Science


This month the PC turns 25. How much has the world changed? A lot. Think about it for a second, and picture your day (not even your life) without a computer. For starters you wouldn’t be reading this (or I wouldn’t be writting it), most of our jobs would not exist, and many things we know we wouldn’t of aquired.

Computers (in general) are arguably the biggest break thru in technology since the wheel. They allow us to prove things we wouldn’t be able to otherwise (chaos theory comes to mind, as an example), it makes our lives easier (remember “the worst thing that can happen is a machine doing a man’s job with the exeption of a man doing a machine’s job“), it comunicates us and it entertains us (it doesen’t entertain you? let me remind you your TV has a Chip, bowling alleys are computer controled and the car you drive to your nice Beach Vacation would’t go a mile without it’s computers).

Besides they are a great tool for democracy. A Computer connected to the internet is a learning tool, you have the same access if you are connected uptown or in a ghetto. You might even call computers Communists!! Its all up to you; if you want to spend your time in a 3D shooter or at wikipedia. PCs give you options, most of them free.

Its no secret that chips will keep getting smaller and faster. Communications can only improve, “evolution” will carry on; we’ve witnessed it for the past 25 years and it will only keep happening.

As part of the company that still employs many of the minds that came up with the PC you have a sense of pride. We’ve done great things in the past. So what about the future.

Being “migrated” to Lenovo felt like a whiff of fresh air, and I think this sensation is shared by most of my fellow Lenovians (lenovits? lennovers?) around the globe. We have this sensation that only great things are bound to happen. We have a lot of great minds in different and key possitions, it can only go well.  What will this great things be? I don’t have a clue, but then again I’m not that smart! Just make sure you keep looking in our direction, because 25 years after the first IBM-PC, we might start the next revolution.

(Disclosure: SIMON can be considered the first personal computer but we’re talking about something else!!)

I’m lucky enough to be about to get married to a Scientist. That’s how I get an insight of how things work. Its definetely nothing like the idealized version some might have of it, is more a story of struggle and errors than one of success. The whole way of doing things, evaluations, scolarships and funds is messed up form top to bottom.

Here’s how things (don’t) work. When you start working on an investigation you have to consult existing bibliography on the subject of study. See what other people have done and achieved, what is known and what is missing. Thus you don’t start from scratch but have a whole bunch of data to base your work on. Sounds great, but life is never so simple.

1. About Publications.

As a Scientist you spend 4 years, a decade or your whole life working on the same line of investigation. While you (alegedly) make progress you publish your stuff in the form of “papers” in more or less recognized scientific journals. This magazines review what’s submitted to them and approve or decline the papers. The more respected the publication is, the harder it getts to get something published in it, at least so the say.

Now publications are the measuring stick for science and scientists. To be able to make advances you need money; in order to get funds and scholarships you need to publish. For scientists to publish they need to get results right? Wrong! Since there is so much preassure to publish, most of the time publications are just a collection of missleading, retouched figures and test protocols with results no one swill ever reproduce.

This leads to a vicious cicle of people who start their experiments on other people’s work which is, to say the least, wrong. You follow their protocols, reproduce their exact methods and get… absolutely nothing. Nice isn’t it? Wait, it get’s worst.

2. The famous and the unknown.

When you start in science your lucky enough if your mom recognizes you. As you make progress, and if your field of investigation is in vogue you get recognition. You also have to get a little bit lucky. Of course the more unknown you are the harder it gets to get stuff published in the good and respectable publications (unless you make a break-through discovery, that is), on the other hand once you have a name no one will dare not publishing your stuff, even if its rubbish. And, believe me, “famous” scientists publish even more useless stuff than the unknown.

3. Trial and error (and error, and error…)

One would think that in the midst of the first decade of the 21st century the trial and error would be something science would be over with. Au contraire, it is still the only way scientists have to get things done. It is an enormous waste of time and resources, but no-one seems to be able to come up with a better way of doing things. You have to try, fail and adjust over and over again just to get only near where you’re aiming, and, most of the time, you hit some other thing that wasn’t quite on the scope. No wonder most important discoveries are made “by mistake” (penicilin, rubber and viagra are just some of a huge list, viagra itself is an interesting case. It was supposed to be a blood preasure regulator, which didn’t work all that well in that sense, but males who got it strangely refused to return the samples… ).

4. The commerce of it all.

The oddness of commerce meddling with science can can be put in one simple example:

You own a gene? How on earth can you own a gene? So you OWN a gene I (and everybody else) has? Someone please tell me it’s not truth!! And yet, it is.

Human genome project was supported by US government, the idea was to map all genes in human DNA (but not quite learning what they are good for, which is a huge challenge, since, as surprising as it might appear, most of our DNA is just “noise” inherited by millions of years of evolution), private sector was participating in it, but not much. Progress was slow, people got frustrated and then came Craig Venter and his shotgun technique (don’t ask me to explain it learn more on Craig Venter and Shotgun Sequencing on wikipedia), which really made things happen. Like it or not, as controversial as Mr. Venter is, this breakthrough was probably one of the 20th century major scientific accomplishments because of what it implies and allows.

This lead to companies “buying” genes (not entirely true, but let’s have it that way for now). So now, if you happen to be studying anything that has to do with any privately held genes you have to pay the owner a fee (toll? tax?) to use that sequence…

I’ll buy ACGTGGTGCACCACGTTTTGCAACA, please… and I’ll have it with a big coke and fries.

The implications of this particular “thing” happening well be adressed by me on some other ocation and I’ll continue my ramble as well as being brave enough to suggest some practices which would help science, scientists and us all.