Need Yves Smith’s analysis of new Pfizer hostile takeover of Astra-Zeneca

Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has a post on Pfizer’s hostile move on Astra-Zeneca:

What the hell is Ian Read thinking? Pfizer is apparently going hostile with their attempt to buy out AstraZeneca, all but ensuring that the deal, if it goes through, will take place at the highest price and in the messiest fashion that it possibly could. And for what?

If you’ve been following Pharmageddon from the beginning, you will know that Astra-Zeneca’s fall off the “patent cliff” was one of the steepest in the industry.  The patent cliff is the term used in the industry that refers to the expiration of patents for the major blockbuster drugs.

Patent Cliff by company since 2010.

 

Weirdly, most blockbuster patents have expired within the past decade because they were discovered in the 90′s, the golden age of drug research.  If you’re wondering why your blood pressure meds are suddenly so affordable, that’s why.  They’re generic now.  Pharma can’t make as much money off them anymore.  Great!, you say.  And it probably is great, to some extent.  The problem is there is not a lot in the pipeline to replace them, that is, if you’re interested in more effective drugs with fewer side effects.  There are several reasons for this that I’ve discussed in previous posts but the primary cause is NOT for lack of trying.  Researchers have seemingly endless dogged determination to preserver in  the face of failure after failure.  The problem is that research has to deal with *two* impossible systems: the complex biology and the self-serving, clueless managerial/finance class.  And the underfunded and politicized FDA.  Make that THREE impossible systems.  And the class action law industry.  FOUR! It all adds up to unnecessarily and ridiculously expensive drugs.  But I digress.

So, according to Derek, Astra had some really rough years, laid off a ton of people in Delaware and all around the world, but hired a new guy in 2012 to turn the ship around and has plans to consolidate a tiny fraction of their research unit in Cambridge, MA where no one really wants to work because it’s a.) expensive, b.) a pain in the ass commute and c.) an insecure career environment for researchers.  MBAs really are a bunch of status snob lemmings, I swear.  Or magpies chasing the latest shiny thing.

My bad, that’s Cambridge, UK where AZ wants to set up its stripped down R&D division.  It’s probably just as attractive to the relocated researchers (You happy few!  You band of brothers!) as the American Cambridge.

Derek makes a good point in that Pfizer has a lot of money to spend on the small, nimble biotech startups that MBA types have told the analysts are supposed to be able to generate a s^&*load of drugs to inlicense.  They’re like unicorns, these little startups, or like perfectly elastic collisions of particles in a box.  Theoretically, they exist but in the real world?  ehhhhh, not so much.  Drugs rarely emerge from these tiny incubators fully formed because, helloooooo, Silicon Valley, drug discovery is NOT like writing code for a new Facebook.  But you’ll find out in the next couple of years.  Just sit in on one of the project teams while the biologists drone on and on and on about how much to tweak the components of their confirmatory and cell based assays to make them reproducible and it will quickly dawn on you that drug discovery makes coding look like Chutes and Ladders.  Even so, we’ve got to wonder why Pfizer is choosing to forgo spending some of their billions on the biotech startups in order to sit on a pile of cash.  Where is the drive for innovation we’re always hearing so much about?

Anyway, where was I?  After pondering the problem for awhile, Derek hypothesizes that Pfizer is buying Astra-Zeneca, a foreign owned company, to hide its taxable profits from the US government.  Or the British government.  It’s like some British, Swedish, American threesome, which initially sounds like a good time for everyone except the citizens who actually count on corporations to respect them. It’s a rather strong accusation but Derek says he never wants to work for Pfizer anyway.  That’s Ok for him but my pension was acquired by Pfizer when it gobbled up Wyeth and then proceeded to lay off every one of the people I used to work with.  I’m kind of concerned with this wobbly third leg of my rapidly disappearing retirement stool so if Pfizer is up to something, I’d like to know what the heck it is.

The remaining survivors in research at Astra-Zeneca can see what’s coming.  They must be busily rewriting their CVs and networking instead of finishing that reaction or fishing the crystals out of solution to send to the synchrotron.  What a lovely way to spend your hours in the lab.  And the industry wonders why there is nothing in the pipeline after 20 years of this crap.

What this research project team really needs is a financially nerdly Yves Smith type who can look at the details of the proposed takeover and report back in a meeting to tell us what’s up.  More to the point, what does the UK’s new tax rates for foreign profits say about whether the conservative government is trying to make Britain into a sleeker global tax haven?  I’m just a chemist.  Money is not my area of expertise.  This project team needs a finance specialist.

 

 

Business ruined science in this country

These two posts go together:

Engineers See a Path out of Green Card Limbo at the NYTimes

and

Promoting STEM Education, Foolishly at In the Pipeline by Derek Lowe

Here’s the bottom line as Derek spells it out:

And that takes us back to the subject of these two posts, on the oft-heard complaints of employers that they just can’t seem to find qualified people any more. To which add, all too often, “. . .not at the salaries we’d prefer to pay them, anyway”. Colin Macilwain, the author of this Nature piece I’m quoting from, seems to agree:

“But the main backing for government intervention in STEM education has come from the business lobby. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a businessman stand up and bemoan the alleged failure of the education system to produce the science and technology ‘skills’ that his company requires, I’d be a very rich man.

 I have always struggled to recognize the picture these detractors paint. I find most recent science graduates to be positively bursting with both technical knowledge and enthusiasm.

If business people want to harness that enthusiasm, all they have to do is put their hands in their pockets and pay and train newly graduated scientists and engineers properly. It is much easier, of course, for the US National Association of Manufacturers and the British Confederation of British Industry to keep bleating that the state-run school- and university-education systems are ‘failing’.”

This position, which was not my original one on this issue, is not universally loved. (The standard take on this issue, by contrast, has the advantage of both flattering and advancing the interests of employers and educators alike, and it’s thus very politically attractive). I don’t even have much affection for my own position on this, even though I’ve come to think it’s accurate. As I’ve said before, it does feel odd for me, as a scientist, as someone who values education greatly, and as someone who’s broadly pro-immigration, to be making these points. But there they are.

Anyone who thinks that all you need to make  good science is cheap, well educated labor should really give it a whirl sometime.  Let me know how you’re doing after a decade of lab work and half a dozen restructurings.

The idea that we need to import more foreign engineers when American engineers can’t get work here and have to go work in Canada and Japan is just beyond cruel and stupid.

As Colin McIlwain says, the idea that there is a shortage of well educated, technically proficient and experienced American scientists is something the business community conjured up in order to push wages down.  Congress is either willfully ignorant or completely bamboozled if it seriously thinks that we need more foreign STEM graduates.  I recommend that the coastal Senators and Reps take a good look at their states’ unemployment statistics to see what Pharmageddon has done to the R&D industry.  It’s a hemorrhage of good jobs and tax revenue and if they pass this immigration measure, they’re only going to make the problem worse.

Good science is hard work and should be paid accordingly.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known scientists who have been here for years and had difficulty getting a Green Card and I have great sympathy for them.  They paid their dues and deserved the card.  But we don’t need more foreign math and science students here until we can clear the backlog of the hundreds of thousands un and underemployed scientists that are struggling to get by since the bonus class decided it didn’t really need research after all.  In any case, they’re smart enough to figure it out.  When low wages make living in the US a losing proposition after 10 years of undergraduate and graduate school, they’ll stop coming here.

They might try France instead.  Here’s an article from the WSJ about how R&D employees got the aid of the French government on its side to keep the research facilities open when the Bonus Class at Sanofi tried to shut them down.  The secret?  UNIONS.

Want to know where the next great discoveries are going to come from?  Europe.

If American STEM workers don’t start fighting back, we all lose:

Still busy doing stuff work and house related.  It’s perfect gardening weather here in Pittsburgh.  I’m having a couple of cubic yards of mulch and top soil mix dropped off here later and I have a ton of weeding to do.  Now, where are my secateurs?

Talking us down from the glyphosate ledge

Glyphosate. Not keeping me up at night.

Glyphosate is now the new cyclamate and we’re all supposed to be terrified to use it in agriculture.  Oh, please.  Check out this analysis of the glyphosate study by Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline, Is Glyphosate Poisoning Everyone?.  Here’s the money quote:

Now, that presumably sounds extremely detailed and impressive if you don’t know any toxicology. What you wouldn’t know from reading through all of it is that their reference 121 actually tested glyphosate against human CYP enzymes. In fact, you wouldn’t know that anyone has ever actually done such an experiment, because all the evidence adduced in the paper is indirect – this species does that, so humans might do this, and this might be that, because this other thing over here has been shown that it could be something else. But the direct evidence is available, and is not cited – in fact, it’s explicitly ignored. Reference 121 showed that glyphosate was inactive against all human CYP isoforms except 2C9, where it had in IC50 of 3.7 micromolar. You would also not know from this new paper that there is no way that ingested glyphosate could possibly reachlevels in humans to inhibit CYP2C9 at that potency.

In the pharma lab, if a compound had an IC50 of 3.7 micromolar against a target, we’d have to be desperate to call it a “hit”.  That level of activity means you’d have to choke down a lot of chocolate cookies before you’d be even mildly affected.

So, you can stop worrying about glyphosate poisoning.  That doesn’t mean everything in the world is safe to consume.  It’s just that glyphosate is no dioxin and you won’t have to superfund site a farm that uses it.

Lowe also has a post on the cost of cancer drugs that is worth reading.  It gems fairly nicely with my cynical theory of the current pharma business model, which goes like this: Once upon a time, big pharma made drugs for all kinds of ailments, like heart disease, schizophrenia, depression, reproductive health, antibiotics, diabetes, pain, inflammation, etc.  But over the last 30 years, it has become increasingly more difficult to get those drugs to market for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here.  Suffice it to say that the FDA doesn’t approve very many small molecule drugs anymore.  Like virtually none.  A pharma can spend a lot of money on research only to have a drug shot down at the approval stage.  So, how does a drug company make money if it can’t sell drugs?

Easy.  It concentrates on cancer and orphan drugs.  Orphan drugs are for diseases that are relatively rare.  For cancer drugs, the path to profit is pretty straightforward.  The patients are desperate. They’ll pay what the market will bear and then some.  Will they mortgage their houses?  Yeah, probably.  So, the market is there.  But it gets better.  Cancer drugs are fast tracked for approval and no one is overly concerned with toxicity.  In other words, there won’t be class action lawsuits because patients are grateful for any extension of life they get.  Even if the patient dies, their families are likely to consider their treatment as advancing the knowledge of science.  No one complains.  If you’re a bean counter, oncology drugs are as good as it gets.  They’re profitable, quickly approved, they don’t have to be perfect and no one will hold you accountable.  It’s probably the same situation for orphan drugs.

This is the financier’s mindset at work.  R&D people don’t think like this.  But in the end, there is a ceiling to the amount of money we as a society are willing to pay for potentially lifesaving drugs and  we are now up against it.  Meanwhile, if you are suffering from any other ailment, like bipolar disease or osteoporosis or some flesh eating bacterial infection, you’re going to be stuck with older drugs that are quickly becoming generics.  The good news is that the generics will be cheaper, well, at least for a little while longer.  I don’t think that can last as there won’t be enough profit in generics to keep the production facilities up to FDA standards. I can easily imagine some production facilities being taken offline a la the rolling blackouts of the California energy crisis 10 years ago.  Some jerk generics traders are going to be yucking it up about Granny not being able to afford her cholesterol lowering drugs.  Call me paranoid but as far as I know, there’s nothing to stop such scenarios from taking place and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already happened.

At some point, the price of generics will start to rise and in some cases, they haven’t really dropped all that much yet.   There won’t be a steady stream of new and improved drugs coming from the pipeline.  It will be more of a thin trickle.  The public has spoken.  It doesn’t want me-too drugs even if they are better than what’s already on the market, and it doesn’t want any drug that’s less than 100% perfect and free from all side effects.  Whether this combination of financier morality and public skittishness is good for medicine, science or society are questions we haven’t even considered yet.  No one, it seems, except the displaced scientists from Pharmageddon seem to be discussing those issues.  Someday, the Ezra Kleins and Duncan Blacks will wonder how that happened but it’s already almost too late to do anything about the coming Dark Ages of pharmaceutical medicine.

So, if you’re rich and you have cancer, you’re probably going to be Ok.  If not, well, it’s just another symptom of being in the 99%.

Pharma can’t find post-doc STEM graduates to do incredibly boring paperwork jobs, hiring managers say

Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline asked for an eye catching headline to summarize a new labor report on the dismal fate of STEM graduates so I thought I’d give it a shot:

The knowledge-intensive pharmaceutical industry had the highest reported difficulty in hiring top talent of the 19 industries featured in PwC’s 2012 Global CEO Survey. CEOs identified talent gaps as one of the biggest threats to future growth prospects.

Research conducted by HRI, including a survey of human resource and R&D executives at U.S. biopharmaceutical companies found (that) fifty-one percent of industry executives report that hiring has become increasingly difficult and only 28 percent feel very confident they will have access to top talent.

Of course, the workplace is not stagnant and the demand for certain skills is always evolving. Seen this way, the data suggest that pharma execs may want the sort of talent that is not on the sidelines or simply clamoring for a different opportunity. For instance, 34 percent say that developing and managing outside partnerships is the most important skill being sought among scientists. . .

Well, it all makes sense to me.  What pharma wants is not scientists, they want lawyers to negotiate contracts and efficiency experts to break down each experiment into a set of easily digestible tasks.  That’s not really science anymore because the ability to think for oneself, analyze procedures and take advantage of serendipity is lacking but nevermind the counterintuitiveness of it all. Chemists and molecular biologists didn’t spent 12 extra years doing lab work in order to push papers around.  They planned to actually work in a lab, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Funny how you have to tack that apology onto the end of the sentence when you are referring to people who actually get their hands dirty.  We’re working with someone else’s values when it is assumed that the thing scientists would prefer above all things is to work their way out of the lab and never have to touch a chemical or wear a labcoat again.  Well, anyway, they said they don’t want people like that anymore.  You know, those scientific malingerers who hide out in university corridors waiting for a hit of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry or whiff of stewing e.coli.

This is what happens to an industry that gets taken over by the brain trusts on Wall Street.  They think that any industry that’s not finance can be outsourced and managed by people a little bit like them but who simply have more experience in the lab.  I hope they’re not counting on fresh out of school Harvard PhDs to this work because even they need about a decade’s worth of seasoning before they even know who to manage or what to do to make a project work.

Come to think of it, you don’t need PhDs to do this stuff.  Why not just hire any science type sucker who needs to make ends meet?  We all know how to use Excel and PowerPoint and we’ve all got experience slogging through the badly implemented SAP systems that the executive branch is so proud of.  You don’t need to go to an Ivy League university for 12 years to be a scientifically literate corporate drone.  A BS level employee with a 2 month crash course in drug discovery could probably do it.  I mean, that’s how it’s done on Wall Street, right?  You take some overprivileged  23 year old recent graduates from Princeton and teach them how to do finance in 2 months before they’re set loose on the world.  What could possibly go wrong?

Flee from science majors, little children!  Flee!

In another sign of the times, Derek posts on yet another company that’s had to lay off early stage discovery staff in order to move their two lead projects into development and clinical trials.  That means, the dedicated chemists, drug designers, biologists, pharmacologists, etc will have to pack up their pipettes and find another job.  They probably *won’t* be able to work on the same kind of project again and use their expertise. There goes the mortgage on the house, the car payments, the college funds.  Imagine having to do this every couple of years- if you’re lucky enough to actually work in a lab and not tied to a chair in Massachusetts managing people in Shanghai.

I hope it’s not to much longer before our nation’s leaders realize they’ve been lied to about the promise of “entrepreneurship” in biotech.  The initial overhead costs are among the highest of any industry and a payoff is unlikely.  The big pharmas that are preying like vultures on the promising tidbits on the skeletons of little start ups are the same companies that couldn’t get blockbusters to market after several rounds of M&A and sinking billions of dollars into very badly managed R&D departments.

Believe it or not, there are lot of scientists who are not dying to relocate to Cambridge to work in the offices of big pharma.  The ones who do go to Cambridge and South San Francisco are just postponing the inevitable.  The rest of us would rather take pay cuts for some modicum of stability or get out of science altogether.

Whatever.  What the world needs now is a good plague to wipe out the aristocrats and middle men and let the scientists get on with it without any further interference.

************************************

Zombie Symmetry shows what’s involved in drug discovery these days:

Big Pharma and the power of a union

French union scientists at Toulouse do a haka to protest salary and position cuts.
{{sniff}} I am so proud!

Derek Lowe at In The Pipeline wrote recently about French drugmaker Sanofi’s recent plans to close some sites in France.  I’ll get to that in a minute but first a little background.

A few weeks ago, Sanofi announced that it would be closing some French sites, the biggest site would be at Toulouse.  The closure would have put approximately 2300 scientists out on the unemployment rolls.  The Ministry that handles labor and unemployment had a fricking fit:

Besides unions, Sanofi has gotten an ear full from some government officials. With France’s economy struggling, the fact that Sanofi’s mother country was absorbing more of the pain, has not set well. French Productive Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg told senators when the cuts were first leaked: “Sanofi showed up at the ministry to tell us they were planning several thousand job cuts. Couldn’t you have said that earlier on? Last year you made €5 billion ($6.1 billion) in profits.”

And I’m sure that Sanofi would have cut elsewhere, if they had anywhere else to cut.  Last year, the company laid off all of the scientists at their main site in the US that was located in Bridgewater, NJ.  A couple dozen jobs were rescued and sent to the Cambridge, MA site, which is small, cramped and inadequate.  The rest of the projects were distributed to the French sites.  And do you want to know WHY the work went to the French sites and not to China (at least not yet)?  I’ll tell you why:

THE FRENCH SCIENTISTS ARE PROTECTED BY A UNION

Their union is pretty damn good too.  You could take every project away from them and have them just occupying the sites and playing tetris all day and the company would still have to pay them.  So, any time the company felt like research was being too much of a money pit, they took it out on the US workers until there weren’t any left.

This time, the unions threatened to strike and the French Productive Recovery Minister told the company that dumping French scientists on the labor market and relying on the government was not an option.  Usually, the companies who do business in France lay scientists off through attrition or generous early retirement packages.  A straight layoff , although rare, is still heavenly by American standards with terminated employees getting up to 80% of their salaries for 2 years and then able to go on the French public assistance program after that.  AND you don’t need to shell out half your unemployment on COBRA.  So, pretty sweet deal even if you’re being laid off.  You have time to find something else or go back to school for retraining or emigrate to Canada.  Your life isn’t thrown into an instant and chronic crisis.  And THAT, in turn, helps stabilize the rest of the economy.  The more people who can spend and keep demand up, the less of a hit the economy takes in newly unemployed people.

Anyway, it was still looking pretty grim for the French scientists until this week.  It looks like the Productive Recovery Ministry and the unions had an impact.  From Derek’s post:

here’s the announcement itself. And maybe this is my first impression, but compared to what’s gone on in other Sanofi sites (like Bridgewater), this one comes across like a shower of dandelion fluff. No reduction in the number of sites, no actual layoffs – just 900 positions to phase out, mostly via attrition, over the next two years. The Toulouse site is the only loose end; that one is the subject of a “working group” to figure out what it’s going to do, but I see no actual language about closing it.

Here’s more from FiercePharma’s article on the cutbacks in France:

A key official in France is keeping up pressure on Sanofi about its planned work force reductions in the country, sticking to the position that the drug giant ($SNY) hasn’t done enough to protect jobs. And French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg makes clear in reports today that he isn’t satisfied with how the company plans to secure the future of its R&D site in Toulouse.

Montebourg has been a thorn in the side of Sanofi. Early this week Sanofi softened its stance on job cuts in France, saying the company would seek to shrink its work force in the country by 900 jobs through early retirements and voluntary moves and transfers in the next few years, as opposed to the 2,300 to 2,500 jobs at the company previously estimated to be on the chopping block. Yet the minister and others keep harping on Sanofi’s unresolved plan for its Toulouse site, where 600 additional jobs hang in the balance.

Sanofi wants to part ways with research in Toulouse, and said earlier this week that it would work with stakeholders in the coming months to solidify plans to keep the operation alive, Reuters reported. That too fell short with Montebourg and unhappy Sanofi workers and labor officials.

“Trade unions are right to say this is too much,” Montebourg told BFM television, as reported by Reuters. “The government thinks this is too much and we want guarantees for Toulouse.”

Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher, who has reportedly met with the industry minister, has found resistance in his strategy to double down on productive R&D centers while making cutbacks at those that fail to meet expectations.

You know, if Chris Viehbacher wanted to preserve the company’s most productive sites, maybe he should have kept the US scientists on their tree-lined campuses instead of keeping them in a high state of suspense for several years, terminating their projects and then stupidly laying them off and closing the site.  No wonder the French Ministry doesn’t believe a single thing he says.

So, there you go, folks.  If you want to stand up to the bonus class and save your jobs, you need to get a union and the government behind you.  Or maybe just the government behind you.  You don’t need to work 24/7 like a maniacal drone on crack, cranking out work and trying to impress everyone working like crazy, singing, “I really need this job.  Oh, God, I need this job” to guys on Wall Street who don’t give a shit anyway.  No, you have your union representatives negotiate a contract that makes it extremely painful for the company to drop its commitment to you.

Not only that, but the union has to be very, very active and visible, like standing outside the cafeteria, handing out grievance pamphlets and making its presence very known to the management.  Imagine going to lunch to eat your company subsidized baguette, custom prepared omelet and glass of red wine and being greeted at the door by a union person dissing the management and getting away with it.  (Oh, yes, it really happens, I saw it with my own eyes.)  Take a look at that picture.  Does that look like a bunch of broken human beings, cowering under the whip they’ve been forced to kiss, cringing in fear of being fired for speaking up or fighting for their rights?  Damn straight it doesn’t.

That’s why I keep saying that drug discovery will survive in Europe. They’ll have an infrastructure in France and Germany and the expertise that is acquired from having stability and continuity of uninterrupted research.  They’ll be able to keep pace with this rapidly changing explosion of biological discoveries while thousands of US scientists will be trapped in routine, unchallenging CROs or having their expertise rotting from disuse.  Maybe they won’t be as productive as the US researchers used to be or as ingenious as possible but, by golly, they may be all the world has left unless and until the Chinese and Indians can stabilize their business environment and take the lead in research.  It’s not easy and it will take some time before that happens.  The finance guys are going to have to take an old, cold tater and wait, not something they’re good at.  They’re going to be mad that they can’t transform our salaries into their bonus gold, but such is life.  The French government is finally standing up to them and saying “Non”.  In this case, the unions are actually doing them a favor, giving them an excuse to keep the technological expertise in the country and giving it an edge when the recession finally eases up.  The government will soak the corporations for salaries, not the workers for absolutely everything.

The bad news is that now that Sanofi has been forced to scale back their cutback plans in France, they’re going to have to take it out on their remaining employees elsewhere, like their site in Cambridge, which is already tiny, and their exploratory facility located in Tucson, Arizona.

So, for those of you professionals who are watching in horror at what happened to the scientists in this country, take note: get a union.  The problem of unemployment among us is not structural.  There are plenty of us and many of us are willing to relocate or work from home.  The problem is that the big guys don’t want to pay us for our expertise.  So, they’re going to keep spreading this lie that they can’t find enough qualified workers.  The real problem is that OUR government is not on OUR side.  The Obama administration would rather this country lost its technological edge and make precariats of us all than to stick up for us when the finance guys calculate their bonuses based on how many R&D bodies they can chop.

Sad but true and this story is proof.

Good Morning

Cue the music

Some more bad news on the research front.  Earlier this week, Merck laid off a number of employees from the parent company and Schering-Plough, the company it merged with a couple years ago.  I can’t find a firm number for the total layoffs.  In some reports, it’s 17,000, in others it is 17,000 plus an additional 13,000.  That’s worldwide.  And while Merck has something like 91,000 employees worldwide, when it comes to laying off research, it comes primarily from the US side because American research workers have zero labor protections.  I would expect the loss from Western European research facilities to be light.  Estimated cost savings are $400 million out of a budget of $7.9 billion.  That is a huge research budget but that’s what it takes these days.  Drug discovery is very expensive.  Merck and Schering-Plough have facilities in the Northeast, particularly in Rahway, NJ, West Point, PA and Kennilworth, NJ.  Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline says he is getting heavy casualty reports in from the research professionals at Schering Plough (Kennilworth).  I know people who work at both companies and I’m very sad for them.  This is not a good time to be untethered from a steady income.  I hope they’ve prepared themselves.  The loss to the states of NJ and PA in tax revenue from cutting these well-paying jobs is going to be pretty bad.  So, this month we have Novartis, Amgen and Merck-Schering-Plough.  Wait, wasn’t there another one?  Too many to keep track of.  And more competition for me.  Well, I am in good company.  Some of the smartest people in the country, no, the *world* are now out of work.

