Research Remix

May 23, 2007

Changing the world

Filed under: Uncategorized — Heather Piwowar @ 9:32 am

Dr Sherwin Nuland (a surgeon and author of several books, including How We Die) gave the commencement address at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine 2007 graduation ceremony.  On route to his main point (the most important aspect of patient care is caring for the patient [original source forgotten by me]), he quoted a range of dismal facts about the state of the US medical system and healthcare research funding.

We’ve heard it before.  It is an important problem. I’m a fixer: I want to help fix it…. except it is so large and complex, and I’m not in a position of power.

But.  In the spirit of “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” [Margaret Mead], I think that sharing data can be part of the answer.  It is something that each scientist can do, individually.  Each shared dataset may make a small difference in subsequent resource use, and together we may eventually make a large difference in the efficiency and outcome of biomedical research.

Sure, the hope relies on caveats and leaps of faith —  but the pursuit allows us do something, rather than shrugging our shoulders and waiting for someone else to fix the problems.

Another speaker (Dr John Horne) in the ceremony charged us to “be bold.”  I think a blog post entitled “Changing the world” counts, don’t you?


  1. I completely agree with you and applaud your boldness and for simply making the statement. Information sharing can be so powerful yet the tendency to hold information to our chest (information being a power in its own right) limits the good that can be done.. I support you in your goal and hope that your spirit catches on!

    Comment by Lara — May 23, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

  2. I completely disagree with you! No, seriously, I disagree with this:

    the hope relies on caveats and leaps of faith

    I think the hope of Open Science has a very solid base in induction and observation (the same basis on which science itself proceeds; and who can deny that it does indeed proceed, if not yet at an optimal pace?). Look at the internet itself; just think back to when you first got online — would you have seen PubMed Central coming? Or Wikipedia, or Simpy, or Google Scholar, or the rise of blogs in politics and science, or…? The same engine that has driven Web progress can be expected to drive innovation in Open Science: level the playing field, make the “means of production” available at only the cost of access, and watch the smart folks do their thing. Further, evidence (for the idea that Open Science can change the world) is accumulating: for instance, the citation advantages (viz. increased impact) of Open Access publications, and the acceleration of the research cycle as demonstrated by

    Comment by Bill — May 30, 2007 @ 8:40 am

  3. Great! I love disagreement! Unfortunately, we aren’t actually very far apart on this one. I hear you. I do think that sharing data is and can and will revolutionize healthcare research. More than we can guess. Eventually. After everyone else is tired of mentioning the caveats and jumps their leaps of faith.
    My polite Canadian self just isn’t used to saying so out loud, without hedges. Practice. Thanks.

    Comment by Heather Piwowar — May 30, 2007 @ 9:21 am

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