Do Canadian Researchers and the Lay Public Prioritize Biomedical Research Outcomes Equally? A Choice Experiment

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Abstract

Purpose

To quantify and compare the preferences of researchers and laypeople in Canada regarding the outcomes of basic biomedical research.

Method

In autumn 2010, the authors conducted a cross-sectional, national survey of basic biomedical researchers funded by Canada’s national health research agency and a representative sample of Canadian citizens to assess preferences for research outcomes across five attributes using a discrete choice experiment. Attributes included advancing scientific knowledge (assessed by published papers); building research capacity (assessed by trainees); informing decisions in the health products industry (assessed by patents); targeting economic, health, or scientific priorities; and cost. The authors reduced a fractional factorial design (18 pairwise choices plus an opt-out option) to three blocks of six. They also computed part worth utilities, differences in predicted probabilities, and willingness-to-pay values using nested logit models.

Results

Of 3,260 potential researchers, 1,749 (53.65% response rate) completed the questionnaire, along with 1,002 citizens. Researchers and citizens prioritized high-quality scientific outcomes (papers, trainees) over other attributes. Both groups disvalued research targeted at economic priorities relative to health priorities. Researchers granted a premium to proposals targeting scientific priorities.

Conclusions

Citizens and researchers fundamentally prioritized the same outcomes for basic biomedical research. Notably, they prioritized traditional scientific outcomes and disvalued the pursuit of economic returns. These findings have implications for how academic medicine assigns incentives and value to basic health research and how biomedical researchers and the public may jointly contribute to setting the future research agenda.

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