So, what does that make this, the third or fourth week of rainy weekdays? I can’t remember. The grays just blur into one another with teasers of blue sky. Yes, we had a very nice weekend last week but it’s happened so rarely lately. Mostly, it’s drizzling when I wake up, I have all kinds of plans to sand my deck and replant the bed out front where the creeping juniper used to be and I just have to sit on all of those things until the sun comes out. No use in renting a sander unless I have a good four hours of no rain and I just can’t count on that these days. The forecast is for more unpredictable precipitation until next Tuesday, although I might catch a break in the cloud cover tomorrow. So, there’s hope that I can finish the f^(*ing deck.
Update for my pharma friends:
Chemjobber has a post about visitors to the White House and how many of them have been from the science industry. Very interesting. Jeffrey Kindler, the ketchup king and now deposed head of Pfizer, was there many, many times. Hey, did I mention that Pfizer decided recently to stop offering employees pensions so that they could risk all of their retirement money in 401Ks? And Chris Viehbacher, he of the “good scientists don’t want to work for big pharmas” fame, (which indicates that he’s never actually gotten down from his lofty perch and spoken to any of the good scientists in his own labs), was there on March 11, 2011, about four months after his company bought Genzyme and proceeded to lay off most of his new acquisition’s chemists.
Well, they probably didn’t want to work for a big company anyway so, you know, conscience clear, and all that.
If you’re in the pharma industry,check it out and see if a CEO has been to visit the president or his advisors and viciously lied to them or collaborated with them or whatever those guys do in the White House.
I’m almost done harping on Pharmageddon. Yesterday, I had a conversation with a reporter from the Washington Post who says he is looking into the high number of layoffs among STEM professionals. (Many thanks to everyone who helped get the word out. We appreciate it.) Let’s hope there’s a crack in the cloud cover on this issue. Either I’m paranoid that the present elected officials don’t want anyone to know how our scientific infrastructure has been decimated, or those same elected officials are dumber than a box of rocks and will believe anything the bonus class is telling them about structural unemployment, or there are too many scientific morons on the Republican side of the aisle in Congress, or they’re all being mislead by the out-of-date numbers of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. None of those possibilities give me peace of mind. On the other hand, since there are so many of us out of work right now, we should look into replacing the clueless in Congress with our own geekier representatives. At least there are two good years of employment and health bennies to look forward to.
Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has a question for the ex-pharma crowd: What’s the craziest misinformation you’ve heard about the pharma industry or science in general? He’s listed a couple that I’ve heard over and over again. The first is that industry has found the cure for cancer and it’s sitting on it. Friends, I know that anyone who reads this blog is smarter than the average smartass lefty blogger so I shouldn’t have to tell you this but that idea makes no f^&*ing sense. If industry had the cures for cancer, they’d be marketing the hell out of them and charging whatever the market would bear, which would be plenty. If you’ve ever had a family member who is terminally ill with cancer, you know that you would mortgage your house to buy him a cure and the guys in the marketing department of Trustus Pharmaceuticals know it too. So, this is a ridiculous idea. The truth is both good and bad. We’re getting closer to understanding the mechanisms of cancers but we’re still a long way off from beating it. What we need is more money and more commitment from our governments.
The second idea is that all of the science comes from government funded grants. While it’s true that grants fund a lot of basic research, it is NOT true that industry takes that already discovered and perfect drug and markets it for a profit. No, no, no, no, noooooooo. At best, industry gets a clue from academia, maybe some insight, a mechanism, and occasionally a germ of a drug in its earliest form. What industry does is accumulate all of the information about the proposed target as it can, sifts through it, determines if there is something it can work with, and then sets about doing the years and years of research it takes to develop those ideas into a therapy. It’s a long hard slog that involves many steps of biology, chemistry, pharmacology and animal models to get to the point where *maybe* there’s a drug in there somewhere.
That doesn’t diminish the government’s role in funding research. This research is vital to what comes after. But it’s like Edison’s 1% inspiration followed by industry’s 99% perspiration. And along the way, industry is able to add insights to the original problem. We’re not just applied science monkeys. We make our own discoveries along the way and add to the body of knowledge on a subject through our own papers and presentations. That, in turn, helps feed science in general. The more knowledge that’s out there, the more chances that academia and industry will find places to collaborate. We are now seeing a lot more collaboration between academia and research. And while that’s a good thing, academia needs to be funded more generously for new collaborations to work optimally and to boost academia’s contribution past that 1% inspiration. Biology is undergoing a modern, “paradigm shifting” revolution right now. We can’t afford for any government lab to be underfunded or our nation will be left behind.
What our elected officials need to do is make sure that the people who fund the collaborations benefit as well as the industries that develop the ideas. Can we do it? Sure we can. We just need to think of the American people as stakeholders.
And here’s what will happen if we do not take this challenge seriously. A recent article in the NYTimes says that American Physicists fear that we are losing our edge:
When three American astronomers won the Nobel Prize in Physics last year, for discovering that the expansion of the universe was speeding up in defiance of cosmic gravity — as if change fell out of your pockets onto the ceiling — it reaffirmed dark energy, the glibly named culprit behind this behavior, as the great cosmic surprise and mystery of our time.
And it underscored the case, long urged by American astronomers, for aNASA mission to measure dark energy— to determine, for example, whether the cosmos would expand forever or whether, perhaps, there might be something wrong with our understanding of gravity.
In 2019, a spacecraft known as Euclid will begin such a mission to study dark energy. But it is being launched by the European Space Agency, not NASA, with American astronomers serving only as very junior partners, contributing $20 million and some infrared sensors.
For some scientists, this represents an ingenious solution, allowing American astronomers access to the kind of data they will not be able to obtain on their own until NASA can mount its own, more ambitious mission in 2024.
But for others, it is a setback. It means that for at least the next decade, Americans will be relegated to a minor role in following up on their own discovery.
American scientists are facing a real dilema. If our government is not going to invest in basic research, we will be putting ourselves decades behind. As science accelerates in the rest of the world, we will fall back even faster. Pretty soon, America will start to resemble one of those 2nd world countries where corruption is pervasive and where government is permanently underfunded and the number of Nobel prizes going to that country’s scientific infrastructure is vanishingly small.
We are at Robert Frost’s “two roads diverged in a yellow woods”. The decisions we make now will affect the way our country develops. Are we going to continue to cater to the conservatives who insist on allowing ignorance on evolution, climate science and private sector funding take us down the road to scientific obscurity or are we going to recommit to taking the lead in science and technology and demand that the wealthy step up, pay their taxes and help us refund our efforts so that American citizens, the stakeholders, benefit? Can we afford for so many Americans to feel entitled to their ignorance?
Anyone? Anyone? Barack?