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October 6, 1978

In the Matter of Witch Hunts

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Medical Microbiology and Pediatrics, Graduate School, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

JAMA. 1978;240(15):1616-1617. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03290150062027

REMEMBER the days of the early 1950s? Accusations, congressional investigations, and imputed guilt could all be coalesced by the simple tactic of repetitious statements of purported wrongdoing. Professionals of extraordinary quality were brought down, and some say that whole agencies of the government never recovered from the loss of invaluable talent that resulted.

That era was not the first in which such tactics had proved effective and, sadly, it was not the last. I think we are currently observing a kind of biomedical McCarthyism, which, if unchecked, can leave a gaping hole where strong, scientifically based regulation of biologics used to be. The Bureau of Biologics of the Food and Drug Administration is an excellent agency of government that is under siege from a small cadre of strident critics. There is room for grave concern that their sustained attack might soon exceed the patience of the talented group of scientists