Michael Crow et al. want to restructure NIH

The link is here. The idea has been floated many times before and I’ve vacillated on my own view as I’ve spent more years as an academic. The most recent vision for this type of change to the nation’s proverbial “jewel in the crown” came from Harold Varmus. Quoting from the article:

Harold Varmus, a former NIH director, was among the first to raise an alarm over the continually proliferating institutes — a process he described, in a 2001 article in the journal Science, as one of “fusion and fission.” While the NIH is seen as “the jewel in the crown of the federal government,” Varmus wrote, adding too many facets creates “a superficial sparkle that may be pleasing to the few but threatening to the functional integrity of the overall design.

 I was at NIH as a postdoctoral fellow during the beginning of the Varmus years and the lesson I took away was that, over the long haul, there’s an awful lot of inertia that keeps NIH on a relatively constant course, no matter the zeal of the leadership. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. One of the really wonderful things about NIH is that it works. In contrast to many other agencies and entities across the globe. Why do radical surgery an a  healthy patient?

Thinking back further, I remember an older contrasting vision that mostly came from the extramural community in the late 80’s: to privatize NIH. Now that, in my opinion, would have been a disaster.