Technology’s Real Benefits- NOT so much in cancer research

The first example is cancer research. … The genomic approach helps establish the right treatments today, and will likely lead to new and better drugs in the next few years. ….” this is something that will be useful 200 years from now. This is a landmark that will stand the test of time.”

via Technology’s Real Benefits (Hint: They’re Not Economic).

Sorry, Andy, we have been getting hype about contributions of computers to biotech, and biotech to cancer, for 20+ years.  It’s past time to be highly skeptical that medical breakthroughs are “around the corner… just give us another $X billion for research…” Although the research results have been fascinating, the practical impacts have been modest. I think one reason is that the Big Pharma/Big Academia model of R&D is  inefficient and ineffective. Everyone hoards their data, and pursues their own stove pipe. There’s little collaboration or interchange among computer modelers, in-vitro, animal models, epidemiologists, etc. This is not something that better technology can solve – it’s a problem with business incentives and the academic promotion system.

Case in point: According to a friend, there have been no Randomized Clinical Trials on the relationship between crystalline salt and kidney disease. Everyone assumes there is a relationship, but what is the exact causal link? What’s the magnitude? What are the mediators of the effect (e.g. different diets, different climates). And what effects do intervention at different points (diet versus medications) have?  This is not cancer research, but same principles hold.

Other benefits of technology: sure. Cultural and scientific and business. Mapping Inca ruins: awesome. Effect of Facebook on daily lives: large,and not captured in GDP statistics. So your basic thesis is good; just don’t use medical promises as cases in point!

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