Ensuring value in research

Frankl reports from the NHMRC Annual Research Translation Symposium

A couple of weeks ago, I attend the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Annual Research Translation Symposium at the University of Sydney. As the name suggests, it was all about making sure that research doesn’t just stay confined to the pages of journal articles but actually makes a difference to people’s lives.

The highlight for me was the opportunity to talk in depth with cancer researcher Glenn Begley. Glenn is famous (some would say infamous) for his 2012 Nature paper, written while working at biopharma company Amgen, in which reported that 47 out 53 preclinical cancer studies could not be replicated. We talked about the aftermath of that paper and the current problems and causes for optimism in science.

I’ve written up the conversation here.

Glenn’s presentation on the Replication Crisis was part of the broader theme this year of Ensuring Value in Research. Other topics covered included:

  • Consulting with stake-holders — patients and health professionals — when determining research priorities.
  • Ensuring that research is published regardless of the results
  • Open access — removing barriers between research and the people outside of universities who need that knowledge
  • Sharing and linking data (in a way that maintains privacy and security)
  • Using systematic reviews to identify gaps in knowledge
  • Rewarding robust research rather than flashy results that don’t withstand scrutiny
  • Seeing failure as part of the scientific process

Across the two days of the Symposium and the various panels and sessions, the repeated quote came from statistician Prof Doug Altman, who passed away earlier this year. In a 1994 editorial in the British Medical Journal, he wrote:

“We need less research, better research, and research done for the right reasons.”

You can see all of my tweets from the conference here:

I also highly recommend Hilda Bastian’s account of the event, “High Value, Low Wastage Research” Is More Than Just a Catchphrase Now, over at PLoS Blogs.


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