Academic funding, and medical data

Interesting article over at the New York Times on cancer research strikes a chord in the way academic funding works in general. Too little money to go around, so those who play the game the best get the (research) money. Usually, those who get the money produce results, so I couldn’t say the system is entirely broken. It’s the lack of money that is the bigger problem. (Cue comparisons with defence budgets.)

But much more interesting than the article is one of the comments left. It rings true with my own thoughts on how the government and the health care system should be feeding data back into the research arena:

The problem with medical research, generally, and cancer research, in particular, is that the amount and range of data that is used to map the causes and course of disease is far less than it should be.


We must gather consistent and substantial data on large numbers of the population, both those who appear well and those who are ill. […] The best way to accomplish that is to provide every citizen who wants it a substantial medical checkup either once or twice each year. All of that data would be placed in a database maintained by the National Institutes of Health and would be available to any credentialed researcher. Identity of patients would be shielded by assignment of an anonymous ID, that permits tracking of that patients medical history, but that does not otherwise disclose who the patient is.

This would be a gold mine of data, and serve not only to help understand the health of the nation but also to improve it. A gargantuan effort, most definitely, but also an enormous reward.

Pity the idea itself is too far outside of the box.