Original Repository: Stanford University Libraries. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Paul Berg Papers
Reproduced with permission of Daniel M. Singer.
Protein Synthesis, Tumor Viruses, and Recombinant DNA, 1959-1975
Letter from Daniel M. Singer to NIH Study Section members (January 9, 1970)
Letter from Daniel M. Singer to Paul Berg (January 12, 1970)
Letter from Paul Berg to Daniel M. Singer (January 19, 1970)
Letter from Paul Berg to Daniel M. Singer (January 26, 1970)
January 21, 1970
Many thanks for your letter of January 19, 1970. I could not disagree more with the thoughts you expressed, and under the
circumstances I should, in fairness, give you my reasoning.
As you know, in the past the blacklist operated almost entirely at the level of NIH and was "administered" by the
executive secretaries of the study sections on the basis of information collected historically by one or two lower level clerical
types in the various institutes. You will recall that it was very difficult for us to persuade the top level at HEW that
blacklists actually existed simply because no one at the level of HEW downtown was involved in the maintaining of any list
of people who were ineligible. All the dirty work was done at NIH, in anticipation of avoiding problems that people at NIH
thought might arise if certain names were sent forward to the Secretary of HEW for appointment.
As you know, in any large organization, there are always several people who simply do not get the message, even assuming (as
you do and as I do not) all the good will in the world on the part of the executive secretaries. Although it may be that
the particular executive secretaries with whom you have had direct dealings are men of good will who would on their own account
reintroduce names previously vetoed, I feel quite certain that not all of the executive secretaries are so inclined. Further,
none of them will undertake to test such policy if there is any potential liability whatsoever. The only way the executive
secretaries are going to be persuaded to make a test of the new regulation is for some pressure to build up within the Study
Section (a constituency to which the executive secretaries are also responsible) and that pressure in my judgment will not
build up absent some outside stimulus such as me.)
Last weekend, several Study Sections were meeting here in Washington and I had occasion to talk with several members of each
of those Study Sections about proposed names. Although, in general, various members of each Study Section were enthusiastic
about the idea of proposing names, all of them shared my view about the institutional reluctance of the executive secretaries
to expose themselves by making a test, absent some pressure from the members of the Study Section to do so. All felt it was
useful to make a test and most of the discussions I had concerned the names of people who might be scientifically appropriate
and who might be or might have been on blacklists. All agreed that it was important to undertake promptly to raise the issue
directly with the executive secretaries and to proceed literally to test the integrity of the new system.
I do not share your view that making a test is "needlessly provocative". Indeed it seems that several such tests are
absolutely necessary if the confidence of the public in the new policy is to be established. I know that you disagree with
what I have said above, Paul, and would be delighted to expand further on my views about governmental inertia if you think
All good wishes. I know Maxine is looking forward to her visit with you in March.