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Comment Re:The real question (Score 3, Insightful) 545

The truth is the US is a country with low upwards mobility, and is totally in denial about it.

Part of the reason for this is that in just about every society across recorded history, the degree of upwards mobility was much worse. We tend not to see this because it's much easier to compare our situation to other modern societies (i.e. European welfare states) or hypothetical utopias than to a past we never experienced. I don't want to idealize the American system, because it does have warts, but even the poor in America have vastly more opportunities (and wealth, and freedom, and political rights) than most people who have ever lived. That doesn't mean that we can't do better, just that a sense of perspective is helpful.

Comment Re: What happened to MNG? (Score 2) 246

MNG is not the correct solution, it's a solution looking for a problem. It's feature bloated and designed without any kind of thought put into how tools for it would work. It has support for sprites, tiling, fading, magnification, loops and a bunch of other stuff, none of which maps very well into the tools people actually use to produce animations. It's not so much an animated image format, but a language to write animations in.

The proper solution is video, WebM or whatever. Which makes no assumptions about how you structure your animation and instead simply tries to compress the resulting image sequence as best as possible. Or in case you actually need structured animation, you can use SVG which providers a much richer tool set then MNG and is full programmability via Javascirpt.

Comment Re:What would they store? (Score 1) 147

What would they store?

Everything. When you have Terabytes of storages you stop thinking about storing photos, you store a non-stop video stream of everything. A 'photo' will just be a bookmark into that video stream. It means high quality lifelogging will be practical.

Games are another thing, some modern games already take up 20GB and sooner or later they will find their way to smartphones and tablets. It would be possible to stream them instead of storing them on the phone, but so far there aren't really many games that do that and even those that do tend to have GBs of cache on the HDD.

Comment Re:He's right, of course. (Score 4, Insightful) 481

I can think of a dozen better ways to spend that money, but other rich fucks have those already. If he wants to do good, how about paying taxes, reparations for the companies that he destroyed, jail time for the politicians that he bought, etc.

Fine, what are the dozen other better ways to spend the money than trying to cure diseases that afflict millions? Paying taxes instead is simply going to perpetuate our military-industrial complex and bloated entitlement programs. I honestly don't care if Bill Gates is doing this work out of the goodness of his heart or just because he's an egotist; I care about whether it actually does some good. It won't excuse the awful mess that is Microsoft Windows, but if he really does help end malaria, he'll have improved vastly more lives than he ever destroyed (and frankly I'm skeptical that anyone's life was "destroyed" by his business practices; some people simply didn't get rich. boo-hoo.).

Now mod me to oblivion. For some reason Slashdot just can't not drink this cool-aid.

Trite statements like this just make you look like a self-absorbed douche. At least two-thirds of the comments on this story so far are anti-Gates, so you're not exactly speaking truth to power here.

Comment Re:Well Duh: Open Source is better (Score 1) 160

Sounds insanely inefficient to me. Maybe there needs to be some competition to remove the inefficiencies. i.e. no, or at least highly restricted, patent monopolies.

I think you're missing the fundamental point of patents. If there is no temporary monopoly on a novel drug, what is to prevent a bunch of bottom-feeders from simply copying it and selling it at a tenth of the price? It's far easier to copy someone else than to come up with something genuinely new, especially with a product that's so ridiculously easy to reverse engineer. On the other hand, just because one company has a drug that treats heart disease, does not prevent another company from making an entirely different drug to treat heart disease. (Unless it's one of those sleazy cases like Ariad Pharmaceuticals and their NF-kappaB patent, which basically prevented anyone from developing drugs that altered that pathway. Fortunately, the courts eventually nixed this.)

Comment Re:Well Duh: Open Source is better (Score 1) 160

The pure research is mostly done off of NIH or DOE grants. The only drug-money research is the attempt to add an extra protein here, or swap an atom there to make it patentable, and then get the analogue through human trials,

Drugs discovered using NIH or DOE grants are usually already patentable if they don't fail one of the other tests. But these only account for about 25% of new drugs; the remainder are genuinely discovered by drug companies. That doesn't mean that the drug companies don't benefit in other ways from public research - most of what we know about the mechanisms of disease and the biochemistry of individual proteins comes from academics. But there's a huge leap from "we know this protein causes cancer" to "we have a drug to stop cancer".

In any case, even when academics do find a promising drug, the human trials are usually still vastly more expensive than the basic research. And in many cases there is still a great deal of trial and error necessary to come up with a drug that has the desired functional and pharmacological properties.

Comment Re:Well Duh: Open Source is better (Score 1) 160

Right now the NIH does the early research, but doesn't spend the boatload of money needed to actually test the stuff they come up with. They usually abandon research when it gets to the point where this article is at.

Not really - what actually happens is typically that the universities patent the discovery and license it to a company which performs the development work. Which does have an element of "socialize the risk, privatize the profits", except that the expense of the product development is typically far more than the basic research done with public funding, and the failure rate is dismal. So at least if a drug candidate bombs in clinical trials, most of the money that just got flushed down the toilet belongs to pharma company shareholders or VCs, and not the taxpaying public. The NIH and the universities don't have much incentive to do this themselves, especially if they can be hauled before Congress and asked to account for the money.

Comment Re:Well Duh: Open Source is better (Score 1) 160

I don't say that trial and error does not have some place in science, but everything medical science seems too much based on trying stuff and doing statistics than on understanding things first.

