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NIH Record

OBSSR's Anderson Departs NIH for Harvard

By Susan M. Persons

Dr. Norman Anderson, concluding 5 years at NIH as the first director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, has accepted a position as professor of health and social behavior at Harvard's School of Public Health. He came to NIH from Duke University where he was associate professor in the departments of psychiatry and psychology. He also directed Duke's Program on Health, Behavior, and Aging in Black Americans and the NIH-funded Exploratory Center for Research on Health Promotion in Older Minorities.

Dr. Wendy Baldwin, NIH deputy director for extramural research, chaired the search committee that selected Anderson. "Although it has been nearly 5 years ago now, I remember how pleased I was to see Norman Anderson as an applicant...he clearly had the background and vision that made him ideal for the challenges that office presented. It is very difficult to start up an office like that."

Dr. Norman Anderson

Anderson met those challenges well. Under his leadership the budget for OBSSR increased nearly eight-fold; a strategic plan was developed to guide the office's activities; the first comprehensive definition of behavioral and social sciences research was created and applied across all the institutes and centers; and a number of collaborative funding initiatives were developed that involved virtually every institute. The total amount of funding for behavioral and social science research at NIH is now estimated to exceed $1.5 billion.

Arguably one of Anderson's most significant accomplishments has been his role as educator and diplomat for the behavioral and social sciences at NIH. Although the agency has a long history of funding this kind of research, Congress felt that more research was needed in this area — hence, the creation of OBSSR. But this is no easy task given that OBSSR was not given grantmaking authority. Thus, persuading NIH leadership of the importance of this field was key to accomplishing the goals of the office.

One strategy Anderson employed for increasing support at NIH was to provide NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus with private briefings by renowned social scientists. This was well received by Varmus, whose comments prior to his own departure from NIH illustrate: "One of my distinct pleasures at the NIH has been working with Norman Anderson. He took on a new office, helped to bring a constituency that often felt neglected by NIH into the mainstream, and defined important goals for behavioral and social sciences in the NIH portfolio. He personally guided my deepening appreciation of behavioral research, brought outstanding investigators to our campus, and enhanced the standards of the field. He deserves his Harvard professorship, but I am very sorry to see him go."

Anderson was also successful in establishing cooperative relationships with institute directors. Dr. Alan Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said, "Norman has raised both the visibility and the valence of behavioral research at NIH...and he has done it with style and substance. He has a unique way of showing people the opportunities for them in supporting more behavioral research without forcing it upon them." Other institutes including the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases have also responded to Anderson's gentle persuasion by creating new research agendas for the behavioral and social sciences.

Other selected accomplishments of OBSSR under his leadership include the funding of five mind/body centers across the nation; the establishment of a special web site that will link underrepresented minority students with potential research mentors; and organizing and cofunding with the institutes six Requests for Applications.

While at NIH, Anderson also served as president of the Society of Behavioral Medicine; gave multiple keynote speeches across the nation at academic meetings; and testified before both houses of Congress. Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, recognized Anderson's role outside of NIH as well as his success throughout the NIH community. "Norm has made an enormous contribution to NIH through the leadership that he has provided to the behavioral and social science community. Of equal importance and impact, he has been highly effective in educating and informing the broader NIH research community about behavioral and social sciences and has set a high standard as a respected scientist, colleague and good friend to many of us."

Anderson's leadership and friendship will be missed by many at NIH. Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, acting NIH director, has found Anderson to be "a galvanizer of research in behavioral and social sciences at NIH. As the first director of the new office, he has set a standard of which we are all very proud." Dr. Harold Slavkin, director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, agrees: "Norman has been and remains a superb advocate for the behavioral and social sciences and their profound relevance in promoting health and reducing the burden of disease and conditions for all Americans. He will be a very tough act to follow!"


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