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Comment: Re:Correction (Score 3, Insightful) 83

by the gnat (#47503769) Attached to: UEA Research Shows Oceans Vital For Possibility of Alien Life

Actually, we know almost all basic chemistry, and the range of (stable) molecules that silicon can form is orders of magnitude less than for carbon.

Well, yeah, but I didn't want to offend the pedants even further. Unless the laws of physics (and therefore basic chemistry) are very different elsewhere in the galaxy, it's not unreasonable to think that carbon-based, liquid-water-dependent lifeforms are the most probable. In fact, I'd be willing to bet a tidy sum of money that the overwhelming majority of unique forms of life are not terribly dissimilar from ours as far as the underlying chemistry is concerned. They might be fantastically alien in all sorts of other strange ways, but they'll still be based on simple organic polymers. But this is still irrelevant to the discussion at hand, because even if there were different forms of life, we have no idea how we might detect them at astronomical distances.

Comment: Re:Correction (Score 5, Insightful) 83

by the gnat (#47502633) Attached to: UEA Research Shows Oceans Vital For Possibility of Alien Life

I wish I had mod points. Every time I hear about planets not being able to support life, this is my first thought.

And every time a story about extraterrestrial life gets posted on Slashdot, several dozen people say exactly the same thing, as if they've had some brilliantly original insight that the scientists researching the subject missed. No one is explicitly ruling out the possibility that there are gaseous lifeforms living in the clouds of gas giants, or silicon-based rock monsters like the one in Star Trek. Hell, it would be a huge discovery if we found something like that. But since we're presently incapable of observing such lifeforms firsthand, and have no idea what we should be looking for at a distance of light-years, we have to settle for looking for the planetary "signatures" of temperature, oceans, oxygen content, etc. It may not satisfy the pedants, but it's still extremely difficult by itself. When we're capable of actually exploring other solar systems directly, then maybe we can start to look for fantasy lifeforms on frozen airless rocks and methane clouds.

Comment: Re:So depressing. (Score 2) 108

by the gnat (#47500583) Attached to: A Look At NASA's Orion Project

All the hundreds of bases on foreign soil should be liquidated, and the foreign countries that get those back should start footing the bill for their own defense. Then we'll see how much they want to cry about American expansionist policies and so on.

In fairness, it's generally not the South Koreans (to pick one obvious example) complaining about American expansionism.

Comment: Re:Wish I could say I was surprised (Score 2) 178

by the gnat (#47431673) Attached to: Peer Review Ring Broken - 60 Articles Retracted

Alternatively (or in addition), we could increase the penalties for those caught cheating.

FYI, cheating like this is already a guaranteed career-ender. People who do things like this aren't rationally weighing the cost of getting caught against the career advancement that comes from publishing; they simply don't expect to get caught.

Comment: Re:"Security" (Score 1) 120

by the gnat (#47412935) Attached to: A Box of Forgotten Smallpox Vials Was Just Found In an FDA Closet

they were just samples of a common infection

A common infection that killed more people in the 20th century than all wars put together. It's shocking to think that someone would carelessly misplace a vial of an airborne infectious agent with a mortality rate above 20%, even in the mid-20th century. Smallpox is hands-down the deadliest disease in human history - the only reason it could be eradicated was the lack of non-human reservoirs. I'm not particularly afraid of nuclear war, but the thought of smallpox outbreaks scares the shit out of me.

Comment: Re:The question to me seems to be... (Score 1) 148

by SteveWoz (#47357639) Attached to: Lawrence Lessig Answers Your Questions About His Mayday PAC (Video)

End goal: change the constitution. We need a start. It's easy to see how hard this will be and to give up early, but some of us feel the imperative to fight for it. We can change things. The vast will of the masses (corporation political donations are not equivalent to the free speech we enjoy as individuals) needs to be strategically gathered. Critical mass could take decades, as with things like gay marriage.

