In Memoriam: Doug Altman

We are saddened to hear of the death of Professor Doug Altman, as reported in a Cochrane news item. Doug contributed to Cochrane methodology from the very early days of the organisation, and continued to work with many Cochrane colleagues until only a few days before his death. As a familiar and friendly face, and long-term convenor of the Cochrane Statistical Methods Group, Doug’s huge impact on Cochrane is well known to almost everyone in the Cochrane Methods community.  He was (co-)founder of numerous Cochrane Methods groups, and a member or co-convenor of many more.   The Statistical Methods Group, Bias Methods Group and Prognosis Methods Group have all written tributes about Doug’s essential contribution to their establishment.

We remember particularly fondly our celebration of Doug's 20 year contribution to Cochrane at the 2013 Methods Symposium in Quebec, "Data, Outcomes, Uncertainty and Graphs: Advances and Limitations in Trials, Meta-Analysis and Novelties" (its title itself a weak effort to match Doug’s wonderful ability to create acronyms).  An accompanying editorial to the Cochrane Methods Supplement, "Twenty years of meta-analysis and evidence synthesis methods: a personal reflection" gave us an opportunity to print Doug’s unpublished paper, "Evaluating a series of clinical trials of the same treatment", presented to the International Epidemiological Association, Edinburgh in August 1981 (reproduced with kind permission of the James Lind Library - Doug Altman). Here Doug wrote one of the earliest accounts of meta-analysis in healthcare, pre-empting many of the major issues that would come to occupy methodologists in the subsequent 35+years. At the Symposium, Doug was presented with twenty red roses by several blushing women. He was a modest man, passionate about his work, hugely popular and highly respected as a mentor.  We will miss him greatly.

A formal obituary can be read in the BMJ.  We will continue to celebrate Doug’s work; please get in touch if you have any ideas.

Statistical Methods Group

"Doug chaired the very first meeting of statisticians in Cochrane convened by Iain Chalmers in Oxford in July 1993. This meeting was convened to agree on the statistical methods to be used in Cochrane reviews. It became clear to Doug and others that the involvement of statisticians would be key to the success of Cochrane. The Statistical Methods Group (SMG) was formally registered in 1995 with Doug a founding co-convenor. The long-term success of the SMG has much to owe to Doug’s natural openness and questioning of statistical dogma, his intolerance of poor scientific method, and his willingness to work with all who showed interest. From the outset, he engaged an international team of interested statisticians, set an open agenda for methods research in systematic reviews, and created an atmosphere and approach which welcomed and encouraged early career as well as established statisticians. Many of us are indebted to the lessons we have learned and the opportunities that Doug’s open approach created for us."

Read the Group's full tribute to Doug's work here.

Prognosis Methods Group

"Doug was a founding member of the Cochrane Prognosis Methods Group and, with his encouragement, forethought and academic excellence he ensured that it thrived. His passion for prognosis research, his mission to improve reporting and to embark upon systematic reviews of prognosis studies was unprecedented. He genially challenged our current approaches and made us strive to do better, focusing on research quality and not quantity. Doug’s contribution has shaped and improved prognosis research over the last 30 years. Without his input systematic reviews of prognosis research would not be at this advanced stage. His papers and overviews in the 1990s of the problems in prognosis research and reviews stimulated our PhD theses, research projects, fellowship applications, and entire careers. Ultimately it led to the foundation of the Cochrane Prognosis Methods Group in 2008, which thanks to him has become incredibly active and visible within Cochrane. He was our inspiration and teacher, motivating us to pass on his ideas, his thoughts and his passion to enhance the conduct and reporting of prognosis reviews both within and external to Cochrane".

Read the Group's full tribute to Doug's work here

Bias Methods Group

“Doug leaves behind an incredible legacy to medical research and statistics. Over the past five decades, no one fought for the quality of clinical research as hard as him. Doug’s contributions will have ongoing influence for many years to come.”

Read the Group's full tribute to Doug's work here.