I listened to the radio this morning with rising irritation. Two scientists were locked in debate over the EU Human Brain Project.
Yes, it would be farcical if not true, but the EU (including us I presume as an EU member state) is pumping huge amounts of money into a hair-brained idea to replicate what the brain does with computers.
What made me spit in anger over my high sugar content ‘Frosties’ (sorry, CMO), was the defendant’s protestation that ’15 Nobel scientists’ had backed the project.
Of course they would. In the same way that David Beckham orders the latest Lego kit. Or they indeed help each other clamber up the honours system. They just can’t help themselves.
In a society scarred by so much poverty and human suffering it seems a scandal that we should be wasting yours and my money on fairy tale science of this sort. It is spurious at best and disingenuous at worst for the scheme’s backers to justify it on the grounds that it will help in the fight to beat dementia. Many others things will make a much bigger difference before they’ve even replicated 1/10 of Stephen Fry’s intellect.
The other reason it angers me is admittedly self-interested. I realised last week that I had unwittingly become an apologist for the lack of funding that goes into public involvement and engagement activities. You know the arguments, tight funding round, strategic priorities etc etc.
No more. We must fight our corner very hard now.
Good public involvement and engagement work is likely being strangled at birth. Local patient groups are disappearing or having to go cap-in-hand to others for support. Grant applications for research to help us know what public involvement interventions help research – yes, I said, help research – are spiked. The reason given is that they are not deemed close enough to the patient experience. And the EU Human Brain Project is?
Yep, the double standard against which have fought so long, is alive and well. It is cynicism dressed up as skepticism.
If I had been given £10 for every time I have been asked by
researchers and patients why we don’t run a national public awareness campaign on clinical research I could probably run one tomorrow. Y’know what? We should and we should argue hard for one beginning today. It is a strategic priority if research wishes to save itself from a 7:1 drubbing some time in the future.
The current flawed decision making around support for public involvement and engagement in research is reminiscent of the arguments I used to hear from sniffy Boards about PR and communications twenty years ago.
That all changed with modern media when companies realised they could go to the wall or their share price tumble on the basis of a bad news story or internet driven rumour. Now, heads of comms sit on the Board in the best run organisations. Their CEO’s often cite corporate reputation as the most important challenge they face.
Politically (and I use that word quite deliberately) and practically, public opinion is going to play a very important role in determining how research emerges from the next General Election and the subsequent spending rounds that Government impulses.
Treat the public like fools and we will
look like fools ourselves before not too long.
Categories: medical research