Yesterday morning, director of the National Cancer Institute, Harold Varmus, addressed the National Press Club on the achievements and challenges of cancer research. Varmus covered quite a few topics, but here are a few highlights that stood out for me:
- If budget sequestration goes into effect, NCI may be facing a 40% reduction in new grant awards. When asked to elaborate, Varmus basically responded, You do the math; our objective it to stop this from happening.
- Varmus (an NIH as a whole) is concerned about the issue of reproducibility in research. Is there a rush to publish in the current climate? Why are replicative experiments failing? But also how (and who) defines failure to reproduce?
- Scientists need to rethink how we evaluate others’ achievements. Publishing in “particular journals” (he subsequently named Cell, Nature, and Science specifically) is being used as a marker of success, but important work is also found in other journals. It’s time to get back to judging the science by the research not where it’s deposited. (Related to this is an editorial by Ron Vale in the American Society for Cell Biology’s journal.)
You can watch the full videocast on CSPAN. It’s an hour long but worth a watch. I think it serves as a good primer for non-scientists on the way biomedical research works and why progress is often slower than we want.