WASHINGTON—The resignation of James Wyngaarden last month after more than seven years as director of the National Institutes of Health may have caught scientists by surprise. But it was a long time coming for the 64-year-old Wyngaarden. In fact, his last day on the job, July 31, will be nine months past the date when the soft-spoken former Duke University medical schcol administrator had hoped to leave the post.

It’s clear that Wyngaarden has had his fill of the political battles that go with his position. Speaking candidly about the Reagan years, he admits that “we’ve had no consistent science policy” for that entire period. He describes the annual budget process as a situation where “the administration tries to get by with as little as it can, and then Congress repairs the damage to the greatest extent possible.”

That constant struggle for funds can be exhausting, Wyngaarden admits. “Last year...

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