NIH Director Francis Collins Plays Not My Job
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Francis Collins is a pretty good scientist. He unraveled the human genome, among other parlor tricks and now he's the head of the National Institutes of Health. We started our visit with him by asking him what the heck that is.
FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, it is the world's largest supporter of biomedical research supported by the American taxpayers. All of you who are sitting there listening or on the radio, this is what your money is doing to try to find answers to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, rare diseases, common diseases and make the world a better place with people being healthier.
SAGAL: Wow, so it's my money going to your work?
COLLINS: That's right. And I must say, it would be better if you gave more, but it is what it is.
SAGAL: All right.
TOM BODETT: They're working on it.
SAGAL: Since we're paying for it, can we just walk in whenever we want and ask you to, like, look at this rash that won't go away?
COLLINS: Your rash, I'm not so sure.
SAGAL: I understand.
SAGAL: Oh, somebody told you that.
COLLINS: We do have, right here where I'm sitting, on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, a 240-bed research hospital. But in order to come here, you have to be on a clinical protocol. So you'd have to be willing to sort of take part in some kind of therapeutic experiment. Is your rash ready for that?
BODETT: It sounds like fun, Peter.
SAGAL: It really does.
JESSIE KLEIN: Can I ask a quick silly question? Tom and I were talking before the show. I am pro-Purell. He is con-Purell. What is the answer to that?
SAGAL: So we should just say that this is the, you know, you're seeing these bottles everywhere of these disinfectants, antibacterial lotions you rub on your hands to keep from transmitting diseases.
LUKE BURBANK: And should we drink it?
KLEIN: I like to bathe in Purell.
BODETT: Right. Well, Dr. Collins, my reason for being con is because I read a study that it really doesn't kill the bad germs, it kills the easy ones and that it actually makes germs stronger.
KLEIN: But then I was all, like, I see Purell in the hospital all the time, Tom.
BODETT: Yeah, but where are the super germs coming from, right? Hospitals.
KLEIN: What is the answer?
COLLINS: The answer is, especially in hospitals, you need to wash your hands, clean your hands after every interaction. So, yeah, I'm pro-Purell, and I do not receive any remuneration for making that statement.
SAGAL: All right.
KLEIN: Thank you. I am going to continue to mix a little vodka into my Purell.
KLEIN: And just make sure I'm healthy.
SAGAL: And I will continue to sniff it.
SAGAL: Well, I have to ask, though, you're up there on your high horse, or whatever you sit on at work, and telling us - well, do you have any unhealthy habits yourself?
COLLINS: Well, I ride a Harley and that...
That'll kill you.
Yeah. That's probably not the safest, but it is a rush, let me tell you.
SAGAL: Oh, I know.
SAGAL: Speaking as one Harley guy to another, what's your ride?
COLLINS: It's a Road King Classic.
SAGAL: I had one of those all summer, I was riding it around.
COLLINS: Oh, it's a beast.
SAGAL: They're fun. And you know, I...
KLEIN: Get a room, guys.
BURBANK: Easy, wild hogs.
SAGAL: I have to ask one last question. Medical marijuana, what's your opinion?
COLLINS: Oh my.
COLLINS: Remember, I'm a government employee.
SAGAL: I understand, that's why I wanted to ask.
COLLINS: It needs a lot of study.
SAGAL: And how do you propose...
BURBANK: And you're the guy to do it.
SAGAL: I appreciate your discretion, Dr. Collins.
BURBANK: Is that why you guys did that study: I can't believe we have hands?
SAGAL: Well, Dr. Collins, we're delighted to have you with us. We've asked you here to play a game we're calling?
CARL KASELL: Ow.
SAGAL: That's not the name of the game. I just stomped on Carl's foot.
SAGAL: No, that's the game. You're a brilliant scientist and physician, you're the head of a powerful research institution, but there are some people who you just can't help. We mean athletes who keep finding interesting ways of injuring themselves.
