Thursday, November 15, 2018

Failure: The Real Secret Sauce of Engineering

I took one swing at Vijay Pande's overly rosy piece on applying engineering methods to biology and medicine and similar minded efforts were published by Ash Jogalekar at Curious Wavefunction and Derek Lowe at In The Pipeline. Perhaps I shouldn't make another go, but it is a new excuse to explore an old fascination of mine.  Pande's subhead was "Billion-dollar bridges rarely fail -- whereas billion-dollar drug failures are routine".  I can't argue that.  Actually, it would seem from an informal search that billion dollar bridges are actually much rarer than billion dollar drug development programs.  Obviously they exist -- I've traversed the new Tappan Zee Bridge which came in over $3B.  On the other hand, a second crossing at perhaps the most notorious spot in bridge engineering history, the Tacoma Narrows, was built earlier in this century for only $0.8B.  What I wish to explore are the failures of bridges and other structures of any cost, as it is the analysis of failures that frequently propels engineering forwards.  That analysis is enabled by the relative simplicity of human engineering and the artifacts it uses and creates.  Conversely, analyzing the failure of new drugs is nothing like that.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

No, the Groves Fallacy Can't be Retired Yet

Vijay Pande has a thought-provoking piece in Scientific American on the Groves Fallacy, though in the end I'm afraid mostly what he provokes in me is the thought that he's in most cases pretty far off base. Titled "How to Engineer Biology", he claims that the Grove Fallacy -- the idea that biology can't be tamed by engineering -- is quickly being put to rest.  And Pande isn't some naive Silicon Valley type, but a professor at Stanford whose lab works in experimental biology.  So he has some street cred -- but that doesn't mean he isn't mostly wrong.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Illumina Buys PacBio: More Thoughts

Illumina surprised pretty much everyone in the genomics community by announcing the purchase of Pacific Biosciences.  I had spent Thursday deep in the weeds of a combined PacBio-ONT-Illumina dataset, so was caught completely by surprise on my commute home by an email asking for my comment.  If you do want to hear hot takes on it from myself and AllSeq's Shawn Baker, Theral Timpson over at Mendelspod interviewed us that night.  There has of course been much discussion of the deal and tributes.   I've had the weekend to ponder things, and here are some somewhat better thought out and detailed comments -- though I don't believe I've retreated from any of the themes in the podcast.  I've grouped the thoughts into a few themes.