Thursday, January 14, 2016

Social factor: an important player in research overselling

The article “Half of the cancer drugs journalists called “miracles” and “cures” were not approved by the FDA” ( ) highlights a behavior that is more and more present nowadays, especially in medical research.
Scientists working on human diseases face a constant daily pressure, which is exerted by a society willing a cure for a certain diseases, and by their own awareness that finding the right treatment could alleviate the pain of many other people.
The problem is that no one is immune to this type of pressure. The president Obama during his last State of the Union speech says Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer… For the loved ones we've all lost, for the family we can still save, let's make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”  ( )
This type of prevailing sentiment is affecting researchers all around the world and the quality of research gets more and more susceptible to bias and overselling.
In addition to the social pressure, there is another big The financing of the research reaches amounts that we cannot even imagine. As a young scientist I am just approaching to this kind of issues and I’m starting to see the loop in which researchers are trapped. In order to be able to perform the experiments, scientists need money, which is given only if good, novel and interesting results are shown.
Nowadays, it is not only the quality of work that matters, but how good you can “sell” it to the people that will decide if you can get founded or not. If this type of loops keeps going on, universities should start consider introducing a marketing course for the scientific tracks.
Most of these issues aroused from the fact that the amount of money given to the research was diminished, on the contrary, the number of scientists increased, making more difficult for everyone to get the necessary financing.

Scientists are constantly under social and financial pressure and this is affecting the quality of the research that gets published. More accurate revisions are needed by the scientific journals and even more rigorous should be the journalists, because the public belief has a huge weight on the type of research conducted.

1 comment:

  1. I think you bring up a really good point about medical research - that cures for certain diseases become politically and socially-funded. You may want to check out The Emperor of all Maladies, if you have not already. Here, the author goes through the history of cancer (he was an oncologist), and he notes how cancer has been around forever, but the attention and $$$ started really being directed towards it during President Nixon's time. Nixon declared a "war on cancer" in the 70's. The attention and funding over the past 40+ years has not produced a cure, as the article you mention points out. While I agree that the funding climate is bad right now, are we sure that more funding will result in a cure for diseases popular today? If we use our history as evidence, I don't think we have much evidence to support the belief that it will. However, that is not to say that gradual small advances overtime won't amount to a breakthrough. That is also not to say that curing cancer is necessarily as difficult as curing other diseases, such as Parkinson's. However, it is interesting to note the similarities between our Brain Initiative today, and the "war on cancer" then.