Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Francis Collins: Director of NIH

 
Bad news from The White House.
President Obama Announces Intent to Nominate Francis Collins as NIH Director

WASHINGTON – 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."

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.


30 comments :

  1. I guess we can add "respect science" to the list of broken promises our "change" politician has made. Same ol' same ol'. I guess we'll have more studies in the efficacy of prayer?

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  2. Oh dear, did the WH not know about his Mysterious Quantum Muffin hypothesis? Well, I guess MQM supporters are pleased.

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  3. Well, at least hke's not a quackipractor like the Canadian Minister for Science and Technology.

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  4. OK, the guy says silly things about god. Do you have any good reason to believe this will affect his administraiton of the NIH? Any indication he's planning to put in a faith-healing programme?

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  5. Why is this bad news? Has he supported homeopathy or other woo ideas?

    It sounds like he was a decent administrator for the Human Genome Project.

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  6. Is there any evidence that he put his beliefs in the way of scientific progress? or that he was dishonest? Or is your "bad news" simply prejudice, pure and simple?

    Would you rather have a "bright" but less competent person?

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  7. Is there any evidence that he put his beliefs in the way of scientific progress? or that he was dishonest? Or is your "bad news" simply prejudice, pure and simple?

    To his credit he hasn't done any of that, at least openly enough to be noticed. However, he hasn't been able to keep Jesus out of the discussion when communicating the science to the public.

    And even without that, the very fact that we have an outspoken believer as a head of NIH is bad because of the way this will be used.

    For some reason, the argument from authority has a lot more power over most people than it should.

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  8. When an appointment like this is rejected because of his admittedly odd religious beliefs, we'll know that at last we've won, and unbelief is fully respectable...

    ... and we'll have a new demonstration of the fact that power corrupts.

    In my view, you can't credibly fight for the full acceptance of atheists at all levels of public life by bewailing a job being given to someone just because of their beliefs. To my knowledge, Collin's religion has never been any problem for his successful work administrating other big projects.

    His prominence, of course, has given him additional credibility when he speaks publicly on science and religion. To bewail his appointment on that basis is the same kind of prejudice as currently makes it hard in some places like for an outspoken athiest to aspire to certain public roles.

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  9. SLC said...

    "Well, at least [he's] not a quackipractor like the Canadian Minister for Science and Technology."

    No, he's much more high profile and has his own religious blog which undermines his "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."

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  10. Ford Prefect, AnesthesiologistThursday, July 09, 2009 12:17:00 AM

    Larry, your unwavering opposition to Dr. Collins is clearly not rooted in some almighty, unadulterated passion for scientific truth.

    You seem to oppose him because he has made statements about religion with which you disagree. I disagree with him too, but, as Eamon Knight said above, how do you propose that his views will affect his abilities?

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  11. For those objecting by way of saying "but hasn't he done OK?" or the like: surely there are equally capable candidates available that don't raise the issues that he does? I think is a far more relevant question.

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  12. "How will Collins religious views affect his administration at NIH?" they ask.

    "In the past he did well." they said.

    Well in the past Collins was first and foremost a scientist. Now he seems to be first and foremost a Xian evangelical. Books with an I-see-god-in-the-holy-genome-of-man focus and Biologos with a Science-reaffirms-the-religious-beliefs-prominent-in-my-culture focus.

    Collins agenda has changed over the last few years and I admit I do not trust him to divest his running of NIH from the superstitious nonsense. I would rather air concerns now and not sit like an expectant child until shit blow up in my face.

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  13. So, just because he's christian and has written about it, he's unsuitable for the job, even though his scientific reputation and his administrative accomplishments are excellent. If that's not prejudice, I don't know what prejudice is.

    Of course, to make things easy, let's associate him with a "Mysterious Quantum Muffin hypothesis" and suggest that he'll run NIH based on superstitious nonsense.

    Why not Dawkins? he seems to be the prophet of the new brights, even though he hasn't published a single original paper in the past 40 years. Talk about double standard.

