The recent National Mental Health Summit included discussion of research priorities for South Africa. This paper reviews some of the background literature that is relevant to this key issue. It draws attention to one contested question, the extent to which research in low and middle income countries should address questions about fundamental mechanisms and clinical treatments versus focusing on questions about implementation and systems research? In addressing this question, the paper argues that the boundary between good clinical practice and good academic scholarship is not nearly as distinct as is often assumed (the "research fallacy"); prospective rigorous assessments, retrospective clinical audits, evidence-based medicine, and useful information systems all point to the mutual interdependence of good practice and good scholarship. Finally, some general conclusions that the majority of summit delegates participating in the discussion on research agreed to, are presented.