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Comment Re:Read my post again (Score 1) 311

This is the kind of circular argument that's impossible to refute. "Show me the numbers!" "Here are the numbers!" "No, those don't support my predetermined conclusion, so they must be fake." It's exactly like the Trump administration's attitude towards climate science, to pick one recent example. But whatever, the same strategy worked out so well for the fossil fuel interests that I guess I shouldn't be surprised that other ideologues have latched onto it.

Comment Re:No it won't (Score 1) 311

This is common knowledge to anyone who has worked in the field - it's like asking for a citation for the claim that eating too much junk food leads to obesity. But here are two data points:


So that's less than 20% of approved drugs that are discovered in academia to begin with. Academic labs aren't large-scale operations - a single-investigator R01 grant from the NIH might be $5 million over 5 years, and most investigators won't have more than a handful of these. For the really big superstar labs, let's assume a very generous upper bounds of $10 million per year (not all of which is necessarily from the government). If it's a big multi-investigator project, maybe double that. Except for a handful of big centers (like the NIH itself, or genome sequencing centers), academia just doesn't operate at a large scale - a typical university research department is just an aggregation of many smaller units that are largely autonomous. The hidden advantage to these organizational limitations is that failed projects usually fail before anyone spends too much money on them. So let's hypothesize at the extreme, academics spent no more than $50 million per drug candidate. Compare to the numbers in the Wikipedia article.

Now, you could of course argue that because drug development is informed by the public-domain knowledge generated by taxpayer-funded researchers, drug companies are leaching off the public in that way too. I guess that's technically true (albeit difficult-to-impossible to quantify), but you might as well argue that because the government invented digital computers, companies like IBM and Intel should have been nationalized. (Note that the difference in salary between academia and big pharma is relatively large - to shift more drug development to academia, you'll need to raise salaries, or find a lot of scientists willing to work for academic salary while doing grunt work on massive projects that will mostly likely fail.)

To pick a more specific example, the NIH spends approximately $1.2 billion per year on aging-related research (including but not limited to Alzheimer's):


Most of that will be single-investigator grants, and as anyone who has worked in basic research can tell you, the majority of the grants that are funded won't lead to any immediate treatments, although they may provide useful information in the long term. In contrast, here is an estimate of the total cost per Alzheimer's drug being $5.7 billion (including failures, and keep in mind the overwhelming bulk of that is spent by drug companies):


This isn't to argue that taxpayer funding of basic research isn't valuable - it's absolutely essential IMHO. But most of what it produces isn't going to lead directly to new drugs or treatments.

Obligatory disclaimer: I do not work for a drug company, but I did receive funding from them as a government scientist, and receive a small bonus from IP licensing fees every year. Frankly it was far more trouble than it was worth; drug companies are kind of a pain in the ass to deal with, even if you only talk to the scientists.

Comment Re:No it won't (Score 1) 311

They do a few clinical trials after the government has done the really expensive stuff (what's called "Basic Research", IIRC).

This is simply wrong. The development process (which includes a lot more than just clinical trials) is far more expensive than the basic research component - and that's without even counting how many projects simply fail without anything to show for it.

Comment Re:Two different things (Score 1) 70

It's also worth noting that Zhang was hardly the only person to be working on this - Church's group published a very similar article in the same issue of Science in 2013, and about a half-dozen groups were reaching similar conclusions at the same time, but they weren't as aggressive about filing patents.

Comment Re:You will always be a foreigner (Score 1) 219

From Wikipedia:

"Since the 1980s, an estimated 200 million Chinese live outside their officially registered areas and under far less eligibility to education and government services, living therefore in a condition similar in many ways to that of illegal immigrants... There are around 130 million such home-staying children, living without their parents, as reported by Chinese researchers."

Of course if the Chinese government was less secretive and obsessed with control, we could probably find more accurate statistics. But then this is the country that tried to discourage the US embassy in Beijing from posting accurate air pollution metrics because they were so embarrassing.

Comment Re:You will always be a foreigner (Score 3, Interesting) 219

Veering slightly off-topic here, but in addition to what you said, the limitations on internal migration (for Chinese citizens) are absolutely insane by Western standards. Imagine that you couldn't attend school or obtain a driver's license or even legally reside in California despite being born there because your parents were "registered" as Illinois residents and moved without permission. As someone who rarely has to deal with any government agency more oppressive than the local DMV office, I can't imagine living in a country with that level of control over my life, even if they were handing out citizenship papers freely.

Comment Re: Got my start with Terrapin Logo on an Apple ][ (Score 2) 68

Did you try the .OPTION commands that replaced the pokes?

The C64 port took a long time because of the reduced number of page zero registers available. The biggest problem was that location 0 and 1 were used for the parallel bus port, and there were lots of places where we assumed the CAR of NIL was NIL but instead it was random dat. I had a kernel ROM listing to help with the register usage, and later a 6510 Andy Finkel had fabbed for me to use with a logic analyzer to disassemble and set breakpoints on memory access for the 0 problem.

I never got the interrupts right for doing setspeed with the sprites... sorry about that.

Comment Re:Not quite the same thing is already being done. (Score 2) 71

why is the test of worthiness for a medical procedure whether it can be "mass marketed"

Because someone has to pay for the research and development - which, please remember, involves large-scale clinical trials to get regulatory approval - and they're not going to front the money for a treatment that has no chance of recouping their investment, unless they have some other personal interest. You can wring your hands all you want about society's priorities, but new medical procedures aren't magically exempt from basic rules of supply and demand.

Comment Re:Only 40 years?? (Score 1) 122

I wonder what kind of unmanned probes we could have by now if we didn't have to spend it on a military? If you don't have to worry about life-support and could afford redundant probes to deal with the risk of high-speeds, those things could be really fast, and we perhaps could be getting close-up data from the nearest star systems by now.

Sorry, not even close.

The estimate that I've seen for Project Icarus, which is one of the most thorough realistic concepts for interstellar exploration, was $100 trillion. (For comparison, global GNP is around $70 trillion, and US military budget is probably on the order of $1 trillion at most once you include stuff like the NSA - DoD alone is more like $700 billion. Some of which we do actually need for national defense.) That probe would have been unmanned and taken 50 years to reach Barnard's Star (only about 5 light years away), plus at least a 20-year development time. It required technology that, while theoretically possible, isn't even remotely close to working; it also required installing orbital infrastructure around at least one of our gas giants to mine the isotope(s) required for its particular flavor of fusion.

If we restrict ourselves to current-day or very-near-future technology, we might be able to get something to a nearby star in a few centuries for a much smaller sum. I'm totally in favor of starting work now, but I think the political will for spending large amounts of tax dollars on such a project is near zero.

Comment Re:This model excludes tacit conspiracies (Score 1) 303

If I were a pharm exec choosing which studies to support, there are many factors I would have to weigh in my decisions. A tacit bias towards non-curative medications is plausibly more profitable

This may make sense to a layman, but it completely misunderstands how the pharma business works. The vast majority of any research efforts they undertake, no matter what the goal, will crash and burn, some of them very expensively. Obviously the companies decide what to target based on likely profitability, but deciding not to pursue a promising possible cure because it might not make as much money as another promising lead that is merely a long-term palliative is absolutely batshit insane, because they have no idea which one is going to survive clinical trials.

The more general problem, of course, is that curing most diseases outright, and especially cancer, is often extremely difficult to do without killing the host, so it's not like there are many magic "cures" hidden away anyway. A truly comprehensive approach will probably require decades of further advances in biotechnology and our understanding of disease mechanisms before any pharma exec would even think of sinking money into trying to "cure cancer" outright.

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