Healthy obsessions

July 23, 2015

Lord Rees of Ludlow is surely right that significant outcomes are more likely to emerge when researchers are committed to – even obsessed with – tackling problems (“Tracing the trajectory between blue skies and the bottom line”, Opinion, 2 July). Nowhere is this more evident than in medicine and dentistry, where clinician-academics are motivated to initiate and lead rigorous and challenging trials of new treatments in large part because of continuing concerns for their own patients. So many lifesaving and life-enhancing discoveries have come from these evaluations.

But the source of this motivation is sorely lacking in some other public service disciplines because practitioners, teachers and nurses for instance, unlike doctors and dentists, mostly stop practising when they become academics. How much less likely it is that commitment to – even obsession with – solving the problems of the classroom and the hospital ward will be influential if real responsibility in these settings came to an end years previously. Diminished credibility with former peers as well as relatively low research impact was clear from the research for my 2014 report for the Cabinet Office, How to Achieve More Effective Services: the Evidence Ecosystem.

And Lord Rees makes another telling point, which is relevant to applied as well as fundamental research: it is focusing on the “tiny piece of the puzzle that seems tractable” which pays off best. Not only in fundamental science but also in public services and the retail sector, for example, does this preoccupation drive progress.

Jonathan Shepherd
Professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery and director of the violence research group
Cardiff University

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework