The Centre for Statistics in Medicine recently unveiled its vision for the future, as founding director Professor Doug Altman introduced incoming director Professor Sallie Lamb.
Professor Doug Altman, who founded CSM in 1995, was toasted by friends and colleagues from across his star-studded career in medical statistics. As long-time collaborator and friend Professor Martin Bland said, a statistician is made of "a maths brain, an eye for detail, and a drive to solve problems." And the problem Professor Altman set himself was as simple as it was enormous: improve how medical research is conducted and reported in the literature to promote research integrity and transform healthcare.
Dr Fiona Godlee of the BMJ praised Professor Altman's "quiet, distinctive, sometimes challenging voice," calling for one simple thing from all researchers: tell us what you did. The man behind the acronyms, Prof Altman's involvement in dozens of reporting guidelines and other initiatives for improving medical research led to a BMJ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. But far greater is his "quiet humility in leadership", according to Sir Muir Gray, and his commitment to research focused on what patients want and need.
The day was both a reflection of days past and a look to the future. Where can CSM and medical statistics go from here?
New CSM Director Professor Sallie Lamb is at the helm of a newly expanded CSM, which now includes the Oxford Clinical Trials Research Unit and epidemiologists working on big health data. They join the UK EQUATOR Centre and teams of medical statisticians working on methodology research to improve research with human participants, clinical trials, and other biomedical research.
A physiotherapist turned trialist and methodologist, Professor Lamb is also the Kadoorie Professor of Trauma Rehabilitation at NDORMS. She sees a bright future for CSM, building on the exceptional work of its first two decades by harnessing public health funding, the digital revolution, and the possibilities of big data in our knowledge-based economy.
So what are the next big challenges for medical research and CSM? Professor Altman identified enhancing research reproducibility, getting rid of the "all-round terrible idea" of significance testing and P values, and changing the research climate. He envisages a publication system that exists to share the best research and shape a better future.
But the main challenge, according to Professor Altman, is that all medical research be conducted with the wants and needs of patients firmly at its centre. "And all CSM activities – whether clinical studies or methodological projects – have the potential to benefit patients. With recognition of the crucial importance of the work of medical statisticians stronger than ever today, CSM is in a strong position for the future."
As Dr Godlee said, "Statistics is not about dry and dusty numbers. It's about real human impact!"