Monday 15 June 2020

A busted flush

Work at The Institute is winding down for the year. I received an e-mail from out external examiner confirming that my marks for research projects were okay. That e-mail was send at 22:53 on Bank Holiday Monday. In my response, I apologised that The Institute paid him so little for his [after-hours] time. I then set to on the next item on my To Do list: putting in another hour's work mentoring MSc PharmRegs students. I get paid for 10 contact hours to see them through the task of writing their MSc thesis. I've put that amount of time in already and I've not seen a correctable draft or, in one case, any data. Our Extern is not the only kid on the Above-and-Beyond block.

My weaker link on the MSc is a very polite, quiet chap from Andhra Pradesh. That's one state North of Tamil Nadu. He calls me Sir. Deference to age-and-experience is all good but it should not replace ooomph and initiative. Early on in our relationship I made the point that an MSc thesis with some crunched numbers was stronger / more interesting than a descriptive comparison of regulatory practice in different jurisdictions. But, possibly because I know very little about pharmaceutical regulation, my pointers to numerical data came to nothing; or very little. And a couple of days ago I got a plaintive cry for help that his exploration had clunked up against a wall. So I replied:

Well that's what can happen when you are doing research. You have an idea, you think, you formalise your thoughts into a [testable] hypothesis, you start to gather data to test that hypothesis . . . and you find that there are no data OR that it will take you longer to gather the information than the hypothesis seems worth. What next?

You are in a better position now; because your search for information has immersed you in the field. You can /should choose a different direction in which to swim. You can call 911 and get airlifted to a totally different field . . . but we are time-limited. Therefore let us stick to generics. What about doing more discursive / descriptive research on the policy / process by which generics are registered by EMA v FDA [I'd really like to throw Indian pharmacy regulations in here]. OR compare the registration policy / process for branded vs generic. Here you could limit the study to either FDA or EMA [or the Indian equivalent] because we're running out of time.

Your "abortive" take-off into the stratosphere of time-lines should not be dumped in the bin. Write that up, carefully documenting why the task has proved impossible. Negative results are really important because they save the community [including your cousin who comes to do the MSc in 2024] from even starting down the path you explored. A big sign [R] will encourage the next explorers to romp off in another direction.

There is far too little of that in the scientific literature. The scientists are too invested in being right in their hypotheses than rigorous in their analysis. There is a well documented bias in publishing only positive findings and sweeping the damp squibs under the carpet of shame. If we are with Edison in “To have a great idea, have a lot of them” we have to accept that many of the ideas will be rubbish. Cutting our losses is the correct thing to do but it would be polite to flag where you've been.

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