Eli nominated to head National Institutes of Health

President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated the renowned geneticist Francis Collins GRD ’74 to lead the National Institutes of Health.

If confirmed, Collins, whom Obama referred to as “one of the top scientists in the world,” will be in charge of the 27 institutes and centers that make up the NIH and will oversee the allocation of almost $40 billion in federal research funding.

Francis Collins, who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 for his work as director of the Human Genome Project, spoke to more than 100 members of the Yale community at Battell Chapel in October on the conflict that arises when combining spirituality with a trust and faith in science.
Eva Galvan
Francis Collins, who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 for his work as director of the Human Genome Project, spoke to more than 100 members of the Yale community at Battell Chapel in October on the conflict that arises when combining spirituality with a trust and faith in science.

“My administration is committed to promoting scientific integrity and pioneering scientific research and I am confident that Dr. Francis Collins will lead the NIH to achieve these goals,” Obama said in a statement.

The NIH is the primary source of the medical research grants that Yale receives. About 50 percent of the Yale School of Medicine’s budget comes from research grants, the majority of which come from the NIH, according to Medical School officials.

Yale administrators — who have focused their attention in recent years on building the University’s reputation in the sciences — quickly put out a press release Thursday noting Collins’ Yale ties. Collins studied physical chemistry as a doctoral student and later returned to the University as a researcher, working as a fellow in human genetics and pediatrics at the School of Medicine from 1981 to 1984.

In an interview last month, School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said Obama would be wise to tap Collins, whose nomination has been rumored for weeks.

“He is an excellent administrator and superb scientist,” he said. “He would be terrific.”

Collins, 59, is no stranger to the NIH. From 1993 to 2008, he was the director of the agency’s National Human Genome Research Institute. In that capacity, he not only led the team that won the race to map all three billion letters of the human genome but also ran the project under budget and ahead of schedule.

President George W. Bush ’68 awarded Collins the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, in 2007 for his work as director of the human genome institute.

And Collins is not known solely for his scientific aptitude and administrative prowess. He is also an intensely spiritual man who has referred to the genetic code as “the book of human life.” His 2007 book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” was a national bestseller.

In October, Collins spoke in Yale’s Battell Chapel on the conflict between spirituality and science. He told audience members he believed that it is more than possible to be both scientific and spiritual and expressed regret at the combative tone of the current discussion surrounding science and religion.

“I find it deeply disturbing that so many shrill voices in our world are arguing that science has rendered God unnecessary,” he said.

Collins’ next book, “The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine,” will be published in 2010.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    An excellent choice. Its rare to see scientific leaders who are capable of performing high quality research and actually able to communicate with non-scientists. Plus, his comfort with the religious front could soften the rather hostile debates.

  • Don

    As Stephen Pinker, Jerry Coyne, and other prominent scientific thinkers and writers have pointed out, the choice of Collins is a worrisome disappointment.

    Pinker writes:

    >>> Collins, in his book, eggs on fellow evangelical Christians in their anti-scientific beliefs. He tells them that they are “right to hold fast to the truths of the Bible” and to “the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.” Granted, he is not a young-earth or intelligent-design creationist. But he has stated that God interacts with creation, in particular, that he designed the evolutionary process to ensure that human intelligence, morality, and Judaeo-Christian religious belief would evolve.

    That is far more than just expressing an opinion. That is advocacy, which gives incalculable encouragement the forces that have been hostile to science for the past eight years. <<<

  • Recent Alum

    Christopher V, well said.

    Don -- I hope you realize how ridiculous this quote sounds. Your quote even admits that Collins is not anti-evolution or a young earth creationist (what if he was, is this supposed to disqualify him from any political position unrelated to evolutionary biology?) But just because he seems to acknowledge the existence of a higher power, he is not liberal enough to appease the likes of Pinker, Coyne, etc.