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Comment Re:Open source isn't the exception, it's the norm (Score 1) 10

It seems to me that fewer people may want to contribute to the effort if they think their freely-contributed work could be subsumed by a patent fence that (e.g.) GlaxoSmithKline might decide to slap around a derivative discovery.

In practice, you are almost certainly incorrect. Scientists working in basic research - the ones I've met, anyway - are almost universally thrilled if their research leads to improvements in human health, regardless of whether or not they or someone else profits from it. (In fact, I was unhappy working as a developer on an academic project that was partly funded by charging companies for access to our software - I thought we should just give it away, because I wanted as many people as possible to use my work.) I have no fondness for GSK or any other big pharma company - quite frankly, they're a pain in the ass to deal with - but the extent to which they leech off public discoveries is vastly overstated, and they perform a huge amount of very expensive and very boring work to bring drugs to market. This combination of publicly-funded basic research and privately-funded development is one of the primary justifications for the existence of the NIH and on the whole it works relatively smoothly, although the perverse incentives of the Bayh-Dole act are problematic.

Comment Re:It will not spur anything other than greed. (Score 1) 10

Much of the primary research into the HCV rna structure and thus the secondary chemical binding processes was done on the public purse

A huge fraction of it was done privately as well, but that's still just one tiny piece in a much larger project. Solving a structure isn't that difficult or expensive for a well-validated experimental system, and the end result helps you guess at what chemical syntheses to try, but actually putting something on the market takes the better part of a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars - and a huge fraction of the time it will fail anyway. It is almost guaranteed that Gilead spent at least $100 million developing their new HCV drug, and you have to add to that an even larger amount of money spent trying stuff that didn't work, which they still need to recoup somehow. I have no idea whether this justifies their selling price or not, but the claim that it cost the company "very small amounts of money" is complete nonsense.

Comment Re:Open source isn't the exception, it's the norm (Score 1) 10

I agree that this isn't an extraordinary example, but I have to take issue with this:

the general rule is that all the data goes public and that all the code written is open source

The first part is correct in the literal sense (this is an absolute requirement of public funding agencies and journals), but that doesn't mean they're unencumbered by patents. The second part, unfortunately, is incorrect: open source is getting more common and scientists are slowly coming around to the idea that this shouldn't be optional, but there are plenty of examples of closed-source software being developed by academic groups, and many more examples where the code is available but not redistributable. Only in the last few years did the NIH start to explicitly state that openness of source code would be a consideration in evaluating grant applications for computational (biomedical) R&D.

Comment Re:I'll believe it when I see it.... (Score 1) 52

Too often these promising studies generate all kinds of hype

This is largely the fault of institutional PR offices - university press releases are notorious for inflating the importance of even the most minor discovery, and their take is what gets reported. (Which isn't to say that scientists aren't complicit, but most of us have sufficient self-awareness to cringe when we read these articles.)

Comment Re:Now let's wait and see (Score 1) 48

But we keep seeing these big, game-changing announcements out of "eastern" medical researchers. Only to have them turn out to be massive frauds.

This isn't a "game-changing" announcement, not the way (for instance) various stem-cell-related discoveries were. It's an impressive technical accomplishment, and it certainly expands our understanding of this system, but it's nothing revolutionary or unforseen, and it's also really "basic" in the sense of "basic research" - foundational, not applied.

Comment Re:This kind of stuff is Exhibit #1 (Score 1) 282

Either way, this is possibly further damning evidence (albeit anecdotal) giving rise to the notion that the US being a free society is a romanticized pipe dream.

Only if you completely disregard free will. No one is pointing a gun at my head and telling me to view the news outlets you are complaining about, and I ignore most of them entirely (I don't even have cable, or a working TV for that matter). Unlike many other countries, there is no government entity blocking me from consuming contrarian and/or foreign news sources. And last time I checked, there were plenty of news sources (foreign and domestic) that were happy to tell me the "truth", or their own preferred version of it. (Remember, for every American who thinks the country can do no wrong, there's someone else who think it's responsible for everything bad that happens, and isn't shy about saying so.)