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  14. Down here the U.S. Constitution states that there shall be no religious test for public office. Collins has done well as a scientist and administrator, and clearly knows and respects the NIH. He is qualified and his religious beliefs are just that: religious beliefs, and irrelevant, no matter that we don't find them compelling.

    After the damage done by the Bushite Zerhouni, we can hope that he will be a breath of fresh air.

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  15. Ford Prefect asks,

    You seem to oppose him because he has made statements about religion with which you disagree. I disagree with him too, but, as Eamon Knight said above, how do you propose that his views will affect his abilities?

    As I see it, there are two problems with his appointment.

    The first one has to do with his inclination to bring religion into science as he did during the announcement of the draft human genome [Mixing Science, Religion, and Politics]. Having done that in the past, and having gone public as an evangelical Christian, he now has a mandate from the President to continue that behavior.

    I think this is a bad idea and I would have been happier if Americans had chosen someone (atheist or theist) who doesn't mix science and religion.

    The second problem is related to the first. It's well known that Collins is a controversial figure, in part because of his vocal advocacy of evangelical Christianity. Because of that, there are many scientists who question his suitability for the job. Those same scientists would question whether Richard Dawkins was a suitable candidate.

    What's the point of appointing a new director of NIH who begins his job without having the confidence of a substantial number of scientists? Surely there were qualified candidates without this liability?

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  16. ‰e Veronica Abbass

    Maybe I'm missing something here but it is my understanding that a minister in the Canadian Government is equivalent to a cabinet officer in the US Government.

    Furthermore, unlike the quackipractor, Dr. Collins has a long distinguished career as a research scientist.

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  17. Marc says,

    If that's not prejudice, I don't know what prejudice is.

    You don't know what prejudice is, although your comments suggest that you're guilty of it.

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  18. SLC says,

    Maybe I'm missing something here but it is my understanding that a minister in the Canadian Government is equivalent to a cabinet officer in the US Government.

    Your understanding is correct.

    Our Minister of State for Science & Technology is an embarrassment. The difference is that he was elected by the people in his riding and became a minister because the Conservative Party won more seats than the other parties.

    It would be like the case if Republicans won a majority of the seats in the Senate so they control the Senate committees. Some of those committee chairs would be embarrassing but it would be the will of the people.

    The Director of NIH is a political appointment. In this case it was an appointment made by the Obama administration after much thought and consultation by supposedly intelligent advisers. If I were an American I would have expected a better result.

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  19. The man successfully directed the Human Genome Project! And he's on the right side of the science education issues etc. Opposition to him is just extremist bigotry from the New Atheists, I'm afraid...and like another commentator said, if you veto this highly-qualified guy today for his beliefs about religion, you are justifying it for the next politician who vetos another highly qualified scientist for his atheist beliefs about religion. No religious tests for public office, no discrimination by the government on religious/anti-religious grounds. Here I stand.

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  20. You do realize that by saying that you are elevating religion to an undeservedly high importance in society?

    If the NIH director was an astrologist or voodoo practitioner, you would probably be opposed

    It should be the same with religion.

    Atheism and religion aren't equal

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  21. Come on, Larry, what keeps you from asking "Is Francis Collins a Kook"? No guts any more?

    Calling Watson in our YouTube "stupid", your blog listing Dawkins as a "Kook" a neat collection of specimen would bury their head into sandwalk...

    pellionisz_at_junkdna.com

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  22. Opposition to him is just extremist bigotry from the New Atheists, I'm afraid...

    Not if there are others, that when looked at as a whole, are better candidates, hence my question.

    Part of this job will be to give public announcements: how he does that should be (have been) part of the assessment.

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  23. Re larry Moran

    But the Conservative Party certainly could have found someone in its ranks better qualified then the quackipractor. The fact that he was elected in his riding doesn't reflect well on the inhabitants therein. Of course, to be fair about this, equally incompetent persons are elected to the US Congress (e.g. Michelle Bachmann).

