The Lancet

Yesterday the Lancet published a study by Mona Nasser, Mike Clarke, Iain Chalmers and others looking at how well eleven international research founders are doing to reduce waste in research. This follows a series of articles by Chalmers et al over the last couple of years on the same issue.

The study scored funders using a traffic light system for the following:

Are patients and the public involved?
New research requires systematic reviews of existing evidence?
Public access to full protocols for completed or ongoing research?

Funding to undertake “research on research”?
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) was the only funder to score green for each one. The only other UK funder included in the study – the Medical Research Council (MRC) only scored a yellow for its public involvement. ‘Could do better’ as my headmaster would have said.

Other funders that scored green for their public involvement included the National Institutes for Health in the United States and Nederlandse organisatie voor gezondsheidsonderzoek en zorinnovatie (ZonMw) in the Netherlands. And try saying that after a glass of wine!

You can find the full paper here.

Battling scientists, warring doctors, sparring academic journals – what are we to make of the statins debate?

It is on days like this, in an age when every aspect of public life is under ever intense scrutiny, that science can appear as if it exists on an island all its own.

Whatever The Lancet’s intentions behind its publication today of the latest paper looking at the evidence on statins, I fear it may have ended up fuelling the flames rather than shedding further light on the arguments that surround its use.

This is how it seems to me, having listened to various news programmes and some of the phone-ins such as BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine. Not to mention Twitter where it has been trending all day (see #statins).

Beyond the hyperbole and leaving aside those with particular agendas to push, what are you and I to think when we hear research evidence put up against people’s experiences that may or may not support this? How are we to approach making the right decision for ourselves if and when we got to see our GP.  Not least since many doctors are also  finding such dilemmas increasingly difficult to make sense of.

These are the more important questions that get lost when the media is in a frenzy and experts (some genuine, others self-appointed) are bobbing up here, there and everywhere to ‘put us straight.’

Perhaps the statin furore is a golden opportunity for patients, carers and the public to begin to say what tools, information and support is need to help them approach such conversations with greater confidence and reach the right decision for you and your family?

I am a member of the Academy of Medical Sciences’ on-going working group looking at how society uses evidence and I would love to hear from you on this question.  So please do leave a comment. Or if you prefer you can write to me at


Trust, respect and openness have felt big themes for the week.

I was really sorry not to get to ‘Sense about Science’s’ annual lecture not least because it meant I missed Director, Tracey Brown, do one of her fabulous welcomes and introductions.  The main act was Cambridge University historian, Professor Richard Evans, who examined the relationship between science, politicians and the public at the time of various epidemics in history.  You can read the transcript of his lecture on the Sense about Science website and there’s a discussion on The Guardian as well.  Thoroughly absorbing, and his final quote is as follows:

‘These aims can only be achieved in a democratic context where state, medical scientists and the public have some degree of mutual trust and respect.’

The question I have been tussling with ever since is whether science needs at first to be at ease with itself before it can be at ease with its partners?  But, realistically can it ever be?  Indeed, should it be?  Hence the exam question as my headline today.

Today the Royal Society announced a new project and working group on ‘Science as a public enterprise’ focusing, firstly, on how scientific data and information can be shared more openly within the scientific community and, secondly, on public engagement with this information.  Details here and I’d really encourage people to make submissions.  Forgive me for a little titter though when I saw the working group membership list of the great and the good – not an ordinary soul in sight!  There’s a good piece about open data by four of the working group members in the Lancet here.

Talking of the Lancet they have also launched today a new ‘portal’ to gather evidence on how the health reforms are impacting on patients, clinicians and others. A good initiative.

And, finally, just to say that AMRC has today published its response to the European Commission’s concept paper on revising the EU Clinical Trials Directive.  Now that’s a concept none of us are at ease with.