Jay Ackroyd thinks that the desire to globalize is driving this and calling it “centrism”.  Jay’s anger and disgust is pretty clear but coming from the corporate world that most lefties hate, hate, HATE with all their souls, I see this a little differently.  For example, take the way Steve Jobs was pushed out of Apple back in the 80′s.  I’m listening to the biography by Walter Isaacson.  Jobs was no saint.  Back in the 80s, he was the heartless boss from hell.  I guess you could chalk that up to youthful immaturity but when the precariousness of his position at Apple hit him, he got a sense of how companies would work in the future.  John Sculley, the president Jobs hired to run Apple, was a marketing guy.  He didn’t understand the product he was manufacturing.  He wanted to spin off the creative part of Apple to a unit called Apple Labs, that would be run by Jobs.  It was a way to get rid of Jobs and his loyal creative types who wanted to act like pirates.  Sculley wanted employees to put Apple, the company, first.  People like Jobs wanted to put the product first.  It’s too bad that he acted like such an obnoxious, insulting immature brat because Jobs was right.  Most companies have followed the Sculley route.  They put sales and marketing and making money first.  And that’s what companies are for, to make money.  You’d have to be stupid if you had any altruistic aspirations for having a company.  But what marketing people fail to see is that without a product, you have nothing to sell.  If you short your R&D division, you’ll be cutting your own throat. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen.  And then you’ll be busily eating your seed corn to make those quarterly earnings, like Merck, Pfizer, Novartis, Amgen…  After Jobs grew up a bit and came back to Apple, he put the focus back on innovative products and now, the company is the most profitable in the world.

So what does this have to do with Ackroyd’s piece?  Well, if pharma is any indication of what is really going on, globalization is a fad.  That’s what the business people do.  They chase fads and trends.  They rarely follow up on their initial enthusiasm to see if the fads actually add to their bottom lines.  It’s the initial savings that they care about because that’s immediate, it’s quarterly and they think better in 3 month increments.  Pharma went through a period of mergers and acquisitions that did nothing for research and only enriched executives’ pockets.  But there have been other fads, like combinatorial chemistry, proteomics, siRNA, and genomics.  None of them turned out to be the panacea the Sculley class was looking for because the nature of biology is such that these technologies were just tools that we used to dig up more problems to solve.  They were never intended to be solutions all by themselves.  The newest fad is to relocate all of research (or what is left) in the bay areas, Cambridge,MA and San Francisco and San Diego, CA.  Presumably, the smartest people in the world graduate from MIT and Harvard and Stanford and UCSD.  That may be true.  But it may also be the case that only the wealthy and well connected can get into those schools anymore.  It also ignores the fact that for years, biomedical researchers came from all over the country, prestigious and unprestigious schools alike.  I’ve known excellent researchers who graduated from schools in Indiana, Colorado, New Jersey and Louisiana.  But this idea of educational exclusivity and capturing the elite is the new fad.  They will do the brain work and the hands on stuff will be carried out by a bunch of drones in China and India.  The corporate guys are marketing and sales and business school guys.  They think research and innovation can be broken down to a list of mind numbing chores and “just in time” off the shelf solutions while the “better people”, people like them in their social class, are graduating from ivy league schools and those people have the natural talent to manage the innovation process.  The corporation will take the profits gained by outsourcing.

And they are following this course of action and business not because it is good for the companies they serve but because they can.  The rules don’t apply to them anymore.  I’m not sure the goal was always globalization but now that there’s nothing to stop them, that’s what they’re going to do even if it ruins the product line.  The Sculleys of this world do not understand what motivates people who do research and who are inspired to innovate.  Here’s a clue: the most profitable product line of the world was designed by a college drop out and his rag tag bunch of unorthodox pirates who were left to their own devices.

So, Jay, I wouldn’t worry too much about the desire to globalize.  At some point, the grasshoppers will stop eating their seed corn because there will be nothing left, the big corporations you hate will find themselves smaller and their research divisions located in Western Europe and the fascination for the elite universities will be tempered by the reality that real innovation takes time and dedication and getting the right people *together* in one place.  At some point, the researchers in China and India will get fed up with studying hard for years only to be treated like cheap assembly line workers by the Sculley class.  It would also help if lefties took some time to understand pharma so they would stop contributing to the demise of biomedical research through bone headed ignorance.  But that’s another post.  Yeah, it may mean that the innovation infrastructure of the US is decimated.  But I wouldn’t be looking for meaning in any of this.  Think of it like water flowing in the path of least resistance.  There’s nothing intelligent about this, as in sentient beings planning to gut their product lines for the sake of a quick buck.  There’s no giant conspiracy to globalize.  It’s happening because we allowed it to happen.

When we block the path to a quick buck at the middle class’ expense, it will stop.  And we know this is possible because there are countries where the government has protected their innovative infrastructure.  When the dust settles and the corporations come to their senses, it will be the middle class in places like Germany and France who will be able to carry on.  If we want to be one of those countries, we have to decide that we want to reimpose the rules.  There’s no need to over analyze.  But I would like to point out that saving innovation here does not mean that we as a country will not be taking advantage of cheap labor elsewhere.  As Nucky Thompson says, “We all need to decide how much sin we can live with.”

In other news, if the election were held today, guess which politician would have the best chance of beating the Republicans?  It’s Hillary.  Yep, sorry lefties who hate Hillary, in a recent Time Magazine poll she beats the Republicans by larger margins than Obama does and she’s not even in the race (yet):

A national poll conducted for TIME on Oct. 9 and 10 found that if Clinton were the Democratic nominee for President in 2012, she would best Mitt Romney 55% to 38%, Rick Perry 58% to 32% and Herman Cain 56% to 34% among likely voters in a general election. The same poll found that President Obama would edge Romney by just 46% to 43%, Perry by 50% to 38% and Cain by 49% to 37% among likely voters.

Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2011/10/27/hillary-clinton-and-the-limits-of-power/#ixzz1cBO8BDMj

It always amuses me when the left starts to hyperventilate about the prospect of a Republican president next year and how evil that would be.  But when you give them a perfectly acceptable alternative of someone with a lot of experience, who is excelling in foreign policy, runs a global executive branch and has been able to stay away from domestic issues to emerge fresh as a rose, while being widely admired by world leaders and voters of both parties, they flinch when it turns out to be Hillary.  Apparently, they are MORE afraid of Hillary Clinton in the White House than Mitt Romney or Herman Cain or, gawd help us, Governor Rick “Good Hair” Perry.

No?  That’s not how it is?  There’s something I’m missing?  Oh, her Iraq War Resolution vote.  Yeah, she single handedly brought on the Iraq War.  Of all 99 senators who voted for that POS in 2003, HER vote counted more than anyone elses.  It was even more powerful than John Edwards’ IRW vote.  It had to be because the left was perfectly happy to forgive and forget that reckless phony.

