Three For One Medical Research Triumph

Research Australia has a report out on the state of medical research in Australia (currently a pdf is on the front page). I’ll acknowledge first up that it’s possible there is some cherry picking of data here to blow Australia’s trumpet. Nevertheless, it’s clear that we punch well above our weight when it comes to medical science – as if the seven Nobel prizes in this field hadn’t already told you that.

For me the outstanding set of statistics were these: We have 0.3% of the world’s population. As a result of our wealth we spend 1.1% of the world’s allocation of medical research funding. But we produce 3% of published medical research. These are not junk publications. Research Australia estimates 3.04% of world health returns are the result of Australian research.

I have no doubt there is room for quibbling. For a start 3.04% sounds awfully precise to me. So much science now involves international collaboration that any skewing of the allocations of such work in our favour could distort the figures a bit. Still, what it amounts to is that we (and by that I mean everyone on the planet who gets sick) are getting three times the value from Australian research as we are getting from medical research in other countries.

Now I was pleased when Cadel Evans won the Tour De France but surely, surely anyone can see that this is an achievement that dwarfs anything in sport. Why is this not on the front page of every newspaper in the country. “Aussie hero scientists are saving lives and avoiding pain at three times the rate of their colleagues in other countries.”

No doubt if we doubled funding for medical research this ratio would not continue. The quality of the research we’re not funding would not be as high as what we are. However, if we were spending 2% of the world’s medical research funds, and had a return of, say 4.5% of health outcomes, there would still be good value for money, by international standards, in that extra 1%.

About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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