Letter: Research centre under a cloud

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The Independent Online
Sir: Until 14 March, Professor David HL Bishop was director of the Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC) Institute of Virology and Environmental Microbiology in Oxford, a post that he had held for 11 years and from which he was due to retire in less than three years. On that day he was given compulsory early retirement effective within three days ("Gene scientist sacked `without warning' ", 18 March): in effect, a summary dismissal. The grounds were that he would not be suitable to implement an intended new remit for the institute. In a subsequent development, he was refused permission to re-enter the institute for the purpose of making arrangements for the care of postgraduate students and dealing with mail, etc.

This letter records the widespread concern of many virologists, in this country and abroad. We see four areas of adverse consequence:

1. The career of an eminent British scientist, who has a long history of achievement and service, has been blighted.

2. The management procedures in a publicly funded research organisation are called into question.

3. The future of a leading research centre of international standing has suddenly been put under a cloud.

4. Internationally, the credibility of scientific institutions in the UK is being damaged.

We hope the NERC will respond to these concerns with a clear statement that Professor Bishop is not guilty of any misconduct, and that this incident will not serve as a precedent for future reorganisation strategies within publicly funded research organisations.

Yours faithfully,



Virus Group Committee

Department of Biological Sciences

University of Warwick


11 April