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POLICY/POLITICS: Fast Times at NIH by John Pluenneke

An internal review at the National Institutes of Health has
cleared many of the NIH researchers the agency had earlier accused of violating
conflict of interest rules, the Washington Post reports.
NIH director Elias Zerhouni asked for sweeping restrictions on outside
consulting after reports of widespread rule breaking. The Post notes:

"The finding that most of the allegations are false has
many scientists complaining that Zerhouri did not get a better measure of the
the problem before succumbing to pressure from congress and the government
ethics office to prohibit virtually every kind of outside collaboration and to
demand across the board divestitures."

The Los Angeles Times played a major role in bringing the consulting crisis to
a head with a series of front page stories
in December focused on prominent scientists at the NIH including cholesterol
researcher Dr. Bryan Brewer, a member of the team which developed the nation’s
new cholesterol guidelines two years ago and Dr. Harvey Klein, a leading expert
on blood transfusions.

Interestingly, the adversarial relationship between the paper and the NIH dates
back to at least to the late nineties, as this 2003 piece by Slate’s Jack Schafer
documents.

The Post has an editorial
today
which agrees that changes were necessary  but argues the
proposed restrictions on consulting and stock ownership are far too
harsh.  As the paper notes, the findings of the internal review appear to
support the position that Zerhouni may
have seriously over reacted.  Of course, it remains to be seen if anybody
will be convinced by  an internal review.

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