I can just see them gearing up to spew some anti Hillary hatespiel.  No, no, save your breath.  No one cares what you think of Hillary anymore.  Your opinions are not more important than the rest of the electorate.  She should have her opportunity because the Democrats don’t really have anyone better, not even Obama.  No one is entitled to a second term.

But if you get stuck with a Republican in November 2012, you have no one to blame but yourselves.  Hillary wins over all of them, you passed anyway.

Friday: Anthony Nicholls amazing rant


Will the last one out please turn off the lights?

Today is my “Release from Wage Slavery!” day.  There’s a bottle of bubbly in the fridge left over from New Year’s.  I’ve debated whether to drink it now or wait until I land another job.  The most ironic thing about being laid off for me was that I got so busy after it happened.  In fact, I didn’t get it all done.  There’s a structure that needed a few more steps of refinement and at least a day of tweaking.  Nah-gah-happen.  Then there’s that threonine that’s taunting me.  Arggghhh, it kills me to leave it all hanging like this just when I thought I was onto something.

Last night, I followed a link from Derek Lowe’s blog, In the Pipeline, to a cathartic post from Anthony Nicholls who runs OpenEye.  Here comes some geek speak:  I’m a big fan of OpenEye.  They make an application called ROCS that allows for shape based searching of chemical structures in 3D databases.  I’d put ROCS right up there with SMILES in terms of computational chemistry innovations.  Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it’s hard to see how you can live without it.  It’s versatile like an iPad.  There’s no one way to use it.  The variations are endless.  This was brought home to me yesterday as I was closing out my notebooks (yes, I’m one of the few modelers who even keep the damn things).  I was indexing the entries and couldn’t help but notice how many times I had used ROCS, OMEGA and most recently, BROOD.  Excellent tools.  I’m really going to miss using them.  Next to some more bloated software suites, OpenEye is cheap.  A great bang for the buck.  But I can’t afford even a single user license on a severance package budget. (There might be a business opportunity for Anthony in that for the newly independent modelers who need to keep their skills fresh until they land their next gig.  hint, hint)  Ok, enough of that geeky stuff.

Anyway, back to Anthony’s rant, What’s Really Killing Pharma, I think Nicholls nails it- almost.  There is something he left out that puts the whole demise of pharma into perspective.  (For those readers out there who are lifelong enemies of pharma for ideological reasons, please don’t get in a snooty snit over it or you will be missing the point of Nicholls’ post.  This problem goes beyond the misperceptions about “me too” drugs and outrageous pricing.)  The whole post is worth a read but some parts stand out for special attention.  It’s almost as if Nicholls has been spying on us (it’s funny how he can’t resist adding references even in a blog rant):

But what has actually happened? First, a lot of senior scientific talent has moved on—some through retirement, others preferring to work at smaller companies with less of the “world-class management” big pharma can provide. But what has shocked and distressed me is the number of people in their fifties who have been let go. These are the people who actually have a working knowledge of the fifty years of pharma Witty mentioned, people who have done their “10,000 hours” [2] refining unique and irreplaceable skill sets, people who can pass these skills on to others. If you accept that making drugs is more art than process, then these are the last people you let go.

But even this travesty pales next to my next point: the danger of management fads. Because your modern big pharma CEO knows next to nothing about science, I have to assume they think they are adding value by imposing management schemes they do know about. Let’s consider one such disaster of a fad: lean thinking and six sigma. Originally developed at Motorola by Bill Smith but based on earlier concepts from Genichi Taguchi and others, the concept is simple enough: apply statistical modeling to an industrial process so that one can gradually improve that process. Actually, this principle is not dissimilar to my decrial of the lack of statistics in molecular modeling—if you don’t know where you, are you never know if you have improved. The problem, though, is the process being modeled here—drug discovery—doesn’t lend itself to this method. As any senior medicinal chemist or molecular modeler would be happy to explain to management, an embarrassingly large fraction of drug discovery involves serendipity—while you’re looking for one thing, you find another. And serendipity is, of course, the complete antithesis of a Taguchi robust process [3] where variance, i.e. a standard deviation, can well defined- we work in the domain of the unexpected, the domain of the “Black Swan” [4]. Now that the method has been applied and failed, it seems ridiculous to have ever thought it might have succeeded. But not only was it applied with great vigor, it often came to be seen as a much more secure employment path than the vagaries of drug discovery. Not a little talent was wasted on these meaningless exercises and not a few careers lost to management bullshit.

Another good one: empowering IT departments to make scientists use the same infrastructure as the guy at the front desk. Rather than see that scientists often have different computing needs than other parts of the business, IT demands obeisance to the corporate norm. In doing so, they hinder the kind of innovation (e.g., Linux, GPU solutions) that used to regularly occur because scientists are quite computer literate, thank you. Instead, IT departments make it impossible for competent people to manage their own resources. They create obstacles instead of removing them. Machine was made for Man, not Man for the Machine.

More fads? How about metrics and cross-charges? In this Through-the-Looking-Glass world, scientists have to account for everything they do, with the cost of each and every action weighed and accounted for. Work done by other groups is counted as “services” that have to be expensed. In other words, upper pharma management—convinced, perhaps, that scientists don’t know the real-world cost of operations—are ruining the one indisputable advantage of a big company: the fact that you can just walk down the corridor and get the another person’s expertise to help solve a problem. They are building walls that turn a large company into a thousand little independent entities with all the problems of communication and lack of shared vision that implies. That’s the newest, most amazingly dumb-headed, most disastrous strategy. Now tell me, does this empower your researchers? Does this “remove obstacles”?

That was orgasmic.  I need a cigarette.

I have *been* there, especially with respect to fighting the corporate IT department.  How much money and wasted time has been spent hiring contractors, who don’t have the security clearance to get the sys admin password, to manage our linux workstations and clusters to corporate IT standards.  I can remember when I first started my current gig when we were transitioning from IRIX to RedHat and I had to deal with some pretty clueless borgs in IT purchasing who weren’t going to let me order the new workstations for our group because the only computers we had a contract to purchase had to have Windows on them.  We finally got the workstations and had to have Windows removed, which violated a warranty.  It was ridiculous.  So much time and email spent trying to get the IT department to understand why we needed a different operating system.  If pharma wants to save money, they will get rid of the bulk of their useless, paper pushing, “we only do one thing”, IT bureaucrats and give in silico sciences the things they desperately need- their own sys admins and private networks separated from the rest of the accountants and salespeople.  And for God’s sakes, get rid of IE6.  No one uses it anymore.  Please don’t tell me you’re only interested in security when you shut down my Chrome browser and then force me to do BLAST searches on IE6.  No amount of fencing the campus and card swipe enabled portals are going to keep determined bad guys out of your databases if you can’t keep up with the latest security features of your old Windows operating system.

