Dr. Harold Varmus, the president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and a former director of the National Institutes of Health, said increasing public access to the findings of medical research would be important for health care reform to succeed.
“One obvious goal is getting information out to health care practitioners about effectiveness experiments,” said Dr. Varmus, a Nobel Prize-winning cancer biologist and the author of the new book “The Art and Politics of Science” (Norton). “This is going to be crucial, because if the government’s going to spend $1.1. billion from the stimulus bill on comparative effectiveness research, you want that stuff to be in the public domain.”
Nobel laureates Sir John Sulston and Harry Varmus, College of Physicians and Surgeons ’66, provided a scientific perspective, suggesting that life sciences research has been hampered by commercial concerns.
“It’s not just about IP [intellectual property], it’s about rebalancing the way we fund things,” said Sulston, a pioneering geneticist, complaining that too much private funding tends to “short circuit” research by subjugating scientific discovery to the short-term profit motive. He criticized privately-funded research for hindering the free dissemination of results, adding that for effective progress to occur, “everybody needs to see all of the data at once, not just some of it.”
Varmus picked up on this point, explaining that scientists’ collective obsession with publishing their work in prestigious journals has led to a biased system that only publicizes a small subset of useful scientific results.