February 11, 2008 The Pump Handle 0Comment

The tumultuous tenure of Dr. David Schwartz, who directed the NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is over. Bob Grant at TheScientist.com reports:

During his time as NIEHS director, Schwartz’s leadership was often questioned. Scientists and lawmakers criticized Schwartz in 2005 when he pushed for privatizing the institute’s journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, and last August more than 100 NIEHS researchers voted no confidence in Schwartz to protest his management. Later in August, Schwartz took a temporary leave while NIH and NIEHS reviewed his management and leadership. That review is “still in process,” according to NIH spokesperson Don Ralbovsky.

Schwartz announced his resignation from NIEHS in an Email to the institute’s staff. According to Science, Schwartz wrote that “our community has not universally embraced the scientific direction or strategies that I have implemented” and that he had “inadvertently disenfranchised segments of our community.”

Revere puts the recent NIEHS problems in perspective:

[Schwartz] had been accused of a variety of improprieties, some of a minor or petty nature. But there were also some of real substance, including potential conflicts of interest and using Institute resources for his own laboratory. Most importantly, he tried (and succeeded in some ways) to change the nature of the Institute from a public health orientation to a clinical medicine shop. While this caused dismay in the public health community it put NIEHS in line with NIH Director Zerhouni’s “NIH Roadmap,” which many saw as little more than a superhighway to Big Pharma country. The disastrous consequences of Schwartz’s attempt to deform and distort the public health mission at NIEHS was to send morale in the environmental health science community, both inside and outside NIEHS, down the chute.


I have been an active researcher for 40 years, through many Republican and Democratic administrations. Some were better than others, but none have been like the nightmare for the scientific community of the last 7 years. The NIEHS situation is perhaps not forehead-slapping-bad (although we’ve had plenty of that elsewhere in the Bush science establishment). It is just dysfunctional and morale sapping, and that’s bad enough. Bush appointees came into office with their own ideas of what they were going to do, whether it was invading Iraq or tilting science policy in certain directions, and they didn’t listen to anyone else. The damage to American science is extensive and won’t be fixed for decades. We are quickly losing a generation of young academic leaders and with them American dominance, even leadership in science.

I’ll be overjoyed to see Bush go. But the devastation will remain.

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