Collins Will Stay On at NIH

Trump keeps an Obama appointee who is widely respected by scientists.

June 7, 2017
 
Francis S. Collins

President Trump announced Tuesday that he will keep Francis S. Collins as director of the National Institutes of Health.

Collins was first nominated for the position in 2009 by President Obama. Shortly after he took office, Trump announced that Collins would stay on in an interim role, and many scientists have wondered if Collins would be offered the position or would accept it on a permanent basis in the new administration. Trump surprised many this year by proposing cuts of nearly 20 percent in the budget of the NIH, which normally has support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

In the world of science, Collins is a giant, having led the Human Genome Project, which produced a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book.

The NIH is also a center of some of the country's hot-button issues with regard to science. In his position, Collins has attracted support from many Christian leaders and some conservatives in Congress because he has talked and written about his belief in God and his commitments as a Christian. At the same time, some Republican members of Congress have criticized him (and last month urged Trump to replace him) because of his support for stem cell research and the use of human embryos in some research.

The tensions over the NIH and Trump's science policies can be seen in the reactions to Collins's tweet saying he was honored to be asked to stay on.

Many scientists responded with tweets saying things such as, "May you continue to be a voice of reason and advocacy for science!" and "Great. Fight the cuts!" and "We are all greatly relieved." In addition to scientists' comments, Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, weighed in, writing, "Congratulations to @NIHDirector Dr. Francis Collins for his vision, leadership & continued service at the @NIH."

But other scientists, noting the cuts Trump has proposed for science agencies and his open disregard for scientists on a range of issues, questioned the decision by Collins. Wrote one scientist, "I can't believe you would give any façade of legitimacy to this disgusting administration. The only noble action is to quit in protest."

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