Sir Iain Chalmers’ personal reflection on the prehistory of the Nordic Cochrane Centre

A personal reflection on the prehistory of the Nordic Cochrane Centre

I am delighted to have been asked to contribute to the 25th anniversary celebration of the Nordic Cochrane Centre. Congratulations and thanks to the Centre for its important contributions to the development of the Cochrane Collaboration.

I am going to offer you a brief, personal, evidence-based account of some aspects of the Centre’s pre-history.

I came to know of Peter Gøtzsche’s methodological research in the 1980s because we shared an interest and concern about publication bias. In 1990, my friend Doug Altman showed me a copy of Peter’s very impressive thesis on ‘Bias in Double-Blind Trials’. I wrote to ‘Dr Goetzsche’ to say that I was already aware of his interests, and I urged him to keep up his extremely important research.

Peter responded promptly (from Medical Department A at the Rigshospitalet). He wrote that, although a newcomer to the field of research methodology, it had become his main research interest. He expressed his hope that he would stay in the field for a long time and that he would be able to meet me and other colleagues who shared his interests.

One measure of my respect for Peter was that the (UK) Cochrane Centre met the costs of his attendance at the opening of the Centre in October 1992, and for Peter to attendance at a rheumatology meeting in Barcelona the following year.

These were good investments. Things moved fast during 1993. Encouraged by the Danish reception of the “Cochrane idea”, Peter established a meta-analysis unit in the Institute of Biostatistics and Theory of Medicine. In February 1993, having learned that a Canadian Cochrane Centre would be established, he asked in a letter to me, “Shouldn’t we set up a Scandinavian Cochrane Centre?” A month later, he had received local support for this proposal.

The Scandinavian (later Nordic) Cochrane Centre was one of the four Cochrane Centres to have been established before the 1st Cochrane Colloquium in October 1993. I won’t forget the way that Peter introduced himself during the initial round of introductions: he described as his hobby as well as his job – ‘hunting down biases’!

October 1993 was a milestone for the UK Cochrane Centre in another way: we appointed a wonderful, cheeky, bright, young Computer Manager called Monica Fischer, née Kjeldstrom. The Nordic Centre subsequently kidnapped Monica from us; but I forgive you because of the fantastic job that she, Jakob Riis and Rasmus Moustgaard did to establish the digital infrastructure from which the Collaboration has benefitted so greatly.

In conclusion, I wish the Nordic Cochrane Centre continued fulfilment in its efforts to serve the interests of patients, and the public more generally.

Iain Chalmers, 9 October 2018