And don’t even get me started with the charge backs to other departments scheme.  It’s stupid beyond belief for research.  And here’s why: research happens by trial and error.  Sometimes many trials and errors. (Actually, I’m encouraged that statistics and  “design of experiments” is starting to catch on in protein engineering and expression but even using “design of experiments” is going to take trial and error.  There’s no getting around it.)  Yes, it can be expensive but if you have to limit your trials because a.) your budget has been unrealistically reduced or constrained and b.) negotiating every transaction takes away from your time at the bench, then you have effectively strangled the baby before it has a chance to grow.  I’ve already seen this in action.  Project teams want and need your expertise but the company is forcing them to pay for it out of a vastly reduced budget and they have to weigh every choice very carefully.  What happens next?  The project team is either forced to forgo this vital knowledge or pay an outside company to do it.  But an outside company is constrained by science as well.  THEY need to go through a process of trial and error too in order to deliver what the project team has ordered.  And that means the project team will get a limited number of attempts to get the information they need because otherwise, the outside company is going to start charging them for everything that goes out of the scope of the negotiated contract.  AND, here’s the real kicker, the outside company can sell that protocol to some other company.  If your project team wants to keep the information exclusively, there is an additional charge.  How is this cheaper than going down the hallway to ask if the hard working little department (that is getting laid off) if they can do it for you?

BUT, there is one aspect of this problem that Nicholls has missed (or maybe it’s in his next missive on the subject).  The problems that Nicholls has illustrated are not unique to pharma.  Maybe they have a disproportionate effect on pharma because some parts of the process are more sensitive to external pressures.  But in general, the effects of mismanagement by the MBA Bonus Culture can be seen in every industry from banking and finance to automobiles and chip manufacturers to television and cable media companies.

Here’s my theory about how it all went south since the 90′s: It’s the 401K.  Yep.  It puts the whole dismal phenomenon in the proper framework.  But how could something that appears to be so innocuous bring the country’s scientific and industrial framework to a screeching halt, you ask?  Think about it.  MBAs and executives are hired by corporations to “increase shareholder value”.  Before the rise of the 401K, that meant building a better mousetrap and finding a better aspirin.  Now, the only thing that matters is pleasing the finance guys who rate your stock from buy to hold to sell.  And those same finance guys have a stake in the outcome.  They set their own terms of compensation as well as service large institutional investors and mutual funds that we get to choose from in our 401K plans.  Corporations are now driven to serve the finance industry and the shareholders, which are us.  They’re not in it for the new products anymore.  And once you start hiring executives whose goal it is to optimize the ROI, well, it doesn’t matter where the money comes from anymore.  It’s just money, numbers on a spreadsheet.  It doesn’t matter if those numbers represent people with families and caloric intake requirements and 10,000 hours of expertise.  It doesn’t matter if there are fewer products to sell.  Once the patent is dead and the money is gone, the investors will follow the money to the next hot thing.  There’s nothing mysterious about this.  It’s not personal.  It’s just the reward system we have set in place since pensions became too old-fashioned for those up and coming 30 somethings in the 90′s (um, that would be us).  We’re like rats pushing a pellet bar for another shot of cocaine.  We can’t help ourselves and will keep doing it until we die from the pure pleasure of getting that next teeny bump to our retirement accounts.

Now, is the 401K the only reason why pharma and other industries in the world are starting to topple and fall like Ozymandius?  No, of course not.  There are other forces at work here, like the FDA that really needs to get its act together and out of control lawsuits that are affecting everything from pulling pretty safe drugs off the market but leaving stuff like Tylenol available for anyone to buy off the supermarket shelf to potentially destroy a liver or two to making it impossible for school age kids to have a normal life of scabby bruised knees after a vigorous afternoon at the playground.  We lefties are partially to blame for the overly litigious nature of American culture where everyone has an opportunity to plunge their hands into the deep pockets of someone else’s bank account or insurance policy for the slightest of injuries.  How many of us realize that the money guys just pass the costs onto the consumer and keep on partying?

But I have run out of time this morning.  I have to go to work, for the last time in what may be a very long time, and finish transferring my files.  Then, I will drop my keys, SecureID, credit cards, dosimeter and employee badge into an envelope and say good-bye to the best job I ever had.

Tuesday: Science, politics and niche theory

Update: I totally missed this.  The FCC is proposing new rules for broadband and wireless providers.  Depending on whether you have a landline method of delivery or wireless, your internet stream will be regulated differently.  This is particularly important because the world is going wireless so it could be a coup for the masters of the universe that want more control of content and how much you will pay for it.  They’re already gouging us.  Why make it easier for them to control what you can have and how fast?  We already lag Romania in terms of internet connection speed.  Romania.

According to the report “2010 Report of Internet Speeds in All 50 States” released recently by the Communications Workers of America (CWA):

“The report shows that the rate of increase in U.S. Internet connection speed is so slow, it will take the United States 60 years to catch up with current Internet speeds in South Korea, the country with the fastest Internet connections.”

It’s inexcusable that we’re going to let wireless companies off the hook and not make them invest in their infrastructure.  Allowing them two tiered data plans gives them exactly what they want: more money without having to lift a finger to improve their equipment.

ROMANIA.

Jeez, just twenty years ago, Ceaucescu was running the country, it was dark and dreary, there was nothing to buy there and babies in orphanages were dying from HIV infected blood transfusions.  Now, they have better internet access than we do.  I have an iPhone in central NJ and I still can’t get a signal in my office at work right in the heart of AT&T country.  How can lawmakers even contemplate this kind of change without requiring wireless companies to get with the program that the rest of the world enjoys?

Unbelievable.

Moving on…

Yesterday, I was perusing Derek Lowe’s pharma chem blog, In the Pipeline, and he had a post up called Politics in the Lab about a recent article in Slate with the weird title “Most Scientists in this Country are Democrats.  That’s a problem”.  I don’t know that’s a problem and I’m not sure it’s even true, but I’ll get to that below.

The chewy center of this article seems to be that until there are more Republican scientists, the field won’t be bipartisan enough to get its point across.  Huh?  The author states:

Yet, partisan politics aside, why should it matter that there are so few Republican scientists? After all, it’s the scientific facts that matter, and facts aren’t blue or red.

