Failure – not an option – a NECESSITY!

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I want to start a publication called “Failure.” A resource for what NOT to do: methods that did not work to reach an end goal, prove a hypothesis, or create a product. And sometimes, hopefully it will also tell you WHY.

I did research as an undergrad at Widener University, and my Research Methods professor, Dr. Martin Simon, Ph.D., said something that really stuck with me – research isn’t worth doing if you don’t share it with the world. To me, that meant: it’s really nice to do these experiments and get data and try and draw conclusions, but if only you and the people in your lab know what you’re doing, what use is it to the rest of the scientific community – how can anyone use it to learn from, build on or inform their own research activities?

Where is the value in the time, money and other resources that were spent along the way?

I took that to heart, honed my presentation skills and shared, shared, shared. I also made the effort after graduation to prepare a manuscript for publication. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to me at the time, at least 50% of published research isn’t reproducible (some studies claim as high as 90%), and yet we look at publications as validation: publications = “success”.

Fast forward 15 years – I’ve moved over to the business side of research and that advice still resonates with me. I watch my scientific colleagues do literature searches, adopt methods from publications, and spend time getting them up and running. Sometimes it’s quick and straightforward, many times it’s not. As my company strives to stay current and relevant, I realize that this process is not as helpful as it should be.

Regardless of industry or technology flavor, progress and innovation (“success”) only happen after many, many failures. In a world where it takes a billion dollars to fail many times and finally get a prescription drug to market, we need to abandon the extravagance of spending time, money and other valuable resources to fail secretly and in parallel.

I think if the biotech/ pharmaceutical community could adjust our culture to include learning from failure as a measure of success, we could save a tremendous amount of time re-creating the wheel and a tremendous amount of hard to come by research and translation dollars to get effective drugs to market. Imagine the competition that would be spurred and the amazing innovations that would arise if we could learn from, build on or use others’ mistakes to inform our activities.

~Susan Foertsch

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