If you are unhappy that a large fraction of Americans is content to take everything they see on Fox News as incontrovertible truth, well, join the club. Most people simply aren't that smart or thoughtful, and that goes for every other country in the world, not just the US.

Comment Re:Remember when America had science? (Score 1) 48

This is just nonsensical. The vast majority of articles like this still come from the US/EU/Japan, and most of the technology was developed outside China. In fact, the only reason they're able to do this kind of research is that the last few years have seen exceptional improvements in molecular EM due to a combination of better software and direct electron detectors. In fact, I looked through their methods, and they're using a microscope made by a US/international company, a detector from Japan, and software written in the US and UK. The hardware just requires sufficient funding, the software is free.

So these papers aren't particularly innovative; they're high-profile because it's an important scientific question, but it was only a matter of time before someone decided to tackle it (and only in the last few years has it really been possible). There are generally more questions like this than people who have time to answer them, so it's really easy (intellectually speaking) to pick a random problem, throw money at it, and collect the Science/Nature/Cell paper. And that's kind of the state a lot of Chinese research is in.

I don't mean to sound critical of this work itself - it looks very solid and Yigong Shi has an excellent reputation (he used to be in the US). But all it proves is that China can do research on par with other industrial nations when it wants to.

Comment Re:Remember when America had science? (Score 1) 48

We still do. It's just that many of those scientists end up going back to their home country to be back with family.

Yigong Shi was in fact a tenured professor at Princeton until a few years ago. I think the Chinese gov't. basically threw gobs of money at him to move to Tsinghua. Before, he was just one of many excellent structural biologists in the US; now, he's arguably the foremost Chinese structural biologist. (Downside: exchanging Princeton faculty meetings for CCP oversight; I'm not sure which sounds worse to me.)

Comment Dell Screens (Score 1) 433

My work laptop (Dell E6440) has a very nice 1080p 14" screen with much better color than pretty much any other laptop I've seen. And it can drive 3 external 1080p displays when it is docked. I've got good eyes so I appreciate 1080p even when small for more room. It only has a dual core i5 but other processors are available. I even use this laptop to connect back to my faster Toshiba laptop that doesn't have as nice of a screen.

Comment I don't like the audio codecs (Score 1) 145

Something in the way they work causes my wife's voice to cut out randomly when talking to me on the phone especially if there's background noise. I don't seem to have that problem with other people just her, so maybe she has a unique voice frequency that it rejects as noise. (*insert joke here*) We've tried different brands of phone and the problem persists.

Comment Re:Why live there then? (Score 1) 80

Can you live in the Bay Area taking home 42k/year?

I did for years (also working for the state). I was living here for nearly a decade before I made more than that, in fact; as a grad student my stipend was less than $20k. I have no dependents or debts to pay off, no severe medical conditions, and my benefits were always sufficient, so it was actually very easy. I lived alone for the majority of that time, but even when I shared houses or apartments it was in relatively nice neighborhoods. (All rental, of course.) Until recently I was always living very close to where I worked. I usually had at least a little disposable income and by the time I was taking home more than $30K I was saving some of it.

That said, I live in the East Bay, not SF proper, so my rents are merely extortionate but not totally unaffordable. $42K won't go very far if you want to live in the Mission - and 10 years ago, it wasn't totally unrealistic for a (childless) grad student to have that ambition.

Honestly, from what I've seen I think senior government-employed or government-funded scientists in the Bay Area mostly get paid enough already (and I would include myself in that category until very recently). It's definitely more than we'd get in another part of the country, and we/they get to play with a lot of very cool (and very expensive) toys. But the cost of living is a huge problem for recruiting; a UC Berkeley professor of my acquaintance told me they were finding it increasingly difficult to hire new faculty because they'll never be able own a home anywhere close to Berkeley itself.

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