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Biden’s chief science advisor forced to resign

Biologist and mathematician Eric Lander, 65, head of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), has resigned after a two-month investigation concluded that he treated his staff disrespectfully, particularly women. “Lander retaliated against staff for speaking out and asking questions by calling them names, disparaging them, embarrassing them in front of their peers, and laughing at them,” former OSTP general counsel Rachel Wallace told the Politico website. “Numerous women have been left in tears, traumatized, and feeling vulnerable and isolated,” she said. According to Wallace, staff members who disagreed with Lander faced having duties taken away or simply being replaced. Fourteen current and former OSTP staffers described similar episodes.

“I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues,” Lander said in his letter of resignation. “It’s my responsibility to set a respectful tone for our community. It’s clear that I have not lived up to this responsibility. I have spoken to colleagues within OSTP in a disrespectful or demeaning way.” The biologist was one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project, completed in 2003. As a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard Medical School, he helped found and presided over the Broad Institute, a genome medicine research organization that functionas as a partnership between MIT, Harvard University, and five hospitals in the city of Boston, Massachusetts.

Lander was involved in controversy in 2016 after criticizing Jennifer Doudna, a University of California biochemist who was disputing a patent with the Broad Institute. He played down the scientist’s role in the development of CRISPR-Cas9, a tool capable of altering the genes of any living cell that could potentially be used to cure diseases and genetically improve plants. In 2020, her contribution was recognized with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which she shared with French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier. The University of California and the Broad Institute are involved in a dispute over patents and pioneering technology in the US courts. President Joe Biden was questioned by the press about why he did not remove Lander from his post during the two-month investigation, after his election campaign promised a “zero tolerance” policy toward bullying at government agencies.