Fasten Your Seat Belts for Flying High
First, I am indebted to our Editor, Dr Ajit Sahai, for asking (Inviting!) me to contribute to our Bulletin. He has spiritedly taken up the challenge to raise the level of the ISMS Bulletin by including several write-ups on issues and achievements of the Society. As per his suggestion, I take this opportunity to provide my perspective for future of the Society for consideration of the esteemed members of this august body.
I must thank my colleagues at the outset for proposing that I lead the Society during the two-year period from 1st of January 2015 to 31st of December 2016. I agreed as I was retired and this was a good time for me to payback to the discipline that has given me in life beyond my wildest aspirations – not just in terms of material gains but also in terms of respect internationally.
This Society has always been dear to me and at the core of my professional activities. I was lucky to be in conversation with Dr RN Srivastava for discussing the need to raise this kind of group before this could take a shape. I was unlucky though to miss its first meeting in 1983, as I was on a Visiting Faculty assignment at the Ohio State at that time. I had the opportunity to work with Dr Srivastava at MLN Medical College, Allahabad, in the years 1969 to 1971, where he was Reader and I was Lecturer at that time. It is entirely due to his encouragement and contribution that we could produce some benchmark biostatistical papers on modeling in filariasis and multifactorial analysis of blood pressure levels that were published in Indian Journal of Medical Research at the beginning of my career in early 70s. I was happy to be a secondary author of these papers but, thanks to his greatness, he insisted that I be the first author for these primarily statistical papers. That set the tone for my research endeavours rest of my life, and explains my emotional connect with the Society he founded.
Having paid my tributes to the Founder-President of ISMS, I must admit that a lot has happened during this expanse of 30 years since then. Extremely knowledgeable stalwarts have been heading this Society and they all have contributed in their unique ways. It is because of their enormous inputs that the Society is what it is today. I salute them. The life-membership of the Society has grown to more than 800. It now confers 10 awards at the time of the annual conference each year. The conference has been organized in every corner of the country. My tributes to the organizers of the conferences who worked incessantly for making it a grand success each year. I look forward to a wider participation in the years to come. The list of theses office bearers and the conference organizers is available at http://isms-ind.org/PastAnnualConf.html. This website is being very ably managed by the Department of Biostatistics of CMC, Vellore. This is the first such department in India and has been inspiration for many of us. Dr Anil Mathew, the General Secretary, has undertaken a massive exercise to update the list of members and their addresses on the website. The Treasurer, Dr Ajay Bansal, has applied for a PAN card for the Society. If granted, that will save nearly Rs 15,000/- annually now being deducted as income tax on the interest earned on the deposits in the bank. This saving can be utilized for more interactive running of the Society.
A large number of medical colleges and Institutes of Medical Sciences are opening in every part of the country and the awareness of importance of biostatistics in medical research and practice is steeply increasing. Pharmaceutical industry may also be hiring as the policy for conducting trials within the country firms up. We must gear up to the groundswell in biostatistics personnel across the country. The Society is set to grow in next few years like never before. This upsurge can be attributed primarily to the MCI regulations that require an equivalent of Lecturer in Biostatistics in each medical college. The Society may have to take more proactive steps than done so far to ensure that a Biostatistics Unit is setup in each medical college and a full department in all medical PG and research institutes. This needs to be expanded to include pharmacy, dentistry and nursing. This was never considered before but has great potential. I intend to peruse this with full vigour. We all can help in generating this thrust by doing what we are expected to do – produce high quality research that demonstrates that biostatistics is beyond analysis, and is essential to discover meaning of a mass of data. Let us rise to the occasion and publish papers and reports with high biostatistics content.
