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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Who Likes Bad Science?

I used to joke with my friends in the physics community that if you want to cleanse your discipline of the worst scientists in it, every three or four years, you should have someone publish a bogus paper claiming to make some remarkable new discovery — infinite free energy or ESP, or something suitably cosmic like that. Then you have it published in a legitimate journal ; it shows up on the front page of the New York Times, and within two months, every bad scientist in the field will be working on it.
Gary Taubes

The quote brings self doubt into the mind of the CCS. Are the people in the laboratories attracted to bad science? Is it just easier to get a degree in a bio science than a harder science such as chemistry or physics? Would it behoove the Biotechnology industry to insist on stronger math skills?

Let's look at a couple jobs and their requirements for the industry:

Entry level research associate: Education; A B.S. or B.A. in Molecular Biology, Biochemistry or Chemistry or an Associate’s Degree in Biotechnology.

A bachelors degree in Chemistry = an associates degree in Biotechnology?

A protein science temp job: QUALIFICATIONS; Ph.D. or equivalent industry experience.

A PhD? A PhD in what?

And these come from Craigslist. Would an executive recruiting company use craigslist? Why are biotech scientists subjected to a craigslist ad?

Bad businessmen and bad scientists are attracted to bad science. They hire their scientists from Craigslist ads. Critical positions that can cost the company millions in delays getting a drug through the approval process are left up to temps. The businessmen and those applying for the jobs don't know or they don't care. They are in it for the short term.

In The Big Short there was a Cargo Cult Science taking place in the financial industry. A handful of people became aware of it and they bet that the sh*t was going to hit the fan. They found the way to make money off of it. The biotech professionals who have bet their careers can do the same. Be aware of bad science and stay away. There are places to go where the science is real. Seek out good science. It won't be as easy as you think. If you find yourself in the pool of bad scientists who Gary Taubes described above, get out. Leave that RNAi company. Don't apply to that PhD temp job. Work harder and get where you need to be. The Cargo Cult Airports are very tempting. They pay the same and they look the same. But they are not long term winners. Career professionals need to work for the longterm. A resume of short term bets will not be very satisfying.

And so I don't think that working in biotechnology is just a bunch of bad scientists who are attracted to bad science. There are good places, even inside bad companies. Seek them out. Look for long term options that make sense.

So I have just one wish for you--the good luck to be somewhere
where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have
described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain
your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on,
to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.


Feynman

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