Two weeks ago I posted on the brain drain at the NIH brought about by new draconian rules on so-called "conflicts of interest" between NIH workers and outside interests. I suggested that the policy was a mistake but we now learn from the Washington Post that it is a stupid mistake.
The unexpected finding that as much as 80 percent of the seeming
improprieties were actually the result of errors by government
investigators has undermined the rationale behind NIH Director Elias A.
Zerhouni’s recent decision to impose severe restrictions on the
personal activities and finances of all of the agency’s more than 5,000
The story is simple. The government asked the pharmaceutical companies for the names of all NIH scientists with whom they had consulting operations and they asked the NIH for a similar list. Comparing the two lists they found about 100 names on the pharmaceutical list which were not on the NIH list and then jumped to the conclusion that these 100 people were lying. After months of investigation during which many people’s lives have been turned upside down it turns out that one list included 2004 but the other did not, some of the "John Smiths" on the pharmaceutical list were incorrectly identified with "John Smiths" at the NIH, the pharmaceutical companies didn’t use the same definition of consulting as the NIH etc. Keystone cops.
And here is an example of the new law in practice.
One scientist who, under the new rules, was informed he could not
accept an unpaid adjunct professorship at Johns Hopkins University was
told he might be unduly influenced in favor of the university because
the appointment came with free campus parking…