The White House’s top science advisor announced his resignation late Monday after an internal report found he bullied his subordinates. Dr. Eric Lander, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, was spearheading the Biden administration’s “war on cancer” initiative and is a close personal friend of Biden, but created a hostile work environment, according to a two-month investigation conducted by the White House, as well as 14 current and former employees who spoke with Politico.
Lander, who previously raised eyebrows for hosting at least two fundraising meetings with the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, had a habit of “taunting” and laughing at employees in groups, according to Politico. And he enjoyed asking questions of people that were outside their area of expertise until they admitted they didn’t know something, apparently in an effort to humiliate them publicly.
“I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them. It is clear that things I said, and the way I said them, crossed the line at times into being disrespectful and demeaning, to both men and women. That was never my intention,” Lander wrote in his resignation letter.
The line “men and women” appears to be an effort to counter allegations that while widely acknowledged that he taunted people of any sex, Lander particularly seemed to enjoy humiliating women.
“Nonetheless, it is my fault and my responsibility. I will take this lesson forward. I believe it is not possible to continue effectively in my role, and the work of this office is far too important to be hindered,” Lander continued.
President Joe Biden pledged his desire early on his tenure for the White House to become a place of dignity and respect, a contrast to former President Donald Trump’s authoritarian management. In fact, as the Washington Post notes, Biden promised on his first day in office that he’d fire anyone who was being disrespectful to their employees.
“If you are ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. On the spot. No if, ands, or buts,” Biden said on Jan. 20.
And yet Lander was allowed to keep his job, even after Politico first reported on an internal White House investigation that showed Lander had bullied his colleagues. Lander sent an internal email on Friday apologizing for his conduct, but he didn’t resign at that point. And White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reportedly spent Monday dodging questions about Lander, according to the Washington Post.
President Biden worked with Lander previously when the scientist served on the board of the Biden Cancer Initiative, founded after Biden left the role of vice president in 2017. But it’s not like there weren’t warning signs about Lander from the very beginning. There’s a laundry list of questionable actions in Lander’s past that made him an odd choice for such a prominent role in a Democratic administration.
From the Washington Post:
Despite Lander’s influential position in the scientific world, his nomination drew immediate criticism from some in the scientific community who raised concerns about his treatment of other scientists, particularly women and people of colour. Lander faced tough questions at his confirmation hearing from Democratic and Republican senators, who raised concerns about his past actions, and was eventually the last member of Biden’s Cabinet to be confirmed in May.
In 2016, Lander authored a controversial history of CRISPR, a powerful gene-editing technology, that downplayed the contributions of the two female scientists, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, who have since been awarded the Nobel Prize for their work. During his Senate confirmation hearing in 2021, Lander acknowledged he had “understated” their contribution and called that a “mistake” he regretted.
In 2018, he faced criticism for giving a birthday toast to James Watson, the Nobel Prize winner whose racist and sexist comments have marred his scientific reputation. Lander apologised for toasting Watson.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy has become a more important position under President Biden, who elevated the office to a cabinet-level position on par with agencies like the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
It’s not clear who might be tapped to replace Lander, who will officially leave the role on Feb. 18 to ensure an “orderly transition,” according to his resignation letter, but whoever Biden picks will need to be confirmed by the Senate. Hopefully this time the White House chooses someone who doesn’t have any connections to an infamous dead pedophile.