Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Scientific American urges drug companies to release all clinical trial data

We've advocated over and over again for groups involved in experiments to release all data and results from those experiments - even those that don't succeed. "Dark data" can open up new areas of discovery and illuminate unforeseen issues with "safe" products.

Now, Scientific American magazine is taking up the cause. An article in its June issue, "Secret Clinical Trial Data To Go Public," discusses drug companies' reluctance to share any results that don't support their marketing efforts, and suggests how to open things up. The editors write:

How well does a prescription drug work? It can be hard for even doctors to know. Pharmaceutical companies frequently withhold the results of negative or inconclusive trials. Without a full accounting, a physician who wants to counsel a patient about whether a drug works better than a sugar pill is frequently at a loss. Drug companies share only airbrushed versions of data on safety and usefulness.

The editors go on to recommend drug trial information be published in an open data system akin to Yale's cleverly-named YODA project. Our hope is that big pharma jumps in whole-heartedly. Science and health-care patients present and future (that would be all of us) need it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New York Times: "Error Leads IBM Researchers to a New Family of Materials"

From an article by John Markoff published on May 15:

As a research chemist at an IBM laboratory, Jeannette M. Garcia spends her days mixing and heating chemicals in pursuit of stronger and more easily recyclable plastics. Recently she followed a simple formula that required mixing three components in a beaker. Somehow she missed a step, leaving out a chemical. She returned to find her beaker filled with a hard white plastic that had even frozen the stirrer.

Dr. Garcia tried grinding the mystery material, to no avail. Then she took a hammer to the beaker to free it.

That laboratory error has led to the discovery of a new family of materials that are unusually strong and light, exhibit “self-healing” properties and can be easily reformed to make products recyclable.

The materials — two new types of synthetic polymers — could have applications for transportation. Because of their recyclability, they also could have an impact on consumer products, as well as on the industrial packaging for microelectronics components.

The findings were reported on Thursday in the journal Science by a research team at IBM’s Almaden Research Laboratory in San Jose, Calif.

There are countless stories of discoveries in chemistry made by mistake, including saccharin and the vulcanization process for rubber. Here is yet another.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Selfless leaders share their own mistakes

From "The Best Leaders Are Humble Leaders," by Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib on the HBR Blog Network, based on their research paper entitled "Inclusive Leadership: The View From Six Countries" for Catalyst Group:

To promote inclusion and reap its rewards, leaders should embrace a selfless leadership style. Here are some concrete ways to get started based on both our current research and our ongoing study of leadership development practices at one company, Rockwell Automation:

Share your mistakes as teachable moments. When leaders showcase their own personal growth, they legitimize the growth and learning of others; by admitting to their own imperfections, they make it okay for others to be fallible, too. We also tend to connect with people who share their imperfections and foibles—they appear more “human,” more like us. Particularly in diverse workgroups, displays of humility may help to remind group members of their common humanity and shared objectives....

People often feel that sharing mistakes is risky; the best way to overcome this perception is for leaders to go first, which sends two messages - everyone makes mistakes, and it's important to share them for the benefit of others.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

CEO on learning to write things down

Another story by S.D. Shibulal, CEO of Infosys, from Adam Bryant's Corner Office series.

Early on, I thought I could remember everything, so I never used to write down anything. When I was around 28, and running a big computer center, my manager would give me 10 things to do, and I would get nine done. But he always seemed to know which one I didn’t do. He told me: “Shibu, please get it right. Write it down.” That changed my life. Now I’m very disciplined. I write it down, and I take care of each item and follow through.

Bryant's new book is called Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A young statistician learns the importance of communicating data simply

A story from Thomas Redman, PhD, featured on the HBR Blog Network:

I trained as a statistician and first joined Bell Labs in the network performance group. A year or two after I started, it was time for my first big presentation at AT&T Headquarters. I completed my prep well in advance and rehearsed carefully. Then I was off to the big meeting.

It could not have gone worse. The only impressions I left were bad ones. Young hothead that I was, I blamed everyone but myself, including the audience: “The average manager up here can’t even understand a pie chart!”

An established veteran of many such presentations looked me square in the eye and said, “Of course not, Tom. It’s your job to make it so they don’t have to.”

That was my first lesson in data presentation. As a data presenter, you face a tall order in getting others to comprehend and believe data. You have to think through your audience’s background and present data in ways that advance their understanding. The best way to do so is to make your plots and the accompanying explanations easy to understand.