Zerhouni to Announce Sweeping Changes at the NIH

April 1, 2008

The Director of the National Institutes of Health, Elias Zerhouni, has scheduled a press conference for later in the day and he is anticipated to announce broad ranging changes in the NIH. An official high up in the Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives would only speak off the record but listed a number of initiatives that are expected to be announced.

The NIH has been engaged in an effort for over a year to engage stakeholders in a dialog about the need for changes in the way the NIH does business. These efforts culminated in a series of pointed reports and advisories on peer reviews and grant funding which included the December 2007 Meeting of the Peer Review Advisory Committee and the issuance of the Draft Report of the Peer Review Self-Study. According to the OPASI official who was willing to speak without attribution, these efforts were only successful up to a point.
“Look, we tried our best to engage the stakeholders in this discussion. The NIH simply must change. The question is, how? What we found in meeting with academic societies, senior and highly respected investigators and our local institutional representatives is that there is a vast resistance to change. One might even say they are in denial.”
When pressed for details the official listed several changes that are anticipated by the OPASI staff to be inevitable.

  • “The graying of science simply must be arrested. Now. Do you think it is a good investment to pile our research dollars on some 60 year old who has at best another ten years left? We’re going to have to shift to a rational approach by investing in our younger faculty who may have 30 year careers ahead of them”.
  • “The local institutes and universities are going to have to stop riding the NIH gravytrain. We’re going to put powerful disincentives to create “soft money” jobs into play. They are going to have to come up with the salaries somehow or face significant losses in NIH support”
  • “We’re not buying the big-lab-synergy schtick anymore. They had their chance over the past decade and we’re not getting value for our dollars in our latest analyses. Expect significant changes to the amount of effort that can be squeezed out of one PI!”
  • “The Old Boys clubs will be a thing of the past. A new clustering analysis has allowed us to pinpoint the degree to which clubbish interest groups put a stranglehold on funding in their respective domains. It isn’t pretty. We will start by mandating 33% of reviewers be at the Assistant Professor level and 10% emeritus faculty across all CSR and IC panels. Expect a few pilots studies to include promising pre-appointment scientists such as K99 awardees in review as well”

It appears that even more sweeping changes may be afoot. Another individual who wished to be identified only as “an official in the NIH” indicated that the long rumored contraction of ICs may lie in the immediate future. “This should have been obvious right at the outset. I mean, an institute for alcohol abuse and another one for drug abuse? Does this make sense to anyone? The overlap between the “brain institutes” NIMH, NIA, NINDS, and NICHD is simply unbelievable. A single National Institute on Disorders of the Brain is not out of the question”.
When asked about the fate of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, our source simply laughed.
Credible sources also insist that the new effort to change the NIH drastically is not simply the usual over ambitious talking. Our sources (including three who would only serve for deep background) indicated that Congressional interest is supportive of Zerhouni. All sources mentioned Senator Arlen Specter as being obsessed with “fixing the [deleted] mess the NIH has become”. In his role as ranking member on the appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, Senator Specter commands significant authority with respect to NIH operations. One of our sources indicated “Specter’s willing to go to the mat this time. Congressional mandates, amendments to add or delete funding on a project by project basis…everything is on the table to move the NIH behemoth in a new direction. This is go time”.
NIH Director Zerhouni has scheduled his press conference for 3pm Eastern at the Capitol and it is likely that relevant Congressional backers will be on hand to demonstrate support for the new initiatives.

21 Responses to “Zerhouni to Announce Sweeping Changes at the NIH”

  1. Jon Anderson Says:

    You also might be interested in the other NIH announcement about new regulations against brain doping. See http://wabda.org.


  2. J. Screeb Says:

    I found this interesting.


  3. Orac Says:

    Not a bad April Fools’ Day post.


  4. I read about half way through the proposals, then realized they were far too sensible to have come from NIH, and this is April 1.
    Damn you!


  5. juniorprof Says:

    You got me!! I was packing my bags to head off to my first study section meeting as one of the new 33%ers.


  6. PhysioProf Says:

    You even fooled me, you fucking monkey!


  7. John Burklow Says:

    Clever April Fool’s Day faux news report–(note that we usually don’t schedule press conferences “at the Capital”).


  8. Well played!
    I was this close to….heck maybe I should anyway….hmm lemme think.


  9. Becca Says:

    so not cool… getting my hopes up like that


  10. DrugMonkey Says:

    I may post on this later but my regular readers might be interested. We learned a little something about “framing” on this one. I’ve spent a year or so doing posts on careerism, right? And the NIH game and all that. Never really seemed to draw much interest from NIH itself, ok, no biggie. maybe they don’t read blogs being on the gov dime and all.
    but Holy SiteMeter batman, this little informational post looked like it went seriously email viral at the NIH today. overall the pageviews just about doubled over normal for about six hours, driven mostly by nih.gov domains.
    I shall be pondering “framing” for awhile…:-)


  11. Well, I at least hope the NIH folks are doing some good digging through the rich content of your archives. You guys do a fabulous job on trainee and junior faculty development not to mention some valuable front-line commentary on the funding process. As I’ve said elsewhere, I wish you guys were around when I was coming up through the ranks and I still learn some good info on grantsmanship and mentoring even being umpteen years into my independent career.
    Congratulations on the attention earned by this exceptionally well-crafted post.


  12. juniorprof Says:

    Dear NIH, if you’re still around.
    Us junior scientists (asst prof ranks) would like the opportunity to prove our worth on your study section panels. We are already handling an incredible portion of peer review for the literature because we don’t know how to say no and we’re doing a good job of it. Many editors are even looking to us in increasing numbers for those tie-breaker reviews and the like (Dear editors, I already have too many, give me a week to breath). We’re ready and willing to be your go-to-guy/gal. We’re really worried about the future of the profession we all love and we can play a big part in fixing the peer review process. Just give us a chance… we won’t let you down! Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to check out my blog. You’ll enjoy the science but you’ll stick around for the fashion!


  13. steppen wolf Says:

    When asked about the fate of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, our source simply laughed.

    This totally gave it away…


  14. bayman Says:

    Framing!? I think what your little shenanigan proves is that making shit up works a lot better! Well done. You have replicated the bayblab’s recent experiment in giant-prodding but attracted the attention of a more important organization and (as far as I can tell) evoked less hostility. Apparently NIH bureaucrats don’t know how to work the comment button or have regulations against it. 🙂


  15. drdrA Says:

    Oh how I loved this post- best laugh I had all week! So funny that NIH.gov is watching you- perhaps you should take this opportunity to post some serious advice to them… in addition to what is written above of course!


  16. NeuroStudent Says:

    oh fuck…you got my hopes up (I still haven’t figured out why NIAAA & NIDA are separate…). I didn’t even realize that yesterday was April Fool’s Day until I saw the link over from Blue Lab Coats blog this morning (I work too fucking much)…


  17. bioephemera Says:

    I actually heard about this one off line yesterday, and had to drop in and say well done. You fooled some people who maybe should have known better. 😉


  18. drdrA Says:

    Drug Monkey-
    PP told me that you have a bunch of posts about grantsmanship and such at the old site in WordPress- I’m going to work my way through those, and the links you gave me above. Thanks for the heads up!


  19. GradGirl Says:

    Your lies are not entirely absurd, and also what your audience wants to hear. You should consider running for office.


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