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Friday, May 06, 2011

The American/Scientists Dream

What is the American Dream? This is what George Carlin has to say about it.

George Carlin and The American Dream

The owners want obedient workers who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork... It's a big club, and you aint in it!

Let's replace "American" with "Scientists" dream. The concept of obedient workers in science seems to fit. I'm only going to focus on the fate of early stage researchers here because they do the grunt work to create the foundation of the cargo cults.

The leadership will identify what drug targets can be pursued. Each decision is the starting point to a possible billion dollar bet. Ten years might pass between this decision and FDA approval. Think of it as a linear time line, Point A; zero dollars, day one. Point B; one billion dollars, year ten. During this time many things will occur that are classified as work. If you could create a chart of the work and how it is all related you would see how complex it really is. For example, deciding how much drug will be needed for a phase one clinical trial is related to expression level measurements from early stage R&D. This is real work. Somewhere in the chart however, is cargo cult science. This is the area where the billion dollar bet is most vulnerable.

Rather than admit the pitfalls of cargo cult science in the path to a successful drug development, the industry has switched the location of cargo cult work and the financing of this work. Big pharma is getting rid of their in house workers and farming out the early stage work that tells the higher ranking leaders what billion dollar bets they should make. Smaller biotech firms and academia will be taking over that role. Gilead and Yale, for example have a research alliance that will bring corporate sums of profit to the school. The workers now are state university employees or low paid entry level college graduates working at small biotech firms. Big pharma still requires the same obedience and science that conforms to their ten year plan, only it will cost them less. Our scientific dream is now regulated by for-profit pharmaceutical companies.

The employees of the airport must remain obedient workers just smart enough to run the machines do the paperwork. The science that goes into target selection is done by lower ranking people. Final decisions on the billion dollar bet are made by higher ranking people who must also consider making their investors a profit. Once the bet is made, lower ranking people must make the data fit in spite of the rigors of the scientific method. Avenues may open up that could shut a project down. This will effect whether or not you will continue having a job. Cargo cult leaders do not wish to be embarrassed by experiments that point out the foolish premise of their billion dollar bets. Scientists working before and after the billion dollar bet is placed must practice their expertise with diplomacy.

The cargo cults are changing their ways. The scientific dream remains as allusive as the American dream. The man in the watch tower with coconuts over his ears has been moved to the local campus. Universities officials will now look to their natural science colleges as a revenue generating machine on par with the football team. Superstars will arise and move on to high paying jobs in the industry. Both industry and academia run cargo cults so it won't matter much where the superstars take their desk job. It is the lower ranking tribesmen and women who will find it harder and harder to earn a living. The biggest casualty however will be the science that makes some people dream of exciting careers. There will be a lazer like focus on your research. The new science must identify drugable targets and pathways that, when disrupted, lead to the cargo planes landing on the airport owned by your corporate sponsor. Cargo cults dream of the cargo first. They still haven't figured out a way to get it. They've just came up with ways of reducing the cost of running their airports.

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