Saturday, April 2, 2005
This morning's Washington Post reports that the conflict-of-interest rules unveiled in February by the NIH has resulted in the early departure of a fourth high-ranking official (James F. Battey, chief of the National Institutes of Health's high-profile human-stem-cell program and director of that agency's deafness institute). He manages a family trust that provides educational funds for his father's seven grandchildren, and the divestiture requirements of NIH's policy would be too costly for the family trust. The new rules appear to be far-reaching:
Yesterday, in a memo e-mailed to employees, a group of senior agency scientists detailed a legal opinion they recently received that made clear just how broad the new rules are.
"Basically this means anything NIHers do outside -- whether getting paid for it or not, from singing in a jazz group to selling art or jewelry, from volunteering at charity organizations to membership in a school or community organization to developing their own small business completely unrelated to biomedical science -- requires prior NIH approval," the memo says. "We find this very disturbing. It is intrusive and scary. It suggests the NIH owns our lives away from work." The backlash has moved beyond the agency's Bethesda campus. A renowned Duke University physician has postponed accepting a job running the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Scientific organizations have protested to government officials, and biotech companies have complained about the loss of NIH scientists from advisory boards and consulting deals.
The NIH's new ethics rule, plus a summary and an FAQ, can be found here. [tm]