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Usual channels of clinical research dissemination getting somewhat clogged: What can go wrong – does.

A few weeks ago I was an observer on the OHDSI Covid19 study-a-thon (March 26 – 29). Four days of intensive collaboration among numerous clinical researchers working with previously established technology to enable high quality research with data access up to 500 million patients.

Current status here.

This is a good summary of what happened: “I am extremely proud to see what our community accomplished, but we are well aware that this is merely the beginning stage of a long research agenda,” said George Hripcsak, MD, MS, the Vivian Beaumont Allen Professor and Chair of the Columbia Department of Biomedical Informatics. “Our international network is committed to continuing work in this area until this pandemic has ended.”                   [no bolding in the original].

In clinical research the devil is in the details and about a week after the study-a-thon, the first pre-print was ready to share (April 5).  Yeah!

Submitted to medRxiv it’s appearance was delayed by almost a full week :-(

Not ideal!

Now, dozens of other studies by the group need to be finalized and disseminated, but it is worrisome that the usual channels of clinical research dissemination seem to be getting somewhat clogged. What is likely is happening is anyone and their brother who can get their hands on 50 or so patient’s data are quickly doing some sort of analysis and submitting a not so high quality paper.

Now, I am biased but this international group has access to unbelievably large data sets and a tested out methodology to do better than average studies – cooperatively.

As always, the initial dissemination of study’s results needs sometime for other experts to digest it, raise concerns about what might be wrong and suggest ways to mitigate that. Delays in this process are regrettable.

This post is by Keith O’Rourke and as with all posts and comments on this blog, is just a deliberation on dealing with uncertainties in scientific inquiry and should not to be attributed to any entity other than the author. As with any critically-thinking inquirer, the views behind these deliberations are always subject to rethinking and revision at any time.




  1. Michael Nelson says:

    Maybe we also need an international, cooperative team for vetting and communicating COVID research, with equal, or greater, urgency. You might say that the first item on the pandemic scientific research agenda has to be the creation of a pandemic scientific communication agenda.

    On a more academic note, if there’s not an existing field of research on how to mobilize civilization’s resources to solve a massive problem (with the notable exception of war) then hopefully this will precipitate it’s creation. Even scientists need an evidence-based model (a checklist, as Andrew pointed out in an earlier post) to execute. In hindsight, accelerating only part of the scientific method is like building a plane big enough to carry twice as many people without increasing the size of airports; but even aerospace engineers would likely miss that step in an emergency.

  2. Ron Kenett says:

    This post is about poor information due to the accessibility time frame.

    In the information quality framework we call this Chronology of Data and Goal. To deal with the pandemic we need information in a time frame different than usual.

    Somehow data from central bureaus of statistics and other official statistics generators are too outdated. Several initiatives are stepping in.

    I assume you have seen this

    Some applications of the guidelines in might help enhance information quality.

  3. Keith – I noticed the same thing. 1 week lag. I contacted medRxiv to see if I could help. It seems getting that lag down would be super important socially. Because of the lag, I am now posting our COVID work on arXiv, rather than medRxiv (bioRxiv won’t accept medical pre-prints anymore, now that medRxiv exists).

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