Changing the academic reward system to improve translational medicine
Young scientists in life sciences are faced with a tough dilemma. To be successful in the current academic system they have to pursue high-risk, competitive research that underscores their individual excellence. Society on the other hand calls for collaborative and more down-to-earth research with potential direct applicability and impact for patients. Transforming the determinants of esteem and excellence in academia could help to solve this conundrum and prevent academic researchers from getting lost in translation. This is a major challenge for the scientific community and as stated by Thomas Bjornholm (Copenhagen) on behalf of an international alliance of research universities “we must do it or someone else will start the discussion for us.”
We are facing a rapidly increasing number of published journals, peer reviewed articles and subsequently an accelerating number of citations. The value of measures for scientific esteem is therefore rapidly inflating. The peer review system is not comparable with a due diligence that is executed when investors are considering an investment in a scientific effort that may translate into practice. Data and research results are presented in our scientific journals without external validation and we believe in the veracity of the researchers. However, we have to face the facts that tell us that approximately 85% of research is wasted usually because the wrong questions are addressed and study designs and reports are not suitable. In addition, a significant proportion of results published in the highest impact papers cannot be reproduced. This may result in less credibility of our academic research: pharmaceutical companies first reproduce experiments that have been published before they decide to invest in further drug development. There is no simple solution how to face these challenges. But recognizing our shortcomings in how we measure scientific success may be a first step.