Winning the 2017 Bill Silverman Prize

Winning the 2017 Bill Silverman Prize

“Winning such a prestigious international award is a rare event and, frankly, important for career development”, Cochrane’s 2017 Winner; David Henry (Professor; Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice, Bond University, Australia)

William (Bill) Silverman (1924-2004) was one of the founders of American neonatal medicine. He was honoured repeatedly as one of the pioneers in his specialty; however, he often evoked somewhat contradictory responses amongst his colleagues because he was in the habit of raising troubling questions about the scientific basis and ethics of his and their practices. Like many of the people who have helped to establish Cochrane, Bill Silverman could be regarded as a 'troublemaker'. As he reiterated frequently, however, criticism is a form of troublemaking that can help to drive progress. Furthermore, criticism should not be limited to examining the work of others, but should also include self-criticism.

Every year Cochrane recognizes the outstanding work of Bill Silverman with its own award. It is offered annually and explicitly acknowledges Cochrane's value of criticism, with a view to helping to improve its work, and thus achieve its aim of helping people make well-informed decisions about health care by providing the best possible evidence on the effects of healthcare interventions.  David Henry, a Centre for Research in Evidence Based Practise Professor at Bond University of the Gold Coast, Australia, was the 2017 recipient of the Bill Silverman Prize.

David wanted to share what made him decide to enter for this prestigious Cochrane award.
At a personal level I had been involved with the Cochrane Collaboration on and off from the early days, after meeting Iain Chalmers during his initial visit to Australia. I did several reviews, but I had not been active in methods development. I was initially sceptical of the move to develop a risk of bias instrument for non-randomised studies of interventions but was won over by the relentless approach of Sterne, Higgins and Reaves in Bristol. Having been involved in the development of the ROBINS-I instrument I was keen to see if application of the tool made a difference to the results of systematic reviews in my own field – pharmacoepidemiology. A small team at the University of Toronto did the work and rather late in the process, one of the group pointed out that the work met the criteria for the Bill Silverman Prize, so we submitted the paper. 

Can you tell us a little more about what made you decide to enter for the Prize and the process involved?
We felt the topic of the work was important and insufficiently researched. An increasing number of observational studies are included in Cochrane reviews and before ROBINS-I, there had not been consensus on how to assess risk of bias in component studies, or even whether it matters. The development of the new Cochrane ROB tool offered an opportunity to determine if exclusion of studies based on their risk of bias altered the findings of reviews. The Bill Silverman Prize was an ideal means to draw attention to the work. Two students led the work and we knew that winning the prize would make a real difference to them at an early stage in their career. 

How did it feel to win? What does this award mean you, personally?
I was particularly pleased for the two students Anja Bilandzic and Tiffany Fitzpatrick who did most of the work. Winning such a prestigious international award is a rare event and, frankly, important for career development. I also must confess that at my stage in life the CV has become rather stale.  So, yes; a prize like this is a welcome contrast to the other boring content!

What’s been the impact of winning the Prize?
It has boosted the careers of the two students. Anja now works as an epidemiologist with Health Canada and Tiffany has enrolled in a PhD and has gone on to do further relevant research. We are very grateful indeed to the Prize Committee for the privilege of receiving the Bill Silverman Prize and I look forward to helping adjudicate applications for the current year.

26 April 2018