A related issue is qualifications required to fill up positions of biostatisticians in the industry and teaching/research institutions. Although the generic meaning of ‘bio’ includes disciplines such as agriculture and zoology, convention is strengthening to restrict this to health and medicine. To avoid this confusion, I started using the term ‘medical biostatistics’ long ago. This includes pharmacy, dentistry, and nursing, among others. Now that we have Master’s and doctoral courses in health statistics, biostatistics, medical statistics, and biometry, the Society may have to actively pursue so that these graduates get priority over those who have degree in statistics or mathematical statistics. Many may disagree, and that view too needs to be given due consideration. We should go by consensus. An incident was recently brought to our notice where candidates with degree in biostatistics were excluded as the advertisement talked only about Master’s in statistics. This Society can play a very effective role in spreading awareness so that this kind of aberrations does not occur.
The Society has been deliberating for long regarding starting something like an Indian journal of biostatistics. That indeed is a very desirable goal. Beside its financial viability, the feasibility has been questioned time and again because of likely shortage of quality papers. It may not be desirable to publish medical papers with some statistical analysis in this biostatistics journal as there are many medical journals for this purpose. In any case, many medical journals in India are also struggling because of lack of quality papers. My crude definition of a biostatistics paper is that it evidences crucial role of biostatistics methods in its results. For me, the best testimony of this is that the first author is a biostatistician. At least in some research endeavours, the biostatistician must lead. Funding agencies these days are liberal and they are looking for worthwhile projects. Biostatisticians across the country must seize the opportunity and conduct research at their own initiative. For primary data we can have medical colleagues as collaborators, otherwise a large amount of secondary data are available free on internet these days for anybody to indulge. Methodological developments also such as health indexes, scoring systems, nomograms, and mapping are not too difficult.
Any frequency less than quarterly of a journal is detested, and quarterly means at least 24 papers are published each year – 6 in each issue. For this we must have at least 50 submissions. Also, there must be willingness to submit it to an Indian journal that is yet to be indexed. Many of you would realize that this is a tall order. My review of PubMed indexed publications reveal that we are way behind at present in producing biostatistics papers. I hope we raise the bar in India and soon start producing at least 50 papers/articles per year with a biostatistician as the first author. Once that happens, the spectre of publishing an Indian journal of biostatistics would clearly emerge for the Society to take its cognizance. I call upon the members of this Society to do this quickly so that the journal becomes a reality. In the mean time, please send your original thoughts to the Editor of our Bulletin. I am sure the Editor will be happy to give it a sympathetic consideration.
The Society must try to expand and make in-roads to other disciplines. I have already mentioned about pharmacy, dentistry and nursing. Others could be AYUSH systems, physiotherapy and para-medical sciences. Biostatistics is practically non-existent in such disciplines. We need to demonstrate and convince how biostatistics is helpful in these disciplines for improving their scientific content. I will take up this as a challenge in the near future.
The Society has been lucky to receive huge donations recently. I expect that this will increase further in course of time. Some of us, particularly those retired, are capable of making larger donations. I call upon our colleagues to be generous and help in enriching the Society they have built up over the years. This can be viewed as a payback to the discipline. The payback can occur in a variety of other ways also, such as setting up websites of the type http://www.MedicalBiostatisics.com with free biostatistics material. This website has been visited by users from more than 120 countries. I wish a time will come when the Society will set up such a website itself to serve its members in particular and the biostatistics professionals in general. Another form of payback was an offer last year to transfer the publication of the book Basic Methods of Medical Research to the ISMS. The premise was that the Society makes money by selling it to the non-members at the regular price while giving it to the members at the cost price reflecting 50% discount. However, due to the constraints of storage and managing the remittances, the proposal could not be accepted.
To those biostatisticians who doubt their bright future, let me add that human variations and uncertainties are bound to propel this subject to its new high. Opportunities for research, writing books, national and international reports, etc., are making it a proverbial ‘sexiest’ profession.
You can see that a large number of activities are lined up for the next few years that could satiate your appetite. I know that some of you are yearning for flying high. Get set, and fasten your seat belts for a take off at a high trajectory. I promise sincere efforts but whether it remains a fantasy or turns into reality would depend on the cooperation of our esteemed members. I hope all will chip-in and do their bit. Your suggestions for further improvements are welcome.