publication date: May. 2, 2014


By Paul Goldberg

The assumption that growth in research funding would be sustained indefinitely has created an “unsustainable hypercompetitive system” heading toward “long-term decline,” a group of scientists, including NCI Director Harold Varmus, wrote in a paper published in the April 22 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper is important because it comes out at a time when Varmus’s restructuring of NCI is taking physical shape. By spelling out what’s wrong with the existing system, Varmus may be pointing to the strategic underpinnings of changes he is bringing about at NCI.

One of the most intriguing statements in the paper cautions against overvaluing studies that aim to change medical practice. The statement is interesting—and may be telling—because it is published at a time when NCI is dramatically reducing the number of participants in its clinical trials (The Cancer Letter, Feb. 28, April 4, April 11).

“One manifestation of this shift to short-term thinking is the inflated value that is now accorded to studies that claim a close link to medical practice,” the authors write. “Human biology has always been a central part of the U.S. biomedical effort. However, only recently has the term ‘translational research’ been widely, if unofficially, used as a criterion for evaluation. Overvaluing translational research is detracting from an equivalent appreciation of fundamental research of broad applicability, without obvious connections to medicine. Many surprising discoveries, powerful research tools, and important medical benefits have arisen from efforts to decipher complex biological phenomena in model organisms. In a … Continue reading 40-18 On Biomedical Malthusianism

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