    Ås to the question of whether Dr. Collins is the absolute best qualified person for the job, the answer is no. But this could be said about any appointment made by a US president. With the possible exception of energy secretary Steven Chu, one could find better qualified candidates to fill any of the cabinet positions.

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  24. With the possible exception of energy secretary Steven Chu, one could find better qualified candidates to fill any of the cabinet positions.

    Chu's actions so far do not support the claim that he is the best person for the job. The energy policy of the Obama administration screams total ecological and thermodynamic illiteracy only slightly less than Bush's did.

    That is not to say that Chu is guilty of those things, but when one hears him talk about how "Fourth generation biofuels" and other fantasy technologies that no one has yet developed, or at least calculated their energy return of energy investment and their ecological impact, much less figured out how to scale them on time, that, we're told, will keep the BAU way of things going forever, instead of making it clear that there are limits to growth and it is time to face them, one begins to question his sanity/integrity

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  25. This is very disturbing news. Collins has already shown (the existence of BioLogos is evidence enough) that he has no problem mixing his faith with his scientific research and activities and that he wishes to encourage others to do the same. It's upsetting, to say the least.

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  26. Why can't one be a scientist and a religious person at the same time? Would the same criticism against Collins be made if he were say, a public Muslim, or Buddhist, or Hindu? There are PLENTY of scientists and religion scholars who think that the interface between science and religion is worth studying (e.g., see www.issr.org.uk). If Collins' beliefs interfere negatively with his job performance, then go ahead, criticize him. He hasn't yet given me any reason to criticize his WORK. I don't care about his beliefs. As long as he does good science, he is a good candidate. I completely agree with what NickM has said.

    Everyone who comes into any kind of job will bring their worldview in with them, whether it's atheism, theism, agnosticism, a recognized religion, new age, tribal religions, voodoo, what have you. Religions are worldviews, just as belief systems (religious or secular) are. The question isn't whether they should believe in god(s) or not. The question is whether they can do their job well. So far I haven't seen any evidence of Collins' beliefs being an *impairment* to him as a scientist.

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  27. Would the same criticism against Collins be made if he were say, a public Muslim, or Buddhist, or Hindu?

    1. Absolutely yes

    2. He would have never been selected for the position if he was any of the above mentioned. Which is quite bad by itself

    Everyone who comes into any kind of job will bring their worldview in with them

    This is the problem - if for you science is a job, then there is nothing wrong with one being religious and being a scientist. However, science is not a job, it is a way of thinking about the world that is fundamentally incompatible with any religious worldview.

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  28. BonP says,

    Why can't one be a scientist and a religious person at the same time?

    That's not the issue. I'm not opposed to Collins just because he is an evangelical Christian. And I would not be opposed to someone from another faith, nor to an atheist.

    But when a person becomes an outspoken advocate of a particular religious belief and establishes a foundation and a website to promote that belief (e.g. BioLogos) then that's a different story.

    The banner on the BioLogos site reads, "We believe that faith and science both lead to truth about God and creation." Collins has gone beyond merely holding a belief that may or may not be compatible with science. He is now actively identified with a particular position; namely, that science and evangelical Christianity are compatible.

    Not only that, Collins is on record favoring the use of his office to promote his personal religious beliefs [Mixing Science, Religion, and Politics].

    It would be far better to appoint someone who could maintain a decent separation between religion and science. The Director of a major government funding agency should not be openly advocating a religious perspective on science.

    It would be just as unwise to appoint a vocal atheist or a vocal Muslim.

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  29. At any rate, I liked some of the NIH cartoons on VADLO search engine!

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  30. The wonderful thing about Dr. Collins' approach to religion and science is that, rather than separating them, he is able to promote a view of evolution (and other natural science) as being consistent with God's activity, rather than insisting that a strict Biblical interpretation (i.e., discounting evolution) is the acid test of Christianity.

    Sorry for the prejudice; I was at UNC Med School with him and admired him as a human being then. I share his beliefs and feel he'll be an excellent Director.

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