Doug Altman 1948-2018
INSPIRING US TO IMPROVE PROGNOSIS RESEARCH
On June 3rd 2018, the prognosis research community – and indeed the entire medical research field - suffered an enormous loss when our inspirational leader and friend, Doug, passed away. He was just 69 years old.
In the world of medical research, statistics, and epidemiology Doug Altman needs no introduction. Scientifically, Doug had many interests, all of which invariably came under the umbrella of “use and abuse of statistics in applied medical research”, a description that himself has devised. His work covered the validity and accuracy of design, conduct, ethics, analysis, and reporting of randomised intervention trials, studies of prognosis, and systematic reviews of both. It is through the latter that we had the privilege to work very closely with him over many years.
Doug, a Cochrane founding member, helped to form the Cochrane Prognosis Methods Group (PMG) from the first exploratory steps. Since then Doug served as a co-convenor, ensuring the group thrives and expands. His passion for prognostic research, his encouragement, forethought, and academic excellence have been pivotal for the group’s evolution and success. He genially challenged our approaches and made us strive to do better, focusing on research quality rather than quantity. His passion, immense knowledge, and experience were matched by his ability to relate facts simply, clearly, with humour, and compassion.
Doug once told us that what started his career was his amazement of the poor methodology and reporting regularly encountered in the medical literature. He soon realised that this wasn’t just a research issue, but also a serious matter of ethics ultimately affecting people’s lives. This eureka moment funnelled his unprecedented desire to improve conduct and reporting of all medical research and made it his life’s mission to change our research behaviour. His eagerness to share knowledge and change things for the better led to a huge body of work. In the early 1980s along with Martin Bland, they started the freely available, incredibly helpful, succinct, and eloquent BMJ series of ‘statistics notes’, highlighting statistical and ethical issues in medical research (https://www.bmj.com/specialties/statistics-notes); a must read for all researchers. Countless papers followed, numerous lectures and teaching sessions, as well as many fruitful collaborations; his work shifted expectations for applied medical research and dramatically improved the quality of published work. The best teacher we could possibly encounter with superb writing and speaking skills, he was able to pass his messages in a clear and direct manner, but always with respect, elegance, and thoughtfully chosen words.
Aside from all his achievements, we will just simply miss Doug. Doug had many hobbies including biking, travelling, soccer, reading, photography, having a good dinner with a good glass of wine (preferably red), music, and just talking and laughing with family and friends. Each one of us will remember avidly and proudly the meetings and great moments we shared together.
Doug had a particular interest in prognosis, and over the last 30 years he was instrumental in shaping and improving the methodology of prognostic research and systematic reviews. Without him prognostic methodology would not be at the advanced stage we enjoy today. For many of us, his 1990’s papers and overviews on a variety of prognosis research issues stimulated our PhD theses, research projects, fellowship applications, and even our entire careers. Ultimately, these were the building blocks leading to the PMG’s foundation; thanks to Doug it is a well-established and active group, making important contributions to the work of Cochrane. He was our inspiration and teacher, motivating us to pass on his ideas, thoughts, and passion to enhance the conduct and reporting of prognosis reviews in, and outside Cochrane. Looking ahead we feel that we should honour and continue his immense legacy by making sure that his values, ideas, and planned projects on prognosis research – which he continued to work on until the last days of his life – will reach fruition and are shared with the greater research community. Doug will live on in our thoughts, hearts, and through our research output. We shall never forget the great man that he was. He has inspired us all, and will continue to inspire future generations. A unique personality, but above all an irreplaceable teacher and friend, who has set a stellar example to us with his work and ethos, and whose contribution to medical research has been enormous.
He will be sorely missed.
Thank you Doug
Cochrane Prognosis Methods Group