Is science stuck in the middle ages?

July 31, 2003

This week's editorial discusses some of the problems that biomedical scientists face in their career paths as the structure of research is changing from small-scale investigator-led research to large-scale "discovery science", such as the Human Genome Project. Discussing a recent book by the US National Academies, the editorial comments that scientific training will have to move away from the apprentice model used world-wide to something that equips scientists better for these projects, for example with more management training. In addition the editorial says, "scientists who choose to become managers will have to have their careers recognised as valid, not just by remuneration, but also by their peers. Thus traditional ways of training and assessing scientists -- peer-reviewed publications, and ability to attract independent funding -- will have to be rethought."

This rethinking of scientific training is particularly important as innovation in biomedical research is being avoided by pharmaceutical companies, who are becoming more averse to risk. As the editorial says "Whereas previously pharmaceutical companies took on the risk of investigating potential drugs, now it is more likely to be small biotech companies, often spin-offs from universities doing the underlying basic research, which do so." The editorial notes however that this interface can pose problems with potential conflicts of interest for scientist and universities.
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