"Crossing the valley of death"

I heard this expression in a conference, while the speaker was talking about the path he had taken to commercialize his scientific research...

I was not sure what he meant, so, I googled it. Seems like this expression is used in different scenarios under different conditions (??!).

Could somebody please elaborate it? What does it mean and when/how should it be used?

  • 1
    There are several different sources for the idiom: Psalm 23, Death Valley, California, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and no doubt a few more. Without some context it's hard to guess what specific allusion he was making.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 1, 2016 at 22:11

2 Answers 2


In this case the expression seems to refer to translational research, which is the process by which advancements in basic research are converted into new drugs and therapies in clinical research. Translational research has earned the negative connotation of "Crossing the valley of death" because it has become increasingly difficult and risky for a pharmaceutical companies to translate basic research into a new drug. See Nature News: Translational research....

The expression seems to come from psalm 23:4; "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

  • I added a source and link. Good answers here need a source other than personal knowledge. You may prefer another source; if so, just edit your answer.
    – ab2
    Aug 2, 2016 at 0:37

This is a corruption of a line which features in Judeo-Christian literature and prayer, Psalm 23 - found in its canonical incarnation in the King James Bible:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

In the Psalm it is used as a colorful elaboration on a generally difficult position of any kind, and in particular one which might be deadly. A valley is a metaphorical low point in a journey; it is an enclosure from which a traveller in it cannot see out. This is interesting to me because valleys are in fact very protective features of the landscape for life that lives in them most of the time, but whatever - the point is taken as the author intended it.

Your colleague reiterated a formulation of this concept stripped of the old lexical features, but the meaning - a general reference to a very dangerous low point in his process - was retained. As far as I am aware, it ALWAYS is used to refer to such.


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