Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jim Watson's editorial in the NYTs

I read Jim Watson's editorial in the New York Times   a few weeks ago about the war on cancer , and actually agree with his thoughts about our ability now to design smart drugs.
This vision is better than the one he had  that saw cancer cured by Judah Folkman 's antiangiogenesis factors "in two years," 8 years ago, a prediction he repeated to no avail two years later at a meeting in Aspen. But clinical cancer is not Jim's strong suit.
Everything else was  wrong , as well , especially about how the money allotted to the war on cancer was spent.
He was also wrong about  why he was dropped from the Presidentially appointed National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB). I was there and watched his interaction with Cancer Panel Chair, Benno Schmidt, who attended every board meeting.
 Jim expressed nothing but contempt for the new war on cancer  and the NCAB and showed it by coming to the board meeting with the New York Times , putting his feet up on the table , reading the paper and ignoring what was going on. When somebody said something about a program he  didn't like he would lower the paper and spit out an expletive. " This is a pile of  s** " was his favorite.
He made the mistake one day of saying that about a program and forgetting he was a major beneficiary .  Benno , in a way only the eloquent Benno Schmidt could do, pointed this out. Since this was a public meeting, it made the news. Jim was quiet for the next few board meetings
The President's Cancer  Panel had oversight function for the NCI and the NCAB, and Schmidt thought his behavior  was rude and non contributory  and was  hurting the program . He  asked for his removal  two years into a six year term and the White House complied.
 In truth , while I suppose I may have missed it somewhere, I never heard Watson  utter a single positive suggestion about  anything  to do with the National Cancer Program.
His constructive criticism of the NCI  that led to his removal , he said in his editorial ,was to put all the money into basic research but "instead" he said, " they went clinical". 
Eighty five percent of the money did go onto basic research. He wasn't paying attention.
The remaining 15 % is responsible for the declining national mortality rates from cancer we have been witnessing since  1990, something else he may have  missed.
My guess is ,the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives were saved would agree that Benno  Schmidt did the right thing.
But hey, 1 out of 3  is considered good in some sports.

No comments:

Post a Comment