That's because we still understand shockingly little about biological systems - I think around half of human genes remain uncharacterized. This means that even if we can say with certainty that "mutated protein X causes disease Y", and therefore inhibiting the mutant protein is a promising approach to curing the disease, we have no way of knowing what will happen when we introduce our candidate drug into the actual organism. We know some basic rules, e.g. certain chemical structures are more amenable to entering cells than others, and we can make educated guesses, for example protein kinase inhibitors tend to be non-specific, but there is still a huge amount of uncertainty. Eliminating the guesswork will take decades of painfully slow basic research. Should we simply not try to treat these diseases until we can comprehensively model the entire system and predict how drug candidates will work?

Comment Re:TED talk explains how the OSS philosophy applie (Score 2) 160

trade secrets, which means that the discovery is not made available to all

Which is extraordinarily difficult for drugs, because everyone will simply buy a bunch of their competitors' pills, and figure out exactly what they're made of down to atomic detail. A typical university chemistry lab could do this in a few days. There are some aspects that are more tricky - the exact packaging is sometimes key to getting the drug absorbed by the body at the desired rate, and the chemical synthesis can be messy - but figuring these out is still way cheaper than coming up with your own drug.

Comment Re:Is another myth about to bite the dust? (Score 1) 160

Among these is the drug/pharmaceutical industry because only they can afford the R&D needed to make important things happen.

It's less the "R" than the "D". The government spends large amounts on basic research, including some expenses which drug companies, at least individually, can't afford. For instance, the US Department of Energy builds massive X-ray generators called synchrotrons, which are used by biologists to determine the structures of proteins, and drug companies make heavy use of these to investigate drug candidates. A new state-of-the-art synchrotron is around $1 billion. Naturally, drug companies pay the DOE to use these facilities without revealing their data (which is a requirement of use for everyone else). It's a situation that just about everyone is happy with. (Also, more generally, the government funds studies which increase our knowledge and understanding of biological systems, which can inform drug development even though they usually don't magically lead to new therapies.)

What the government can't or doesn't want to spend money on is the laborious process of taking a drug candidate from the lab bench to the consumer. I made a longer post about this above, but the short version is that it typically costs hundreds of millions of dollars. and most drug candidates don't even make it that far. The government would naturally prefer not to spend huge amounts of taxpayer money on projects that have an exceptionally high risk of failure, and academic scientists are reluctant to work on such projects both in general, and without being well-compensated. So the "development" phase is farmed out to companies.

It is an imperfect process, and I think much could be done to improve the system (I am on the record as supporting the repeal of the Bayh-Dole Act), but right now I do not see any magical alternatives. Maybe with another 20 years' improvement in biotechnology and automation we'll do things differently; I certainly hope so.

Comment Re:Well Duh: Open Source is better (Score 5, Informative) 160

Don't even bother arguing that profit motivates progress. The overwhelming majority of researchers and engineers are motivated by the joy of success, not crushing the opposition and getting filthy rich.

The problem with drug development is that the huge majority of efforts end in failure, and depending on how far along the pipeline the drugs are, these failures can be painfully expensive. Truth is, it's not really all that difficult or costly to come up with a nanomolar inhibitor for some key regulatory protein involved in heart disease or cancer. But that doesn't mean you've cured the disease. You might synthesize a molecule that completely shuts down your target protein, and start doing in-vivo studies. Here's where the bad shit starts: maybe your compound can't get past the cell membrane. Or maybe it gets shunted to the liver and immediately degraded - unless it fucks up the liver, of course (which one of the major reasons for negative drug interactions, and why many medications have labels saying "do not consume alcohol"). Or let's say it gets to exactly where it needs to be, but it also binds with high affinity to seven other proteins, three of which we know nothing about, and all of these are essential for other processes. So you come in the next morning, and half of your test mice are belly-up, another quarter are bleeding rectally, and the remainder will promptly croak if you feed them Tylenol.

If you're really unlucky, your drug passes the animal models easily, and makes it into clinical trials with actual sick humans. If you're really, really unlucky, you make it all the way to Phase III trials, with thousands of patients, and only then do you discover that either a) your drug doesn't really work as well as it needs to, or b) a large fraction of patients manifest severe side effects over time, or c) both. At this point the cumulative expense of developing this candidate may be hundreds of millions of dollars. And companies fail at this stage all the time; it's always big news when this happens, and their market capitalization takes it in the ass.

Now, I don't feel terribly sympathetic for drug companies as a whole; they do some pretty sleazy shit, and have paid some well-deserved fines for their malfeasance. But I would find it incredibly depressing to sink years of my life (and millions of dollars of investor money) into a promising clinical candidate, only to have it fail just shy of the endpoint. I'm an academic scientist, and this is one of the reasons why I've stayed in academia so long, for all of its faults. I get paid less, but I don't have to devote myself to narrowly-scoped projects which have a depressingly high risk of failure. If I had to start doing drug discovery as part of some newly nationalized research plan, I would leave without hesitation. Sorry, but if you want me to spend my life doing something that mind-numbing and soul-crushing, you'd fucking better pay decently me for it. The overwhelming majority of people who know anything about drug discovery will tell you the same thing.

PS #1: Please, explain how the extraordinary improvement in computer hardware since WWII was encouraged by lack of patents. Another counter-example: genome sequencing technology has become orders of magnitude faster in the last dozen or so years. (No, I'm not arguing that we should patent everything; I'm still against patents on software and gene sequences.)

PS #2: Don't assume that scientists aren't motivated by crushing the opposition. That's part of the joy of success, and while we may not be doing it for the money, our egos are at least as big as everyone else's.

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I cannot conceive that anybody will require multiplications at the rate of 40,000 or even 4,000 per hour ... -- F. H. Wales (1936)