Helping to understand health research

Today I read about the launch of a new website that aims to help the public to understand health research.

The site Understanding Health Research: A tool for making sense of health studies has been developed by Glasgow University and supported by the MRC (Medicines Research Council). I love the idea and wanted to see how well it works……

It basically uses an algorithm to justify whether the paper is good or bad based on where it was conducted – Universities are good, pharmaceutical industry is not so good (more about this later on…) There is also a space for who funded it – again research councils are good; pharmaceutical industry is not so good….

It then goes on to ask the public user, “Are there clear research questions or aims?” there is extra reading that you can do to help know whether this is true but at this point the member of the public needs to have read the paper and really understood the content – if they have understood this then they are likely to also know about the quality of the work. The list of questions goes on (and on) – in my opinion this is a great idea – likely to be used by students when conducting a critical review but much less likely to be used by the public which is a shame. However, I would love to be disproved…

So now I will return to the question about research conducted within pharmaceutical industry compared to that conducted in Universities. I have worked in both places and I know that the quality of scientists is equal across both places of work. At a University a member of staff is measured on how many papers they publish so there is an incentive to publish as much as possible. Within pharmaceutical industry there is no incentive to publish – in fact – quite the opposite! The pharmaceutical company is trying to protect its ideas to maintain a competitive advantage over others therefore it is difficult to persuade the lawyers to let you publish anything in you work at one of the large pharmaceutical companies. So if you are to assess the quality – the one who has to publish as much as possible or the one who has worked hard to get something published for little personal gain…. I will leave it for you to decide which you think is more likely to be the quality paper

2 thoughts on “Helping to understand health research

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