Scientist-Hyphenates: Good for More Than Medicine?

The Scientist recently ran this article describing what appears to be a decline in physician-scientists.  These are people who are trained both as an M.D. and a Ph.D. (usually in a biomedical field) and manage to both conduct research and practice medicine.  It’s a particularly useful group of individuals because it can make translating research results into practical guidance and knowledge an easier process.  As the author of The Vanishing Physician-Scientist? says:

“Physician-scientists [are] completely indispensible to the medical research enterprise because they bring to medical research the unique perspective of asking scientific questions based on their direct experience with patients. So I don’t think our society can afford to lose physician-scientists.”

I don’t want to engage with the merits of the piece (since I have no complaints), but to ask what fields could also benefit from the kind of practitioner-researcher reflected by a physician-scientist?  In what fields is there a need for better understanding by researchers of the types of questions that people in that field ask and answer?  In many fields there isn’t much of a gap between researchers and practitioners, or the gap is one of commercialization – where the challenge is making something profitable out of the research rather than trying to understand how the knowledge could work for them.

You might guess my candidate field for a scientist-hyphenate – science and technology policy.

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Review Pharma Docs in Your Spare Time

Large amounts of data can be next to worthless without metadata – information about individual data points – to assist with indexing and searching.  Think about web pages without metadata.  You’re not likely to see those pages in the top 100 results on your favorite search engine.

The same kind of problem faces several large collections of papers and other data that needs metadata.  Wired Science notes that a collection of drug company lawsuit documents faces the same challenge.  Trying to follow the example of the Legacy Tobacco Documents Archive, the Drug Industry Document Archive needs help in indexing, evaluating, and entering metadata on the documents it’s collecting.  This kind of work is tedious, but necessary.  Unfortunately, it’s harder to find outside resources to do the necessary gruntwork to create and maintain effective research tools like this, so this project is reliant on the kindness of crowds.  Documents continue to pour in.

First, however, they are in need of specific programming help.  If you have experience with J2EE and/or Spring MVC, please contact Kim Klausner.  Once I find out that they are ready for volunteers for data work, I’ll post it here.