Joshua Wallach: meta-researcher, Beatles fan, pizza connoisseur

Joshua Wallach: Meta-researcher, Beatles fan, pizza connoisseur 

The Yale School of Public Health proudly welcomes a large number of new tenure track faculty joining us this academic year. These individuals have widely varied interests and excel in research, scholarship, innovation and teaching. They complement and expand the expertise already available at the School of Public Health and will be instrumental in addressing many of the health challenges of the 21 st  century.

Today we spotlight Joshua Wallach , assistant professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. Joshua is also affiliated with Yale’s Collaboration for Research Integrity and Transparency (CRIT) and Stanford University’s Meta-Research Innovation Center (METRICS). He holds a Ph.D. (2017) and M.S. (2017) in epidemiology and clinical research from Stanford. 

Q:   Describe your primary academic focus or research specialty?

JW:  My main research area is referred to a "meta-research", or the study of research itself. This multidisciplinary field involves conducting research on existing research to understand how to design, report, and reproduce scientific studies. While it is often believed that meta-research focuses exclusively on combining evidence for one exposure and/or outcome at a time, individual meta-analyses are actually only one component of this diverse research field. Meta-research can involve analyzing incentives necessary to change research practices, identifying obstacles to sharing data and methods, or synthesizing evidence from multiple meta-analyses across multiple topics to understand potential study biases and research methods.

Although meta-research tools can be applied to all scientific fields, one of my areas of focus has been evaluating the tools, standards, and approaches used to assess FDA-regulated products (i.e., regulatory science). Within the Department of Environmental Sciences, I am also interested in conducting meta-research on research focused on environmental exposures.

Q: What are your long-term goals in public health?

JW: Unfortunately, meta-researchers are sometimes considered "research parasites", thriving off of previously published studies, re-analyzing existing datasets, or simply critiquing other researchers’ work. However, I believe meta-research is really focused on increasing the value and quality of the biomedical research process by identifying potential problems and formulating solutions. Therefore, my long-terms goals are to promote the value of studying the scientific method empirically and to improve research reproducibility and transparency. When research is more transparent and reproducible, it is easier to identify findings that will inform policy and improve public health outcomes.   

My short-term goal is to start a multidisciplinary meta-research group within Yale School of Public Health and to work with students and faculty to evaluate and synthesize evidence that can help inform policy. Within the next year, I will also formulate a meta-research course that will deal with evaluating evidence, scientific biases, research reproducibility and open-science practices.

Q: How will the resources available at the Yale School of Public Health help you achieve your goals?

JW: Over the past two years at Yale, I have had the opportunity to connect with faculty and students across the schools of public health, medicine, and law. During this time, I learned about some of the existing resources, including centers, departments, labs and concentrations. These resources help to facilitate collaboration, provide opportunities to learn about new research methods and questions, and will ultimately strengthen my research. I am particularly excited about joining the Department of Environmental Health Sciences.  

My colleagues conduct diverse and fascinating research and my department chair, Vasilis Vasiliou, promotes collaboration, thinks outside the box and is excited about research reproducibility and transparency.  

Q: Tell us something about yourself away from public health (E.g., hobbies, interests, pursuits, etc.).

JW: I am a huge Paul McCartney (and Beatles) fan. I also love eating, overanalyzing, and discussing pizza from New Haven & New York.

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