Comment: Re:Bitcoin mining? (Score 1) 89

by the gnat (#47295287) Attached to: Computing a Cure For HIV

the results one would expect given the resources dumped into this one just are not there.

I don't know, what kind of results do you expect? HIV is a really tough bug to fight - it's almost the opposite of smallpox where a universal and exceptionally effective vaccine was found early on. Tricking the immune system into killing a virus that is evolved to prey on the immune cells was never going to be easy. But the leading antiviral therapies allow most infected patients to live almost indefinitely while maintaining relatively high quality-of-life, whereas 30 years ago they would nearly all have been doomed (and some of the earlier therapies were debilitating). I consider that a pretty impressive achievement of medical technology.

Now, the fact that millions of Africans (and others) still have AIDS is less impressive, but the reasons for that are entirely social and political, not technological.

Comment: Re:Bitcoin mining? (Score 1) 89

by the gnat (#47291611) Attached to: Computing a Cure For HIV

It's because the Republicans won't let them work on that research.

The National Institutes of Health - the single largest government sponsor of biomedical research in the world - spends
approximately $3 billion per year on AIDS research. That's about 10% of their entire budget. In comparison, they currently spend about $5.5 billion per year on cancer, which affects vastly more Americans than AIDS, and also kills more in wealthy countries (because AIDS patients - or their insurers - can afford the treatments that enable long-term survival with low viral load). Due to federal budget issues, both funding pools have declined since 2010, but AIDS research only slightly - cancer funding is significantly lower.

As for treating the cure versus the symptoms, it is extraordinarily difficult to "cure" viral infections with drugs, and HIV has proven to be incredibly difficult to vaccinate against.

Comment: Re:Bitcoin mining? (Score 1) 89

by the gnat (#47291571) Attached to: Computing a Cure For HIV

There is more money in treating a medical condition than in curing it.

Not for the insurance companies or government, there isn't. And given the immense cost of long-term treatment for many conditions, pharma companies would be able to charge much more for a drug that completely stopped a disease.* In reality, the reason most medications merely treat rather than cure diseases is that actually eliminating the root cause of a disease without debilitating side effects, for instance death of the patient, is usually really fucking hard.

(* For instance, the common cold is estimated to be a $40 billion per year drain on the US economy. This suggests that if a drug company could come up with a cure, they would be fabulously rich. Every time I get a cold, my employer loses hundreds of dollars in lost productivity; a $100 pill that returned me to work after a day would be a huge savings, far more effective than $10 of Nyquil.)

Comment: Re:Bitcoin mining? (Score 1) 89

by the gnat (#47291507) Attached to: Computing a Cure For HIV

Year in, year out, 75-80% of new drugs are invented privately in biotechs/pharma. The remainder are invented by academia.

Correct; what government grants pay for is the majority of the basic research that informs efforts to find a cure. Naturally, private companies are (mostly) free to use this information when searching for new drugs - this is part of the point of federal funding for basic research. The vast majority of that research won't directly lead to a cure, of course, but it does contribute to our overall knowledge of biomedicine. In contrast, I've heard the drug development process at some companies compared to "piling up stacks of money and setting it on fire", which is why I'm really, really glad the universities and governments don't try to get deeply into the drug development business.

Comment: Re:Bitcoin mining? (Score 1) 89

by the gnat (#47291477) Attached to: Computing a Cure For HIV

it's the lack of people who have the rare combination of skills of a programmer, mathematician, chemist, biologist and drug engineer coming up with novel and unique ideas to combat disease who will sacrifice industry paychecks to work in academic fields.

Guess what: there are vastly more jobs like this available in academic groups than in industry. (I know this firsthand, because I work in a related field and am basically stuck in academia unless I can change careers somehow.) The bigger problem is that given the limitations of the simulations and our knowledge of human biology, there is still a huge leap from docking results or MD simulations to working drugs. Effective in silico is light years away from effective in vivo.

"The pyramid is opening!" "Which one?" "The one with the ever-widening hole in it!" -- The Firesign Theatre

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