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Saturday, August 29, 2015

New York Times Editorial, "The Battle for Biomedical Supremacy": What About the Reproducibility of Findings?

In an editorial entitled "The Battle for Biomedical Supremacy," The New York Times tells us:

"States from coast to coast are using public funds to help their medical schools recruit scientific stars from other states or to prevent their own stars from being lured away by lucrative offers.

. . . .

New York’s medical schools are feeling the heat. Over the past four years, institutions in Texas have offered almost $40 million in research grants to tempt scientists to leave New York. According to medical school leaders here, 11 states have programs to recruit biomedical talent. Along with Texas, they include California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Utah and Virginia, although the programs of some are modest in scale.

. . . .

In New York, a consortium of all 16 medical schools is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to invest $100 million a year for the next decade to recruit outstanding scientists from other states and retain top scientists who are already here but might be wooed by other states."

Is it worth investing this amount of money to recruit and keep scientists at New York universities? I believe that a cost/benefit analysis involving such a plan might be appropriate. Attention should be paid to the fact that in the past, promising academic biomedical research has not always been reproducible by pharma companies. As observed in a December 2, 2011 Wall Street Journal article entitled "Scientists' Elusive Goal: Reproducing Study Results" by Gautam Naik:

"This is one of medicine's dirty secrets: Most results, including those that appear in top-flight peer-reviewed journals, can't be reproduced.

. . . .

Reproducibility is the foundation of all modern research, the standard by which scientific claims are evaluated. In the U.S. alone, biomedical research is a $100-billion-year enterprise. So when published medical findings can't be validated by others, there are major consequences.

Drug manufacturers rely heavily on early-stage academic research and can waste millions of dollars on products if the original results are later shown to be unreliable. Patients may enroll in clinical trials based on conflicting data, and sometimes see no benefits or suffer harmful side effects.

There is also a more insidious and pervasive problem: a preference for positive results.

Unlike pharmaceutical companies, academic researchers rarely conduct experiments in a 'blinded' manner. This makes it easier to cherry-pick statistical findings that support a positive result. In the quest for jobs and funding, especially in an era of economic malaise, the growing army of scientists need more successful experiments to their name, not failed ones. An explosion of scientific and academic journals has added to the pressure."

Has there been improvement with respect to this phenomenon concerning the reproducibility of results? Surely, this is something that should be considered before New York State invests this amount of money.

1 comment:

  1. JG: New York does not care about "reproducibility of results".

    The concentration of 16 medical schools is New York City's most durable economic sector: medical 'tourism'.

    They just want to stop the poaching of the 'names', especially during the consolidation of medical schools/centers that is really why some top docs are leaving.