own season, like pure honey” (1).
The R01s made the air right, and working scientists today are far more likely to support the editor of the JCI in his effort to protect them (2) than they are ready to support the shock and awe of NIH planning.
J. Clin. Invest.116:1463 (2006). doi:10.1172/JCI28895.