Should Politics Play A Role In Science Agency Appointments?

The controversy over administering so-called litmus tests to candidates for science policy posts came to a head in the summer of 1989, during the Bush administration's efforts to fill the still-vacant director's post at the National Institutes of Health. After being asked by a White House personnel officer about his personal views on abortion, William Danforth, Washington University chancellor and potential nominee for the director's post, withdrew from consideration. He also made public his

Julia King
Mar 3, 1991

The controversy over administering so-called litmus tests to candidates for science policy posts came to a head in the summer of 1989, during the Bush administration's efforts to fill the still-vacant director's post at the National Institutes of Health.

After being asked by a White House personnel officer about his personal views on abortion, William Danforth, Washington University chancellor and potential nominee for the director's post, withdrew from consideration. He also made public his disdain for what he and many others in the science community considered an unacceptable "litmus test" on abortion.

Since then, the White House has announced that personal views on abortion will no longer be one of the criteria used to evaluate candidates to head NIH. But, as is evident from the following essays, this has not ended the debate over the appropriateness of government-applied litmus tests.

In the first essay, philosopher of science and ethicist Kenneth...

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