The Treniers sing Ragg Mopp:
Add your favorite music to clean by in the comments.
Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist gave a presentation in Australia during the Unholy Trinity Tour about violence, the end of the world and not giving in to fear, uncertainty and dread. You don’t have to be an atheist to appreciate his point of view.
Disclaimer: I am not an atheist though my concept of God is pretty abstract and I don’t believe in 3000 year old texts. If you do, knock your socks off. It’s none of my business. However, I do consider myself an enemy of any form of fundamentalism and I’m not afraid to say it.
I hope someday Seth will give a presentation on what various religions think the after life is going to be like. If there was one thing I looked forward to less than Armageddon when I was growing up it was the prospect of spending eternity with a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In that New World, there would be no war, no competition, the lambs would lie down with the lions, blah, blah, blah. And people who survived Armageddon as unmarried would remain sexless and unmarried forever and ever and ever.
I was surprised to find recently that Mormons also have a similar teaching. If you’re unmarried when you die, you become like an angel and servant to the married in the one of the heavens you get to go to.
And this is supposed to be some kind of feature. So, let me get this straight. Married sex is so good that only married people are supposed to get it- even in heaven. Or is it so bad and sinful that even after you die, you have to remain virginal? Which is it? I’m confused.
But what really turned me off to the New World type after life was not so much that it was going to resemble a young adult fiction dystopia but that it was going to be so borrrrrring.
“So, what do you want to do today?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to do today?”
“Wanna go pick some perfectly ripe fruit again?”
“We did that yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that.”
“How about some kickball?”
“Not allowed. Too competitive.”
“Hey, maybe we could go listen to Sister Edith play that hymn again on the piano.”
“You know, she’s had 3000 years to practice. How come she never gets any better?”
“Are we eating grass??”
And so on.
Here’s Seth from the Thinking Atheist talking about The Goodness. Take it away Seth:
And then we went to the Oakmont Bakery to get a sugar rush from pistachio macarons and donuts.
On the job front, I have a temp position with regular hours but still no bennies. It’s great, except for the no bennies thing, and the fact that it’s going to end in about a month when the permanent employee returns. I like the floor I’m on. There are enough toys to assuage the gadget fiend in me. Plus, once I got behind the wheel again, the computer skills all came back within a couple of hours. The job is not in the computational chemistry field but I could live with it. It’s also on a collaboration floor. I do the team thing pretty well but the floor concept is new to me. BUT, it’s still just a temp job, which sucks. And the pay is just a little bit less than it would take to make me relatively stress free. So, there’s that. I’m still in job search mode. If you had told me two years ago that I would still be looking for a job like this, I would have called you crazy. It’s beyond exasperating.
As for Hilary’s announcement, you’ll find out more about my attitudes towards that pretty soon from a different source. Bottom line: her announcement video showed people in a more positive stage in their lives than me. I’m not feeling it yet, specifically because of the struggle I have faced to find a new job. Clinton may be leading us there but I’m not anywhere near being in the mood. The country has not come out of “tough economic times” yet.
Will I support her? Yes. And here is the reason: if I were a hiring manager and I got a dozen CV’s from people like Clinton, Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, even Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton would be far and away the leading finalist for the job. She’s got the most experience, in the most areas, she has a network of associates she can call on for assistance to push her agenda, she’s got a mentor and she’s passionate about policy. No other candidate in the field is going to come close. And what all those attributes give her is a measure of independence that the other candidates will not have. Think about that for awhile and it will make sense. It also means there will be a lot of people, in both parties, who will not like for her to get the nomination because she won’t be so easy to control.
Just because she’s the best the country has doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cakewalk.
Ok, there’s one other thing I want to talk about. It’s about the PUMAs. I see no reason to run away from the fact that we were PUMAs in 2008. That just stood for Party Unity My Ass and it was our way of protesting how the DNC took the money from Obama’s donors, rewrote the primary campaign rules, disenfranchised 18000000 of us and then told us to get behind the ruthlessly ambitious, inexperienced shmoozer who became the party’s nominee or risk being called an ignorant, uneducated, old, bitter racist. Oh, HELL no. I was not going along with that program and I’m shocked that any loyal Democrat would give up their vote just to protect themselves from vicious group peer pressure. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.
But the PUMA groups went their separate ways after the election. If I were being honest, I would say we started going our separate ways in October of 2008 when I sensed that some PUMA groups were so angry that they were willing to go beyond a protest vote. In the aftermath of the election, the rift between us and the other PUMAs became more pronounced. We evolved but stuck pretty closely to our credo. They went the Tea Party route. It’s safe to say that we haven’t had any contact with other PUMAs since the early part of 2009. We aren’t BFFs, we don’t Facebook, we don’t belong to some super special sauce email group. If there is a widespread belief out there that that’s what’s going on with us and the PUMAs, let me dispel it now.
Nevertheless, that’s who we were and there’s no point in hiding it. It’s possible that the PUMAs on this blog had a different concept of what that term meant than other PUMA groups. It’s safe to say that some operatives on the right saw a certain segment of PUMAs as potential converts. That didn’t include US. As far as we were concerned, the concept had lost its usefulness and it was time to move beyond that. I only regret that I didn’t spend more time organizing some kind of umbrella group that would have been a more effective promoter of behaviors we would have liked to have seen in our elected officials. We should have had something to counteract the Tea Party. Instead, we left a vacuum. And that’s not good.
So, there you have it. There will probably be more to say later in the week. But right now, I am focussing on work. It’s the most important thing on my mind right now.
You know who you are. Ok, it’s anybody writing on Digby’s blog.
Oh, you didn’t know that Hillary’s voting record while she was in the Senate was more liberal than Obama’s? That was your fault that you didn’t bother to look it up in 2008.
And by the way, I’m not afraid to say “liberal”. It’s not a dirty word. It’s how we ran the country for 60 years after the Great Depression.
Speaking of Depressions, if you managed to not lose your job during the past 7 years, then please defer to those of us who have who know what true hardship is. You have no idea. And that goes doubly if you haven’t had a sick family member or have been turned down for those so-called generous ACA subsidies because you made too little income. Yeah, wrap your head around that one, oh, you precious people who are sniffing at your pitiful presidential choices.
Only people who have been spoiled by fortune would turn up their noses to be represented on the world stage by a politician with more accomplishments than all of the other presidential candidates from either party for the last 4 election cycles combined.
As for corporations, I have actually worked for corporations. Corporations are ways of getting things done. If I had a choice to work for a corporate lab again doing structural biology, I’d jump on it. Drug discovery works really, really well in a corporate setting because every function is under one roof.
The problem is not the model. The problem is the financialization of corporations. The Wall Street managers trade corporations like baseball cards, seeking only short term gain and destroying perfectly good working models.
To continue to rail on corporations is simplistic and assumes the same level of simple thinking in one’s audience. I’m not going to do that. Say what it is you are really thinking and I will show you where you are wrong. Don’t shove Americans into this rinky-dink small business model that the Republicans glorify when it doesn’t work for every industry.
In fact. don’t go on about anything you don’t really know. Stop talking to just your own little email list.
As for Wayne LaPierre’s comment about Obama and Hillary and demographic groups, you should have seen that one coming. In 2008, the left had a choice: it could go for the guy who came out of nowhere, played up his first African-American president credentials, and took the money his big financial CORPORATIONS donors were giving the party (what utter hypocrites you are) OR you could have chosen the best possible candidate you had in front of you who just happened to be a woman. You went with door number one. Obama did a lot of unhelpful things that his big financial CORPORATION donors paid for him to do in the past seven years and now everyone thinks he is a liberal. Go figure.
It should come as no surprise that the people who were really hurt by this sucky economy are going to think that the Democrats are going try to slip a cookie cutter of Obama past them in the guise of the first woman president. It’s going to be all uphill but Democrats left this door wiiiiide open by stupidly cheering every teeny little scrap of a piss poor policy Obama left his fingerprints on in the past seven years. And he’s had it easy compared to the Clintons. Where were the special investigations of the Obama years? Oh, that’s right.
There were none.
Sure, some ignorant bigots on the right said ignorant bigoted things about his skin color but he is, after all, the most powerful person in the world. Surely, he is big enough to put his racist critics in their places. After all, no one on the left is going to cut Hillary a break for being a woman, as history has shown from their shameful behavior in 2008.
Look, you people of small, parochial political thoughts, here is your reality. Hillary Clinton is not your enemy. She is the strongest politician in the country. Elizabeth Warren is not your savior. She is a less than first term senator who will need the financial backing of people who you do not like in order to become president. One of these people has been learning for the past 22 years how to deal with Republicans; the other will be at the mercy of whoever buys the Oval Office for her.
It’s your choice. You can get behind the best candidate we’ve got who can take on the right wing juggernaut or you can whine about how you can’t get who you really want right now.
But for gawd’s sakes, stop acting like overprivileged moody teenagers. You threw a tantrum, got what you think you wanted last time and it didn’t work out. The rest of the country has no patience for you anymore.
Back about 20 years ago, a medicinal chemist named Lipinski came up his “Rule of Five” for whether a chemical compound had “drug like properties”. Never mind what they are, unless you’re planning to start a lab in your garage. There have been variations on the “rule of five”, like, do you really need a drug right out of the starting gate? Why not look for lead-like compounds? What are the properties of those? And how did you come up with these rules anyway?
The bottom line answer is, well, after you’ve seen a bajillion compounds coming out of high throughput screening and have worked on thousands more, you just know. You can look at a compound and say, ehhhh, that’s never going to be a drug. The tailpiece has too many carbons or the scaffold is too skimpy or that compound is promiscuous. (Um, that’s as sexy as drug design gets by the way). In general, this comes with years of experience and lots of practice.
But now there is a different Lipinski involved in drug discovery. This is Dan Lipinski, the Democratic representative from Illinois, and he’s all about making drug discovery more appealing to vulture capitalists. His latest initiative, hooking up labrats to the money, is profiled in a recent article in Nature called Biotech Bootcamp. It made me throw up a little. Here are some money quotes:
David Johnson was just one minute into making his pitch when the interruptions started.
“Why do I care?” barked a bespectacled man at the back of the seminar hall. Johnson, chief executive of the California biotechnology start-up GigaGen, blinked. He had condensed his company’s story into a neat ten-minute presentation for I-Corps, a nine-week course designed to teach business skills to entrepreneurial scientists like him. Now his talk was derailed.
At first Johnson did not understand the question. He thought it was aimed at the therapy that GigaGen, based in San Francisco, plans to develop for people with weakened immune systems.
“No. You. Why do I care about you?” the man demanded.
Johnson was not the only one getting gruff treatment at I-Corps’ kick-off meeting in Chevy Chase, Maryland, last October. When another team squandered a few precious minutes elaborating on the need for new therapies to treat pain, I-Corps creator Steve Blank pounced. “If you spend the next ten weeks telling us about pain, you’re going to be in pain,” he said.
Drug discovery, meet Sharktank.
You know, I just want to reach into the journal and strangle this Steve Blank guy. Here he is barking at a dude who has probably spent untold years doing research on the subject and all that matters is the bottom line. What have you done for me lately? What’s in it for Steve Blank?
It gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective:
It will take years to find out whether the approach and theory behind I-Corps is adaptable to the unique challenges of drug development. But it was already clear by the conclusion of the inaugural class last December that many of the 19 teams had learned some unexpected lessons: several companies were told to drastically change course, and in some cases to abandon promising science for something more market-savvy. “You can be a great researcher and you can think you have great ideas,” says Congressman Dan Lipinski (Democrat, Illinois), who had pushed to see Blank’s approach implemented for government-funded research. “But until you’re forced to talk to a potential customer, you never really know.”
Yes, I’m sure that’s what Watson and Crick thought when they worked on the structure of DNA. Who’s going to buy this thing?
They probably thought they had great ideas. Ha! What did they know? What’s really important is how much money can they make for the investor. How is this ball and stick model of some stupid polymer going to change my world? What has it got to do with me?
