Francis Collins will step down as director of the NIH

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Nature: an interview

"This month, Francis Collins will step down as director of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) after more than 12 years leading the agency, the world’s biggest public funder of biomedical research. A former head of the Human Genome Project, he championed similar bold, big-budget science efforts, such as the All of Us Project, which aims to study health data from one million people. He led the NIH under three US presidents, steered it through a roiling pandemic, and faced myriad clashes over politics and biomedical science. Collins will stay on at the NIH to continue research in his lab. He spoke to Nature about some highlights of his time at the helm, and issues facing the agency in the future."

- "You've watched science and politics collide for years. Do you believe politicization of science has grown worse?

It is much worse. And it’s a reflection of the fact that polarization is much worse — and tribalism is much worse. We’re in a really bad place. If science happens to produce a result that a political perspective doesn’t like, then science has to be attacked. That’s exactly what we see now happening, to the detriment of getting the facts out there."

- "What role does the NIG have in pushing back against misinformation about science?

This has turned out to be a much more severe situation than I would have imagined a year ago. I wish we had more insights from behavioural social science research into how this has come to pass, and why it could have gotten so completely widespread. I want to call this out as one of my most major concerns as I stepped down from the NIH, of looking at the situation in our nation. Somewhere along the way, our political hyperpolarization began having a lot of really dangerous consequences, where in many instances we seem to have lost a sense of how to tell the difference between a fact and an opinion — or some Facebook post that’s, frankly, a lie. That’s truly dangerous. That’s another epidemic that is not going to go away even if we triumph over COVID-19. We need to figure out what happened here, and how to bring ourselves back to a place where our nation has a more stable future.

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