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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Have a Plan

Lately I've been thinking about the way in which ideas become accepted. The Cargo Cult natives saw the cargo emerging from the big metal birds and a desired outcome was born. Now all they needed was a plan. They watched the Allied forces carefully and began piecing together their plan. The desired outcome however was the most important piece of the plan. The ideas of how to acheive the outcome took a back seat while the leaders dreamed of the cargo.
We recently experienced the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The mission was to convince the majority of America that one party will provide a better future than the other. The melt down of wall street however is an excellent example of our political and corporate leaders ability to predict and shape the future. Our government is going to put up 700 billion dollars (this week!) to "fix" the problem.

But what about 2 weeks ago? Was anyone preparing for the bailout? What was being done 2 months ago? When did this government bailout start to take shape? We now have our desired outcome. We want the economy to be strong. That is our cargo. What is our plan? Bail out the banks so they can go back to making loans.

How did the ideas that went into the bail out plan gain acceptance?
The 700 billion dollar bailout does not guarentee success. It is a plan however. For the politicians, a plan is all that is needed. Even if the plans spells the end to the great American era. It doesn't occur to the Cargo Cults that there plan is not working. Simply carrying out any plan gives off the impression that work is being done.
Only a proper scientific method will bring about a proper change. Compare the actual outcome to the desired outcome. The ideas that were accepted may have lead you astray.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Psychology of RNAi

This summers reading brought me in contact with a most beautiful book on the subject of randomness. The book is called "The Black Swan". In it you will find heretical discussions such as, "Academic success is partly (but significantly) a lottery. It's easy to test the effect of reputation. One way would be to find papers that were written by famous scientists, had their authors identities changed by mistake and got rejected. You could verify how many of these rejections were subsequently overturned after the true identities of the authors were established."
The painful truth about science is that it is run on the most non-scientific means of judging a persons work. Reputations rule. Good solid science will do you no good if you cannot convince the powers that be that they have missed something. This is not an easy task due to the arrogance of power. If you dare challenge someone like a David Baltimore or Craig Mello you had better have a powerful group of cohorts willing to back you in your battle.
The CCS knows this and is under no delusions that he is actually battling the powers that be. This is rather an exercise in psychology. What does any person have to do to affectively be heard? Write a blog? Ha! Have a great idea? Ha again. Great ideas can have just as hard of a time being sold as bad ones. In fact, the scientific merits of an idea is not as important as its presentation. Who is presenting the idea. Are they confident? Is the idea presented in peer reviewed journals, scientific meetings or books? Does the idea fly in the face of current thinking?
Billions of dollars have been spent and many more are on their way out the door for RNAi to be used as a drug. Beyond that, RNAi has been the bane of many a research associate whose job it is to use RNAi to knock out genes. It's like using a feather to hammer nails. But no one is going to listen to a guy who wears a white lab coat daily. No one is going to publish a paper stating that RNAi has yet again failed to produce knockout data. The idea that it doesn't work is no longer being accepted. Like gene therapy however, it will cease to impress and thus be put on the back burner. One day the real story behind what happened in the early studies of RNAi will be known. Until then we must accept that we are in the middle of a common situation in the history of human reasoning. We are convinced that we know the truth. We no longer require evidence to the contrary. Yet the planes are not landing.