This quote was gobstopping:
Lipinski has long been concerned about the quality of research funded by the US Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programme. The funds are intended to stimulate translation of scientific discoveries into the marketplace, but critics have raised questions about how effective the programme is. A 2013 analysis by Nature found that the top earners of such grants were rarely focused on commercialization. “Sometimes it seems like SBIR is being used in many cases not to further a business, but to continue research,” says Lipinski.
That’s right, sometimes biotech startups will do anything to get the money to further their research. They’re utterly shameless.
Anyway, read the whole thing. I’m not saying that this approach doesn’t have some merit. But in the industry, we call them project reviews. Things *do* get cut on a fairly frequent basis. The difference is that research is (was) still thought as having intrinsic worth. It isn’t always clear to the business community why science should pursue something but each little revelation may become extremely important to someone else in another company 15 years from now. Lipinski, Blank and the sharktank approach don’t seem to get that. So, I have to ask, who put Dan Lipinski in charge in the first place??*
Derek Lowe of In the Pipeline summed up the Silicon Valley attitude to drug discovery research the other day in Silicon Valley Sunglasses, and while Derek and I have differing views on the role of government in drug discovery, we do agree on the basic problem with putting Silicon Valley entrepreuers in the driver’s seat:
There’s another problem that’s not unique to the Valley, although it does tend to give people a bad case of it. That’s the “Clearly I’m smart and successful, so clearly I have something to offer in this other field over here” one. We all succumb to that one now and then; it’s human nature. You can watch Mark Cuban display it here, with respect to medical testing.
But here are a couple of recent examples of the more localized problem. I wrote last year about Emerald Therapeutics, an outsourced-lab-assay company backed by Peter Thiel (who may also be interested in their antiviral therapy ideas). Here’s another article on them, and it asks, in so many words, “Why is new drug development so comparatively torpid when app development is so torrid?”. I couldn’t provide a more succinct version of the Silicon Valley/biopharma disconnect if I tried.
According the article, the folks at Emerald “. . .think it comes down to the difficulty of running experiments in the life sciences”. But I’d like to propose that this difficulty, at least for early-stage work like Emerald is proposing to do for people, is largely a matter of contrast. If you’re used to being able to sit down and bang out code, any time, anywhere, with all kinds of tools (libraries, compilers, virtual machines, what have you) at your fingertips, then yeah, working up a new assay protocol in a cell line is going to seem agonizingly slow. Multibillion dollar ideas can be cranked out in the coding world very quickly, if you hit the right place at the right time, but just you try that in the lab. Now, I have no problem with Emerald running assays for people, although it may yet be harder than they’re thinking. But they’re not removing as much of a bottleneck as they might think. The real bottlenecks are figuring out what assay to run, and what to do with the data once you have it. Can’t outsource those.
That’s what I think has been Valley-ized there, the idea that very, very soon now something will just wildly, exponentially take off. As much as I might like to see something like that happening in biopharma, though, I can’t quite make myself believe it. Technology, Silicon Valley style technology, is human-designed and human-optimized for other humans. As human beings, we’re playing on our home turf there. But the biology of disease is an away game if there ever was one. The inner workings of cells and the ways that they work together are flat-out alien compared to anything we’ve ever built ourselves. People who are used to coding up apps have never experienced anything like it, and many of them don’t seem to realize that they haven’t. Expecting the sorts of behavior that you get from human-built technologies, and expecting the same effects from the techniques that work to optimize them, is an expensive accident waiting to happen.
Derek is understating the challenges of research here. The thing that really ticks off the beancounters, as I have seen from personal experience, is the number of iterations researchers have to go through to understand something. It takes multiple assays, multiple rounds of synthesis, multiple trips to the syncrotron for dataset collection, multiple attempts to make the protein. There are just a lot of steps and they have to be repeated over and over again. Each one costs money. Some of them lead to dead ends but the only way to know that is to actually do the research, presumably with your small business loans. Those steps and the costs associated with them freak MBAs out. They carve a significant dent in “shareholder value”, therefore, they must be investigated, limited and controlled. And that is when researchers find themselves in a real bind because there can be no breakthroughs without the annoyingly slow, agonizingly expensive tests, assays and datasets. Public flaying of nascent biotech CEOs is not going to make this better. Ok, maybe you’ll eventually hit on another Cialis. Other than that? I have serious doubts unless there is an unusual degree of kismet involved.
Silicon Valley entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones who have no idea how complex biopharma research is. Congress seems to be buying into this mindset that these geeky researchers just need to start thinking like fast and nimble Silicon Valley types and MBAs on steroids. They are making the challenge of drug discovery even more difficult than it already is. It’s already a long, hard slog without money.
I just hope that the presidential candidates take some time to work through these issues. Private capital is probably not going to be enough to save the drug discovery research infrastructure at this point. What is needed is long term investment, stability and continuity of research, and a lot fewer people trying to get rich quick on someone else’s backbreaking labor of trying to find that new antibiotic.
* It just occurred to me that Dan Lipinski’s thought process is more messed up than I thought. There is a pervasive misunderstanding that academic groups do basic research and they pass on their fully developed drugs onto private companies that develop them. This is wrong. Small companies, big companies, multinational companies do real research. They need to do real research because academic groups pass on frequently little more than nuggets of leads and hints of ideas with a soupçon of druggy goodness. It is very rare for an academic group to produce the fully monty. So, if Lipinski is shocked, SHOCKED that a biotech would use its small business loans to do real research and doesn’t understand why that’s necessary, we have a serious problem on our hands. That means the whole Congressional approach to funding is based on a lie.
That’s going to hurt.
Filed under: biopharma, biotech, Biotech bootcamp, Dan Lipinski, derek lowe, drug discovery, Hillary Clinton, Sharktank, silicon valley, Steve Blank, venture capitalists, vulture capitalists | 4 Comments »
Wikipedia tells me that Easter began as a celebration of spring and the goddess of the dawn. The old Anglo-Saxon word for Easter first appeared in the writings of the Venerable Bede (673-735ad). Bede wrote:
Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance
Jacob Grimm, who J.R.R. Tolkien would later study, wrote this about the original Easter:
Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy … Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing … here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great Christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess.
And who could argue with that? Leaping for joy, dancing, healing, bonfires. Sounds like fun.
Incidentally, Bede recorded the details for the Easter dating controversy of the 7th century. The Synod of Whitby, presided over by St. Hilda of Whitby, happened before Bede but Bede was the smartest person in Britain in his lifetime and he wrote prolifically. Well, as prolifically as one can on vellum. At the time of the synod, the Christian church in Britain was divided. There was a Celtic version in the north and west of Britain in which confession was private, monks shaved their heads in a weird way and Easter was celebrated on a particular date. The Roman Catholic church was spreading northward and it believed in public confession, shaving heads in a completely different way and calculating Easter by a different lunar method. The outcome of the Synod of Whitby was a typical merger and acquisition where the Roman Catholic church took over, appointed the pope as the new CEO and threw the Celts a bone by adopting the private confession. Oh, and everyone had to cut their hair the same way.
It was also probably the last time a woman presided over a synod.
It should be noted that under the Ionan (Celtic) Christian tradition, the King was the head of the church. Hilda, who was from a royal family, was pro-Ionan but diplomatically converted to Roman tradition once she saw how the vote was going. Under the Roman tradition, the pope was head of the church. In 1534, England reverted. But it kept the Roman calculation for Easter.
Bede wrote about the conversion of the English people in his book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. One of his most notable stories concerns the King Edwin, pagan king of Northumbria who wanted to marry Christian princess Ethelberga. But she wouldn’t marry him unless he converted. So Edwin called for a Christian emissary to meet with his pagan priest, Coifi, to explain what Christianity was all about. Coifi then reported to the king:
“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a moment of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”
The king converted. Ok, it took two years before he converted.
The rest is history.
There are as many concepts of God as there are people on earth. Some of us are comfortable with no God at all, or at least not an anthropomorphic God. Our celebration of Easter probably leans toward the ancient spring festival without the goddess. It seems right to celebrate the changing of the seasons and admire the recreation of green and warmth every year. I prefer the Sparrow to the resurrection. We choose our own myths.
J.R.R Tolkien was a Catholic who believed in the power of mythology. He wrote:
“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”
That’s an Easter message I can live with.