How biomedical research fails the nation why no one cares

nih scientist

Yesterday I detailed how the claim by NIH director, Dr. Francis Collins, that with more money an Ebola vaccine would have been developed was patently nonsense. In an annual budget of nearly $30 billion, a paltry $12 million a year, which is roughly equivalent to what Lindsay Lohan spends on blow, was earmarked for Ebola vaccine development. While the comment by Collins was ass-covering hyperbole and a fairly transparent attempt to turn an institutional failure into a financial windfall, it is important to understand how a situation like this comes to pass.

On January 17, 1961, as his second term was coming to an end and only three days before the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a speech that he probably thought of as his version of Washington’s Farewell Address. Like most presidential speeches, it is pretty forgettable stuff. But it did leave us with a turn of phrase that we still hear with regularity:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.

This refers to the collaboration between the military and industry to ensure a constant flow of money into defense procurement, whether or not it is needed. This is not what Eisenhower wanted to say.

The actual drafter of the speech, Ralph E. Williams, relied on guidance from [Johns Hopkins professor of political science, Malcolm] Moos. Milton Eisenhower explained that one of the drafts of the speech referred to the “military-industrial-Congressional complex” and said that the president himself inserted the reference to the role of the Congress, an element that did not appear in the delivery of the farewell address.

When the president’s brother asked about the dropped reference to Congress, the president replied: “It was more than enough to take on the military and private industry. I couldn’t take on the Congress as well.”

Properly understood, science research funding looks very much like Defense procurement, except it operates in a self-dealing way that would not survive public scrutiny in any other procurement operation. Where Eisenhower indicted the military-industrial-Congressional complex, the nation would be well served in examining the public health bureaucracy-research-Congressional complex that controls funding of biomedical research.

Though the CDC and NIH have in-house, known as intramural, research capabilities the lion’s share of research is carried out by educational institutions. If you consult the NIH funding database you find that …read more    

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *