Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×

Is Distributed Computing Being Distributed Badly? 341

Carl Bialik from WSJ writes "Distributed computing could help researchers studying climate change or Alzheimer's, but SETI@home's search for extra-terrestrial intelligence continues to dominate. Wall Street Journal columnist Lee Gomes says that's a big waste, especially because SETI doesn't seem likely to yield results: 'This continued fascination with living-room SETI comes as professional setiologists concede that early assumptions about the search for intelligent life -- notably those popularized by astronomer Carl Sagan -- have proven naively optimistic. For instance, it's now conceded there is little chance of detecting the "leaking" transmissions of another planet -- its version of "I Love Lucy" broadcasts. Those signals are too weak to stand out from the universe's background noise.' Gomes also traces the origins of SETI@home to Berkeley computer scientist David P. Anderson, and explains that users stuck with the ET search rather than medical investigations in part because of nationalistic competition. Yet Anderson no longer runs SETI@home. 'Instead, he donates his spare computer power to a global warming project. But he doesn't presume to tell others what they ought to be doing with their CPU cycles.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Is Distributed Computing Being Distributed Badly?

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @06:48AM (#15619815)

    of course the WSJ would much rather you where crunching numbers for their drugs companies under the guise of "fighting cancer" or "protein folding" so your results can be turned into their profit (you didnt think that cure/treatment would be free like your CPU did you?)
    searching for ET is not profitable so it must be bad

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @06:52AM (#15619834)
      I'd rather contribute my cycles to a treatment that I have to pay for rather than no treatment at all.
      • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:30AM (#15619988) Journal
        I think his point was that since pharmas make billions of dollars in pure profit, they can afford to invest some of it in highpowered computing clusters.

        Nobody is going to do the same for SETI.

        I bet the pharmas could even write it off on their taxes.
        • by andrewman327 ( 635952 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:58AM (#15620151) Homepage Journal
          "I think his point was that since pharmas make billions of dollars in pure profit, they can afford to invest some of it in highpowered computing clusters."


          I currently work for a pharmaceutical company, and in a visit to a research lab I learned just how much computing power they throw at these problems. They do have supercomputers, intranet clusters, etc. to try to solve these problems. They are so incredibly complex, however, that those are not enough.

          • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:46AM (#15620495)
            I currently work for a pharmaceutical company, and in a visit to a research lab I learned just how much computing power they throw at these problems. They do have supercomputers, intranet clusters, etc. to try to solve these problems. They are so incredibly complex, however, that those are not enough.

            Well, maybe if the pharmaceutical companies threw a little more of their obscene profits at the problem, it would be enough. The Board of Directors and the stockholders might have to cut back on Cuban cigars, though...

            • ...The Board of Directors and the stockholders might have to cut back on Cuban cigars...

              It puzzles me why people who complain about the profits of various industries do not invest their money in them. If they have these record profits, why not invest in those companies and use the growth and dividends to improve your life and be able to afford the product?

              • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @11:42AM (#15621980)
                2 reasons.

                1) A lot of the basic research is paid for with my tax dollars and tax breaks for researching. It's therefore ridiculous to be paying the most for these drugs (compared to say Canada). I also don't think that the money needs to be spent on advertising. If a drug is good and worth while, then tell the doctors and they will use it.

                2) I'm one of those crazies who thinks that this kind of research should be done in spite of the costs. Because of this, I think that the majority (80-90%) of the profits should be put back into R&D. I don't buy into the argument that the only reason we have all this research is because people can get rich from it. I think if you gave most researchers a decent salary they would be more than happy to continue researching.

                I wonder if we need to break medical research into 2 categories.... Life-saving medicine and cosmetic medicine. Let's find a good way to provide enough resources to get the 1st group done, and let the pharms do "whatever they want (tm)" with the 2nd group.
              • Because we have morals? There's some things more important than money. In fact, I really can't think of anything less important.
              • Because the profits in industries like pharmaceuticals arent free market profits, they're derived from artificial government granted monopolies. As a citizen and consumer of such goods, it's therefore entirely reasonable to complain about the level of profit derived from such monopoly legislation, just as it's reasonable to complain about tax money being misused, without wanting to be part of the misuse.

                And do take a care to note that about 80% of the patent derived income of the pharmaceuticals is wasted i
        • by LarsWestergren ( 9033 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:56AM (#15621125) Homepage Journal
          If these distributed projects were in fact run by the big pharma companies, I would agree with you. But as I have already stated in three earlier posts for this topic, they are in fact not, they are run by universities or non-profit organizations, they make the results publicly available and can research things that the big pharmas don't see much profit in. For instance - medicines for the HIV subtypes currently spreading in poorer nations.
      • by random_culchie ( 759439 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:19AM (#15620291) Homepage Journal
        I hope everyone see that they are not simply donating spare cycles that cost you nothing.

        Modern computers enter a powersaving mode in the times their CPU is not busy. Enabling Folding@Home or SETI@HOME on your machine consumes these powersaving cycles and draws more power.

        Leave these programs running for a month and check out the huge difference in your power bill.

        Ironically, the distributed system to calculate climate change could actually contribute to it!!
    • by LarsWestergren ( 9033 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:09AM (#15619890) Homepage Journal
      of course the WSJ would much rather you where crunching numbers for their drugs companies under the guise of "fighting cancer" or "protein folding" so your results can be turned into their profit (you didnt think that cure/treatment would be free like your CPU did you?)

      From the Folding@Home FAQ [stanford.edu]:

      "Folding@home is run by an academic institution (specifically the Pande Group, at Stanford University's Chemistry Department), which is a nonprofit institution dedicated to science research and education. We will not sell the data or make any money off of it.

      Moreover, we will make the data available for others to use. In particular, the results from Folding@home will be made available on several levels. Most importantly, analysis of the simulations will be submitted to scientific journals for publication, and these journal articles will be posted on the web page after publication. Next, after publication of these scientific articles which analyze the data, the raw data of the folding runs will be available for everyone, including other researchers, here on this web site."

    • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:10AM (#15619903)
      There's a logical fallacy in there somewhere. Just because it's coming from the WSJ doesn't mean the point isn't valid. And I would have to agree with them, because I think there are better ways to spend extra computer cycles than searching for possible signals from outer space. I'd rather see extra cycles go towards things that have a larger impact for people on Earth: weather analysis, drug creation, protein folding, etc. But that's just me.
    • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:13AM (#15619910) Journal
      As one of those pharmaceutical researchers, I assure you that it does not make one particle of difference to us (let alone the Wall Street Journal) whether or not some overclocker runs some "fighting cancer" thingy on his computer. If there were a computational problem that we cared about, we'd throw a cluster at it, not wait for a bunch of squabbling AMD and Intel fanboys to solve it.

      And as for global warming, I'm no climatologist but I've got to think that turning your damn computer off is more valuable than anything you could run on it.

    • by PortWineBoy ( 587071 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:28AM (#15619975)
      However they do it, whatever it takes. Drug companies weren't formed for altruistic reasons.
      • by indifferent children ( 842621 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @12:11PM (#15622240)
        Drug companies weren't formed for altruistic reasons.

        I suspect that for the older drug companies, altruism was a major factor in their founding. Those people who cry that our society is becoming less civilized are right, but they neglect to mention that "the fish rots from the head." Compare these quotes by Andrew Carnegie to today's "Death Tax" opponents: "Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community." and "The man who dies rich dies disgraced."

        Individuals like Warren Buffet, George Soros, and Bill Gates (yes, boo hiss, his software sucks, but he understands that a charitable foundation is a better use for ridiculous amounts of wealth than creating the next Paris Hilton) stand out today as exceptions to the "Greed is good." attitude that dominates.

    • Heaven forbid somebody actually make a profit as a reward for finding a cure for cancer.
  • More than one (Score:5, Informative)

    by FiveDollarYoBet ( 956765 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @06:49AM (#15619818)
    Does Carl realize that it's possible to crunch more than one project at a time with BOINC?

    Right now I'm attached SETI, Einstein, Rosetta & LHC. It works on one for a bit and then will switch to another for a bit. And so what if SETI@home will never find anything, it's a cool looking screen saver!

    • Re:More than one (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shisha ( 145964 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:55AM (#15620132) Homepage
      Actually I see the problem as being two-fold. All those free computer cycles are not that free. Modern CPUs consume more electricity to do more work and someone has to pay the electricity bills. Busy CPUs need more cooling and fans that run at full throttle for a year do wear out and fail (and you risk burning some important component, even if the PC is designed to shut down when it detects overheating). That's simply because desktop PCs are desktop PCs and not workstations and the assumption is that the fans will have to run at full throttle for maybe half an hour at a time. The real costs are not easy to work out, but it might, just might be more efficient to donate the money to charity.

      The other problem is deciding which project deserves most attention. I think it's well beyond me to judge whether computer time is better spent running climate change simulations or protein folding for some medical research. Hence if someone wishes to donate computer time it will be useful if all one had to do is to download a BOINC like client that will then run whatever the server sends it. Of course you'd need a reputable institution with a sensible scientific board running the server...
    • Re:More than one (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gzur ( 631334 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:51AM (#15620545) Journal
      I upgraded from the old SETI@Home client to BOINC when it became available - but the BOINC client required too much effort on my part and was getting in my way.

      I know you what you're gonna say, I guess could have configured it better, RTFM, yadda yadda, but that's the point really isn't?

      I'm donating my CPU cycles to some altruistic cause, I don't want to have to RTFM. I just want to install and forget. For this reason I miss the old SETI client, and have, as a result, now stopped contributing.

      I simply can't be bothered.
  • Well excuse me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @06:49AM (#15619819)
    for using my computer to do what I want to do with it.
  • by janekp ( 972257 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @06:50AM (#15619824)
    Fighting fire with fire?
  • Global Warming (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chinthe ( 665303 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @06:50AM (#15619827)
    "Instead, he donates his spare computer power to a global warming project"
    Does this attempt to determine how much global warming is being caused by donating CPU cycles.
    • Re:Global Warming (Score:5, Informative)

      by LarsWestergren ( 9033 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:02AM (#15619861) Homepage Journal
      "Instead, he donates his spare computer power to a global warming project"
      Does this attempt to determine how much global warming is being caused by donating CPU cycles.


      I think that issue is answered pretty well in the FAQ [climateprediction.net]. When it comes to the real experiments being run by that particular project and their results, you can start here [climateprediction.net].

    • Even worse; the guy took the time to write an article about how he thinks other people are wasting CPU time. He could have just NOT written that article and let his computer spend all that wasted article-writing-CPU-time on actually useful projects.
      I would complain more, but I've used too much CPU time on my computer already; people are dying because of this post.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @06:51AM (#15619828)
    You know what's a waste of time? Gardening. You spend all this time and energy just to raise a few tomatoes that could have been bought at the store for cheap.

    People should stop gardening and focus their time and energy on solving global warming, but I don't presume to tell anyone what they should be doing with their time.
    • You make carbon based energy expensive. It's that simple.

      While that isn't happening you know your government aren't taking global warming seriously and if they aren't, you should probably ask yourself why you should take it seriously.

       
      • Wow you are a genius. Since you are so smart, please tell me how this would work when the populace enranged that inflation has gone through the roof because of government mandated high gas prices votes the guys who raised the prices out of office?
        • Inflation can only go through the roof if the government print lots of extra money. Money's a commodity like anything else, supply and demand.

          Do you think inflation is something magic which only applies to money? Did you think money just magically decreases in value? It decreases in value because either nobody wants it (they don't believe it's worth anything) or because there's lots more of it around. e.g. The government prints a load of money to... say... finance a war, instead of raising taxes.

          Funnily eno
          • by JesseMcDonald ( 536341 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:19AM (#15620288) Homepage

            Inflation can only go through the roof if the government print lots of extra money. Money's a commodity like anything else, supply and demand. . . . If you live in the US, you have a boatload of inflation coming your way in the next few years.

            While I agree with the principle here, don't forget that with legalized banking fraud ("fractional reserve banking") they don't have to actually print more money to increase the effective amount of currency; they can simply lower the mandantory reserve ratio. Should the LBF system ever fail, the FDIC will be forced to step in and print massive amounts of paper currency to back all those accounts.

            Conversely, credit contraction (higher interest rate & reserve ratio) has a deflationary effect equivalent to that of taking paper currency out of circulation. While I do believe that the long-term trend is toward inflation, indications are that we may be approaching a credit contraction phase, and thus short-term deflation. It may or may not manage to balance out the overall inflationary trend, but it's something to watch for none the less.

          • Not quite true. Inflation was a problem before paper money was a factor. Government printing presses are a big part of inflation, but market based factors like debt and labor costs are big contributors as well.

    • To me, it seems wasteful to donate CPU cycles to drug research, where there's a .001% chance that they'll cure a disease. It makes more sense to look for aliens, where there's a .000001% chance that we'll find intelligent life and they'll cure all disease for us.
  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @06:51AM (#15619830)


    Instead, he donates his spare computer power to a global warming project.

    Funny....I think that all the Slashdot gaming rigs out there are contributing quite a bit to global warming, but you don't hear us bragging about it... ^_^

  • by Caspian ( 99221 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @06:51AM (#15619831)
    Instead, he donates his spare computer power to a global warming project.
    Well, yeah. Running your computer at 100% CPU use is a great way to contribute to global warming. ;)
  • bittorrent seems to be distributing everything quite well

    As for SETI@home, maybe the aliens can't be detected using radio telescopes?
  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @06:54AM (#15619841)
    I don't like the way that some animal charities get more money than children's charities. Obviously the people making donations disagree. The point is the donor decides, if someone is giving something away then they decide.
  • http://www.grid.org/ [grid.org]

    No unix/linux clients, but then I don't really want my linux boxes running at 100% anyway.

     
    • Re:Drug research (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lord Kano ( 13027 )
      No unix/linux clients, but then I don't really want my linux boxes running at 100% anyway.

      You do know what "nice" [wikipedia.org] means right?

      My main linux box is running at 99.7 for Distributed.net but when something else needs CPU time the dnetc process is set for maximum niceness and it gives it up.

      LK
  • "Today, Seti@Home is to distributed computing what AARP is to social-security reform."

    Well we know what his position is on social-security.
  • Lets face it, they aren't exactly the first...

    Obviously there is the statement that the guy in question doesn't want to tell people what to do with their own CPUs, but that is exactly what he, and the article, are doing.

    If the people want to search for ET, let them.
  • Maybe people don't help drug research or any other causes because they often times have the money to conduct the research. Helping find a drug, for example, to cure a disease doesn't reap any recognition for an indivdual person, but rather the drug company, for example. Ah! But find an alien in outer space and be able to communicate with it - the individual making the discovery with SETI will be recognized at a personal level. Personal gain always wins over collaborative gain. The human race is greedy b
  • by FlynnMP3 ( 33498 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:10AM (#15619899)
    This is merely an opinion piece. It's easy to take the pragmatic road and dontate personal computing cycles to cancer research or something as equally earth based - citing return of results arguments.

    I postulate that the returns for finding out if there is intelligent life in outer space has greater implications for the world's population. Not immediate concerns mind you (unless something extraordinary happens), but the practical usage will eventually seep out of the acedemic and scientific circles and benefit the population in ways that we cannot possibly imagine.

    The opinion the journalist writes is the simple (IMO shallow) doubts of doing science for it's own sake.

    Besides, this whole opinion is practically moot. There are MORE than enough extra computing cycles out there. People can choose to which project they wish to donate too. Slow news day perhaps.

    -FlynnMP3
  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:12AM (#15619908)
    It's a waste that people use their cars to go see a movie when they could be delivering food to the homeless shelter.

    It's a waste that people are storing ice cream in the fridge when they could be storing donated blood plasma.

    • That's a terrible attempt at an analogy. Both actions in your comparisons result in tangible effects. You *can* go see a movie, and that may make you happy, so it is not a waste of time (even compared to delivering food).

      You could have made a more correct analogy like "It's a waste that people spend time squinting their eyes trying to see individual atoms rather than using them to read to the blind.", but that would have undermined your position. That *is* a waste of time, because there's no chance for t
      • Wow, you're one of them.

        YOUR position depends on their being no ET, which is not possible to prove or disprove. Do you go around telling people that they are wasting time going to church because there is no God?

        More to the point, stop trying to tell people what they should be doing with their time and stuff, whether it's computers or eyes. It's annoying.

  • SETI might seem like a waste to everyone, and maybe it is... until joe 6-pack running it in his basement finds an intelligent, alien signal. Then all bets are off!
  • Seti found some interesting signals. Not proof of intelligent life but enough to start pointing in those general directions.

    Anyone else recall this or have more details?
    • The only thing they ever claimed was "finding the WOW" - one signal in 1977 which could have been explained by a radio signal bouncing off a terrestrial satellite or some space junk.

      As far as I know, there have been no other signals detected. SETI seems pretty pointless to me. Their whole basis for study is the "drake equation" which was an estimate, based on 1950's understanding of cosmology and evolutionary biology which estimated the likelihood of finding sentient life. What we know of cosmology has d
  • by tedgyz ( 515156 ) * on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:21AM (#15619942) Homepage
    Personally, I always felt SETI was not very philanthropic - more like an amusing experiment in grid computing.

    I have been running grid.org [grid.org] for many years. They focus on medical research. They provide great features for managing all your computers that run the grid projects. You can even choose which research to participate in. And, to satiate a geek's lust for power, they have rankings for your aggregate compute time.
    • But unlike folding@home - any results from grid.org DO go into commercial only hands....

      Unless they've changed their terms recently at least...

      Personally I use my cycles hacking a puzzle for an ARG :) http://www.13thlabour.tk/ [13thlabour.tk]
      • But unlike folding@home - any results from grid.org DO go into commercial only hands....

        Good point. I guess I'm ok with that. If they can cure important diseases, I'm willing to suffer the consequences. One could argue that a commercial venture will yield beneficial results sooner, since they are poised to act on any breakthrough that the project may produce.
  • Sure it is being done poorly -- how many times has the /. effect actually had a positive impact?
  • by Orange Crush ( 934731 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @07:26AM (#15619966)
    I'm sure there are lots of people who would support using thier idle PCs for alzheimers research. They just forgot.
  • by rlp ( 11898 )
    I used to run the SETI@Home screensaver. Now I run Folding@Home. But the point is that it's my PC, I'm paying for the cycles - so it's my decision how those cycles are used. If a PC owner wants to search to extra-terrestrials, factor primes, fold proteins, or whatever - it's their decision.
  • Someone needs to set up a Yeti@HOME
  • Summary (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    That summary is more than a page and a half long on my screen (800x600), because the author doesn't know a thing about Slashdot and submitted a summary that looks more like a WSJ article.

    Why can't the Story Accepters do a little editing on the side? It would have looked perfectly okay if you'd cut it off at "likely to yield results":

    Carl Bialik from WSJ [mailto] writes

    "Distributed computing could help researchers studying climate change or Alzheimer's, but SETI@home's search for extra-terrestrial intelligence con

  • Darwin@Home (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fluxe ( 985535 )

    Okay, I'm not finding a cure for Alzheimer's, but at least I'm exploring the world of the Flying Spaghetti Monster [venganza.org] with http://www.darwinathome.org [darwinathome.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:10AM (#15620233)
    Number 1 - The Seti Experiment was not a waste. We now know that there are no signals of the kind we were hoping for in the areas we looked at. This is a finding. It is not a failure. Do not underestimate the importance of negative results in science.

    Number 2 - Seti was the seed-corn for the whole concept of doing scientific computing as a distributed calculation. It was directly responsible for the development of BOINC, which is a very valuable tool for all the scientific community.
  • Did they not know that SETI runs on the BOIC [berkeley.edu] platform, which is open-source? So if you want to do some modelling, just write a BOINC plugin, and maybe people will install & run it.

    Chip H.
  • by __aahrlq8808 ( 804799 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:29AM (#15620880)
    Imagine where distributed computing would be today without the high-profile trailblazer, SETI@home. I remember reading several articles in 1999 about the project in the New York Times among other places. SETI@home's unique goal and approach attracted members, and with those, more attention for its size. Over 5.2 million have participated in the project, and in all likelihood 5 million of those were new to distributed computing.

    While SETI@homes's managed to retain nearly a million members, the claim that it steals participants from other projects is absurd. Most of those other projects would face far greater obstacles to acceptance by having to woo new participants not already familiar with DC. Probably the originators of those other projects would not have even heard of DC themselves, or at least would have started several years later without a clear success story to look up to.

  • I gave up on SETI (Score:3, Insightful)

    by theCat ( 36907 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @12:28PM (#15622361) Journal
    ... a long time ago, at the exact moment when I recognized that radio broadcast, even assuming other life forms discover it, is just a quick stepping stone toward more efficient/direct means of distribution, like wires or fiber. Or drums. Or pherimones. Or telepathy.

    It's happening right now for ourselves. The entire hi-power broadcast radio phenomenon on this planet will have begun and essentially ended within about a single lifetime, maybe two. We've no data to indicate that radio would remain a prefered means of communication anywere in the universe for any race that understands technology *that* well.

    SETI has always barked up the wrong tree. Not because there are no intelligent races out there -- and I really do suspect there are -- but because if they *are* intelligent in a way that we would even recognize then they've moved on to other forms of communication, or settled into a fine state of just dealing with everyday as it comes and not worring about events in their version of Iraq.
  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) * on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @12:30PM (#15622374) Journal
    Radio SETI is really a waste of time. Optical SETI is the logical choice because;

    1) Visible light-emitting devices are smaller and lighter than microwave or radio-emitting devices.
    2) Visible light-emitting devices produce higher bandwidths and can consequently send information much faster.
    3) Interference from natural sources of microwaves is more common than from visible sources.
    4) Naturally occurring nanosecond pulses of light are mostly likely nonexistent, although there are all kinds of radio signals that could be similar to intentional SETI transmissions. Thus Optical SETI does not require grid computing to find signals.
    5) Exact frequencies of light are not required, as nanosecond unfiltered light pulses would still outshine the planet's star by over 30 times.

    Optical SETI detection out to 100 light-years is doable today, with a bit more work optical SETI out to 1,000 light-years is possible.

    Optical SETI paper [princeton.edu]

  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @12:30PM (#15622383) Journal
    I used to work in computational chemistry for Glaxo.* (regexp because I can't track the company's name changes since I left). After two years there I became strongly convinced that computers do not find cures for diseases - or even give you much understanding of illnesses. Molecular modeling is so far from being able to model in vivo molecules that it's practically worthless. One time I joked that people might was yell try to design molecules using yarrow stalks and the I Ching and then a few weeks later we took delivery of a piece of software that was practically the same thing - it generated random molecules (using a ball and stick model) that fitted within a defined volume of space. This stuff is nonsense. It tells you little about how molecules will behave in a real person.

    One time my manager showed me some statistics for drug discovery. Drugs need to go through various rounds of testing: it might start with assays with just receptors, move up through animal tests to full blown clinical trials. He showed me two interesting facts: firstly, the correlation between success at one stage and success at the next stage was low. This meant that the correlation between the earliest stages and the final in vivo drug activity was tiny. Secondly, the best drugs were often outliers in the sense that you could often discern some kind of pattern allowing you to predict drug activity for a class of molecule, but that the good drugs fell way outside this pattern. Because activity levels predicted from simulation are so poorly correlated with the first stage of drug trials, and we already know that trials at this stage are poorly correlated with actual drug usefulness, simulations are just as much a waste of resources as SETI.

    It seems to me that molecular modeling is actually one of those hard 'macho' (but ultimately pointless) projects that gets funding because to criticize it makes you seem anti-drug, anti-therapy and ant-human-progress.

    (I'm not saying people shouldn't try to model molecules. This is a great blue-sky goal. But people who are trying to find drugs or therapies shouldn't be wasting their time with such techniques.)

  • by Cid Highwind ( 9258 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @12:56PM (#15622631) Homepage
    It's political and financial willpower to do the right thing.

    If there was a way to make as much money on a one-shot cancer cure as on pills to control stomach acid, we would have it now. Antibiotics are easy to develop, the test procedures have been refined by years of experience, they've been mass-produced for a hundred years now, yet no new antibiotics have gone on the market in the last 20 years. Does anyone really think science has run out of substances that kill bacteria? No, the problem is that there's no money on cures or prevention, people take them once and then recover (or don't get sick in the first place). There's far more money to be made in selling Americans with health insurance $3 purple pills to treat heartburn or baldness or enlarged prostates or to let old farts have sex until they're ninety than in saving hundreds of millions in Africa from certain death by AIDS.

    If the drug companies that stand to benefit from current medical research want donated CPU cycles, then they should start acting like they really intend to develop and market (at affordable prices) a cancer cure or a vaccine for AIDS or some other miracle cure rather than yet another heavily advertised long-term treatment to help baby boomers keep pretending they aren't getting old. If they want to keep on milking the old folks' prescription drug benefits for all they're worth, they can use some of those profits to pay for supercomputer time.

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay

Working...