The stupidest internal NIH memo ever – or why I can’t wait for the new administration

One of the great things about science is that it is open, international, and celebrates the free exchange of ideas. However, during the last 8 years we’ve seen some odd things at the National Institutes of Health – the premier governmental scientific institution in the world. The paranoia of the current administration has filtered down and contaminated day to day operations of what is essentially an academic health sciences campus.

For example, for some bizarre reason they decided to erect a 10 foot high iron fence around the entire campus:
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And at the entrances every car is searched, every day. And why? What makes the NIH campus different from any other medical campus in the country? We all work with the same radioactive isotopes, etc. They have a higher level infectious disease research lab which if you were really worried about could be fenced in rather than fencing in the entire 300 acre campus. What is the reason for this excess of security?

I happen to think there is no good reason and that the NIH security is run by paranoid idiots. The best evidence I have of this is a recent memo I’ve obtained that was sent to Health and Human Services employees about foreign visitors from the Deputy Secretary. Here is the relevant section:

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Really? Now if an NIH investigator wants to bring a foreign speaker in to give a talk, not only can they not plug in their thumbdrives in the lecture hall computer to upload their powerpoint for fear of espionage, but they have to be followed into the bathroom too? Could you imagine? You invite some bigwig foreign scientist – like say any of this year’s Nobel Laureates in medicine – and when they have to make a pit stop you’d be forced to follow them in the bathroom for fear they’ll steal our lucky charms.

I hope in the next administration the first thing they do is tear down that stupid fence and treat the NIH like any other academic medical campus, and find whoever wrote this stupid memo and fire them. This type of paranoid security obsessiveness is uneccessary and counterproductive to the free exchange of ideas science needs in order to be open, international and collaborative.