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Science and Ethics at NIH--and FDA

Many of the headlines suggested that the proposed ethics rules for NIH employees have been relaxed. But that's not quite true, as Ted Agres pointed out here. The rules on stock ownership have loosened, yes. But the most important restriction remains. That's the one forbidding those who labor at NIH to do outside consulting for businesses with a stake in NIH's labor. These decisions are a smart move for NIH director Elias A. Zerhouni. The previous proposed stock ownership rules were needl

By | August 29, 2005

Many of the headlines suggested that the proposed ethics rules for NIH employees have been relaxed. But that's not quite true, as Ted Agres pointed out here. The rules on stock ownership have loosened, yes. But the most important restriction remains. That's the one forbidding those who labor at NIH to do outside consulting for businesses with a stake in NIH's labor. These decisions are a smart move for NIH director Elias A. Zerhouni. The previous proposed stock ownership rules were needlessly restrictive on most employees. The new stock rules will please them, yet also retain some restrictions on NIH's most senior people. It looks to be a sensible compromise that will reduce opportunities for mischief while making it somewhat less difficult to recruit world-class scientists. But Zerhouni stood firm against the activities that offer the most serious opportunities for corruption of the scientific process: outside consulting for pharmas, biotechs, and related industries. That's the right thing to do, and it's also smart PR. It can't hurt NIH's reputation with the public--or with Congress--that Zerhouni seems serious about trying to keep the agency's science pure. By contrast, on Friday the FDA once again postponed a decision on allowing nonprescription sales of Plan B, the morning-after contraceptive. This is still another craven cave-in to political pressure from the religious right--to say nothing of a repudiation of the scientific committees whose advice the agency is supposed to be taking, which favored wider availability. In these Washington Dog Days, displaying even a little backbone, as Zerhouni did, makes him look like a candidate for canonization.
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