- Open Access
The long and the short of it
© BioMed Central Ltd 2010
- Published: 23 December 2010
- Short Seller
- Short Position
- BioMed Central
- Short Sale
- Large Pharmaceutical Company
Go long on any company that gets rid of its Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), and the earlier in its history that it does so, the better its prospects are. Companies have an SAB to tell them what they ought to be doing. Once they know, they don't need one anymore. Management that ditches its SAB is confident management with a good plan for the future. Any company that still has an SAB after five years or so is a company that has yet to find its way.
Go short on any company that keeps changing management. Stable, confident management is essential to any company's success. There's nothing wrong with making a change when you outgrow your founding management or when that management hasn't delivered, but if you have to keep doing it, something is not right. In fact, here's a good rule of thumb: if you have to choose between good technology and good management, pick management every time. Ideally, of course, you'd like to have both, but good management will find a way to acquire the technology it needs, while good technology with bad management will never go anywhere.
Go long on any company that has resisted the merger-mania that has infected the industry. Giant pharmaceutical companies need an impossible number of blockbusters just to service their debt or generate enough return on capital to justify the merger, tend to stifle innovation rather than promote it, and are usually so bloated and complex that they are unmanageable. When it comes to making drugs, three smaller companies will almost always deliver more products than one company three times their size.
Go short on any big pharma company that reorganizes, especially if it has already done so in the recent past. Reorganization is what management does when it has no better ideas.
Go long on any journal that is attempting to fight the hegemony of the Impact Factor. There's a chance such a journal may actually care about the quality of the stuff it publishes.
Go short on journals that multiply like weeds, producing ever more specialized semi-clones of themselves. Not only are they diluting the brand; they are also likely to suffer a loss of quality. There simply aren't that many good editors and good referees in the world.
Go long, for now, on anything that could be considered 'translational'. At least for the next few years, that's going to be the buzzword. There are several reasons for that. One is that a cabal of powerful and egotistical scientists oversold our ability to deliver cures for diseases so that they could get their pet big science projects funded. Another is that funding agencies are increasingly being run by people who believe they can, and should, set the direction of scientific research from the top down. If you can figure out how to package what you do in terms of translating basic discoveries to having an impact on some human disease, you should do well, for a while at least.
Go short in the long run (I know that sounds funny) on anything that could be considered 'translational'. Making drugs is not a job for amateurs, and the funding agencies are very amateurish at it. Also, sooner or later, someone is going to realize that nobody has the foggiest idea how to accelerate the discovery of cures. Finally, if you think about it, all this new emphasis on 'translational research' is just repeating the same mistake: the powers that be are raising people's expectations again, and there is no chance, in my view, that they will be able to deliver in a time-frame that will satisfy those expectations.
Go long on specific studies aimed at validating hypotheses or generating data that will lead to important hypotheses. That is called science.
Go short on studies that are just data gathering without any intelligence behind them. That is, as Rutherford said, called stamp collecting. My favorite example is the Genome Wide Association effort, which is tantamount to fishing in a dry lake.
Go long on small class sizes, lots of required courses, and teachers who are really excited about their subject and the opportunity to teach it.
Go short on educational fads and the use of technology to replace the human interaction of student with teacher. Go really short on the idea that students should have a big say in what is taught and what they are required to learn. If that idea doesn't have the brief life-span it deserves, the future will be bleak indeed.