Well, that’s not quite right. Consider the case of climate change, of which beliefs are astonishingly polarized according to party affiliation and ideology. A March 2010 Gallup poll showed that 66 percent of Democrats(and 74 percent of liberals) say the effects of global warming are already occurring, as opposed to 31 percent of Republicans. Does that mean that Democrats are more than twice as likely to accept and understand the scientific truth of the matter? And that Republicans are dominated by scientifically illiterate yahoos and corporate shills willing to sacrifice the planet for short-term economic and political gain?

It doesn’t seem plausible that the dearth of Republican scientists has the same causes as the under-representation of women or minorities in science. I doubt that teachers are telling young Republicans that math is too hard for them, as they sometimes do with girls; or that socioeconomic factors are making it difficult for Republican students to succeed in science, as is the case for some ethnic minority groups. The idea of mentorship programs for Republican science students, or scholarship programs to attract Republican students to scientific fields, seems laughable, if delightfully ironic.

Yet there is clearly something going on that is as yet barely acknowledged, let alone understood. As a first step, leaders of the scientific community should be willing to investigate and discuss the issue. They will, of course, be loath to do so because it threatens their most cherished myths of a pure science insulated from dirty partisanship. In lieu of any real effort to understand and grapple with the politics of science, we can expect calls for more “science literacy” as public confidence begins to wane. But the issue here is legitimacy, not literacy. A democratic society needs Republican scientists.

Ahem.  I find this article truly disturbing for several reasons.  But let’s go back to YearlyKos2 in Chicago when Pharyngula of ScienceBlogs, presided over a panel on Science and the public or some silly title.  I was shocked by how arrogant and dismissive the panel was of the average American who didn’t believe in climate change and evolution.  Yeah, I know how incredibly frustrating it is to get family members to buy into evolution.  But I’ve made peace with the fact that if I describe the theory of natural selection well enough, they will accept it without having to go back to the beginnings of time to find out where God is in the picture.  It can be done.  You have to choose your battles.

What’s frustrating to me is that there are a lot of Democrats who are just as irrational and gullible.  Their fears and misunderstandins are just different- nuclear energy, genetically modified seeds, colony collapse, thimerosol in innoculations (that absolutely do not cause autism).  I’ve argued with many of them to no avail.  They are as resistent to facts as creationists.  It has been particularly frustrating when it comes to pharmaceutical science where many people on the left, and you dear reader may be one of them, are convinced that the researchers are cold, heartless, profit driven monsters who are either making nothing but “Me too!” drugs or don’t care if they make poisons that only serve to treat some manufactured quality of life problem or they get all their ideas from government sponsored labs and don’t contribute anything.  They just take, take, take and never give back.  Admit it.  That’s what some of you think, right?  (If I were you, I’d ask myself who benefits from that perception?)  But I don’t really want to go there right now.  That’s not my point.

Here’s my point: Not everyone is cut out to be a scientist.  That’s why people don’t go into the field.  It means studying lots of math, wrapping your head around stuff like quantum theory (which isn’t necessarily impossibly hard to understand but it is very, very weird) and spending hours in a lab hunched over smelly chemicals and microscopes.  Some people take their required science courses in high school, get a passing grade and move on.  And that’s fine.  The world needs writers and mechanics and accountants and elementary ed teachers too.  It’s not that the field is too hard.  If you are diligent and motivated enough, you can learn anything.  But some people just aren’t passionate about science. If it’s not your  niche, that’s OK.

But if that’s the case, please don’t pontificate on science.  I don’t care if you’re right or left.  Just don’t.  You sound uninformed to those of us who do it for a living.  Like most Americans, Democrats find it just as hard to assess risk and can be just as gullible when it comes to evaluating the merits of a science article in the New York Times.  That kind of analytical ability comes with time and from reading a lot of papers.  There are even some bloggers who I love in most every respect except when they go off on a science jag.  Then they quickly lose their mojo and I just have to walk away shaking my head.  And I don’t think that the labs are teeming with Democrats.  There may be a slight tilt that way but there are just as many Republicans in the lab as Democrats.  Most people I know are independents.  In my humble opinion, Democrats are born that way; Republicans evolve.  And when Republican scientists evolve, they become management, which may mean that they are finding their own niches.

Now, don’t go away mad.  I’m not saying that Democratic bloggers should never discuss science.  And I’m not saying scientists are knowledgeable about every field.  We’re not.  Gawd knows I struggle every day to understand new science.  Things remain a mystery until you beat your head on the bench long enough.  What I am saying is that if it isn’t your cup of tea, proceed with caution.  If you *are* interested in a particular area of science or science issue du jour, you owe it to yourself to read up on the subject in the way that any scientist would.  Dig into it by learning all you can from people in the field before you pop off some opinion. Learn to evaluate data (BTW, the nomination of Obama during the 2008 primary season should put to rest the notion that Democrats are better at evaluating evidence. Really, there’s nothing to crow about there guys.).  

Now, where can you get information about science?  First, if you have an eReader of any kind, you can find free text books in just about any subject.  Second, our government does an outstanding job providing resources to the public through such sites as PubMed and PubChem where you can find abstracts and links to scientific literature, entire genomes, sequences, chemical structures and their properties, etc. The abstracts are free, the actual articles may not be.  You can purchase access to full articles through several services at nominal cost. There are tools like BLAST to compare nucleic acid and protein sequences, a database repository of protein structures in the RCSB, and lots of other sites of open source information in easy to use interfaces.  Some of them come with java viewers so that you can rotate molecules of interest.  If you wanted to start your own pharma, be a real entrepeneur, like the Republicans are always advocating, there’s plenty of free stuff online to use.  This is real time, up to date information, free to the public from the NIH and other government funded sources. We share our information with the world and the world with us.  That’s the way we advance science.  The sites belong to us, courtesy of us, the US taxpayer, and it’s one of the most valuable things we do.  Third, there are some popular blogs and podcasts out there where new science is covered in detail but also explained thoroughly for the non-science type.  I recommend the Naked Scientists from Cambridge University in the UK.  Their podcasts are challenging but fun and they will not talk down to you.

If there is one thing you can do for science this year, it’s advocate for the continuation of these valuable online tools.

One more thing:  Derek linked to a survey from the Pew Foundation on the public view of science.  You can test your scientific knowledge and get your score compared to the rest of the country by taking this online quiz.  I scored a 100%.  Nyah-nyah!

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