04/21/2017

Bringing Rigor Back To Health Research

17:17 minutes

A lab mouse. Credit: Shutterstock

What’s holding up the quests to cure health scourges like cancer and diabetes? Some biomedical researchers will say it’s their own research practices.

Last week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published an update to a 25-year-old report on research integrity. While in 1992 the report addressed “bad apple” researchers, the 2017 edition calls out a rise in systemic, detrimental practices that can invalidate results, including poor study design, cutting corners, and lack of data- and methodology-sharing, which inhibits other researchers from attempting to replicate the research.

[Read an excerpt from “Rigor Mortis” about how poorly designed studies hurt ALS patients.]

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has proposed cutting $5.8 billion from the budget for the National Institutes of Health.

Richard Harris is an NPR science journalist and author of Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions (Basic Books, 2017). He explains how competition for funding and a pressure to publish breakthrough research at a rapid pace are undermining advances in treating cancer, ALS, and other diseases. He also highlights opportunities for a system overhaul.


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Segment Guests

Richard Harris

Richard Harris is the author of Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions (Basic Books, 2017). He’s a science reporter at NPR in Washington, D.C..

Meet the Producer

About Christie Taylor

Christie Taylor is an associate producer for Science Friday. Her day involves diligent research, too many phone calls for an introvert, and asking scientists if they happen to have an audio recording of their research findings.