Working with a list from the L.A. Times, we're going to ask you about three surprising injuries. Answer two of these questions, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners. Carl, who is Dr. Francis Collins playing for?
KASELL: Dr. Collins is playing for Polly Segal of Los Angeles, California.
SAGAL: All right. Here, Dr. Collins, is your first question. Roger Craig managed the San Francisco Giants in the '80s and '90s. He showed up at a game one day with a bandage on his hand and he fessed up to the reason for his injury when the reporters asked. What was it? A: He tried to punch a sportscaster on the TV? B: He cut his hand on a bra strap? Or C: He tried to swat a fly on his hand with a knife?
COLLINS: Well, those all seem pretty plausible actually.
SAGAL: Well, it could happen.
COLLINS: I think I'm going to go with C. You can just sort of see that happening. You know, I'm like buttering my bread and all of a sudden there's this fly and well it just went all wrong.
SAGAL: That sounds more like a memoir than an explanation.
SAGAL: I'm afraid it was B. He cut his hand on a bra strap.
COLLINS: Oh my.
SAGAL: We're wondering what kind of women he dates and what kind of lingerie she purchases, but that's what he said.
BURBANK: That's one of those stories that you know it was something way worse.
BURBANK: Because, like, if that's your cover story...
SAGAL: Next question - you still have two chances, Dr. Collins. In 1998, Arizona pitcher Brian Anderson showed up to work with a bad burn. What had happened? A: He tested an iron to see if it was hot with the side of his face?
SAGAL: B: His hands were cold, so he put them in the toaster to warm them up? Or C: He burned his hand on a hot bra strap?
COLLINS: I'm going to go, I guess, with the hands in the toaster.
SAGAL: Really? So, he's like, oh my gosh, I'm a Major League Baseball pitcher. My hands are cold because I was outside. I know, I shall depress the levers on the toaster, put my hands in them until such time as they are warm and comfortable. Is that your theory, Dr. Collins?
COLLINS: Well, you've illuminated it a bit. But, yeah, that's the general idea.
KLEIN: Maybe I won't use Purell.
COLLINS: You know, you describe it in a way that suddenly it seemed less plausible.
COLLINS: We're going to go with the iron on the face.
SAGAL: That's what he did. He ironed his face.
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SAGAL: He was still able to play, despite the iron burn on his cheek, on his jaw. But later he hurt his pitching arm while shopping. So, all right, last question, here we go. Perhaps the greatest sports injury of all time was suffered by a Red Sox player, a pitcher named Clarence Blethen.
Back in the 1920s, he had to leave the game on one instance when what happened? A: A passing seagull dropped a lobster on his head, knocking him out? B: He pitched the ball right past the batter into the net; it bounced back, hit him in the head and knocked him out? Or C: He bit himself on the butt?
COLLINS: I'm struggling here.
COLLINS: I guess I'm going to go with the seagull. It's just too adorable.
COLLINS: OK, I take it by the silence that maybe I want to rethink that one.
SAGAL: You unraveled the human genome. Who am I to...
COLLINS: Must have been that springy net thing. I knew it all along.
SAGAL: You're going to go for the springy net?
SAGAL: No, actually he bit himself on the butt.
SAGAL: This is what happened. Blethen had dentures, and he was known for when he ran the bases - which he didn't always do as a pitcher - but when he ran the bases, he would take them out and put them in his pocket. And once, on one occasion, he was sliding into second base and he did it just the wrong way and the dentures bit his butt so badly he had to leave the game.
SAGAL: True story. Carl, how did Francis Collins do on our show?
KASELL: Well, Dr. Collins needed at least two correct answers to win for Polly Segal. He had just one.
COLLINS: And that was a struggle.
SAGAL: There you are.
SAGAL: Dr. Francis Collins is director of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins, thank you so much for being with us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
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SAGAL: This is NPR.
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