An Open Letter to Francis S. Collins . . . for Father’s Day

June 20th, 2010 by Nick Jacobs Leave a reply »

Dear Dr. Collins:

In 1974 my father was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer, and our lives were changed forever.  He had stopped smoking back in 1960 when the Surgeon General had finally declared that cigarettes are “bad for your health,” but it was already too late.  My son had been born one year earlier and my daughter was born two months before my father’s death on July 5, 1975.  During his death watch he proclaimed that, “Had science been honest with us, he would never have smoked.” 

Dr. Collins, I was involved in running hospitals for over 22 years but did not realize the  depth of this science  problem until I helped to create a research institute in 2000.  Because my background was originally music performance , education, and then hospital administration, I did not have all of those preconceived notions about science that you and your peers have been strapped with over the centuries.  Upon interviewing our first three PhDs for positions at the research institute, it was very clear to me that the ”Calf Paths” (poem by: Samuel Walter Foss) of science completely controlled our journey to cures, or, as in my father’s case, to the lack of cures.

When I asked them why they had not won the Nobel Prize, their answers were open, honest, and priceless.  They were following the long established paths that had been put in place by the people who preceded them.  Then they explained to me that, not unlike the training that our Diva’s receive in music school, it was “All About THEIR INDIVIDUAL SKILLS and TALENTS.”  Heaven forbid that they share the ideas for their secret sauce because the person to their right or their left might take away their “NIH grant,” grants which have become suspiciously “Good Ole Boy” grants given primarily to members of “The Club.”   The rules of the system are:  “Don’t share information; don’t ever tell anyone the key to your secret research; don’t co-operate.”  The incentives are completely misaligned.

Until you approach science like a Ensemble with soloists rather than Soloists backed up by minions, the men, women, and children of this generation will continue to die needlessly as well.  Dr. Collins, it’s 2010, 35 years since my dad passed, and I miss him as much today as I did then.  The NIH and medicine knew well before the 60′s that cigarettes were killing people, yet we still manufacture them and push them into the hands of our children today. 

You know that “the system” that you oversee is “BROKEN,” but, unlike what is being attempted in healthcare reform, there is NO EFFORT to implement SCIENCE REFORM.  Not unlike the generals of wars past who must live the remainder of their lives remembering the blood that is on their hands from the decisions that they have made, unless you work to change this ridiculous system of science, you too will have to live the remainder of your days realizing that you allowed the Calf Paths to remain in place.  Step back; look at the insanity of a system that does not encourage people to truly share their data in meaningful ways; that embraces the status quo and tradition so completely that truly significant progress has not been made since Nixon declared war on cancer; that penalizes researchers financially for trying to change the Calf Path, and the mirror will still contain the images of the organizations that you direct.

This dog is no longer in that hunt, but I want progress to be made for my kids and my grand kids.  I want you and everyone around you to admit that the status quo is broken, to begin to reward people significantly for opening their hard drives and notebooks, for exploring the hundreds of ignored orphan diseases; and for playing as an ensemble instead of making demands like a Diva. 

My Father was a wonderful, intelligent, caring man.  My children were raised without his input, his insight, his knowledge, and his ever present love.  He smoked cigarettes with asbestos filters.  Smoking and asbestos . . . two strikes, and you’re out!   Continuing on the current Calf Paths of science; three strikes and we’re all OUT.

Happy Father’s Day!

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