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November 28, 2003
Waiting for the Metaphorical Phone to Ring
This week I should be getting the results from a crucial experiment I set up recently. Actually, the experiment is a whole set of them, a good thirty-two of the little things, and the whole lot has been in a freezer for about ten days now. But they're soon to be thawed out and examined.
And I'm of two minds about that. I've written about this before, the feeling that I think many scientists get of almost not wanting to know if something's worked or not. That's partly because the odds are, for any really interesting experiment, that it hasn't worked out the way you wanted.
Now, there are the exploratory sorts of experiments where anything that comes from them is good. But those don't happen very often, generally only when a field is young and there are observations just waiting to be had. In my business, experiments are generally pass/fail grades on hypotheses. And the risk-to-reward ratio that applies everywhere else in the world applies here: the big experiments, the ones that'll make you jump up and down if they work, generally don't work.
So it really is easier, up to a point, if I don't do things like this. It's not like there isn't enough to keep me busy otherwise - in fact, if I want to do any of these no-guts-no-glory experiments, I have to make sure that I don't get sidetracked by the day-to-day stuff. And it's not like there aren't plenty of highs and lows in what we're pleased to call "normal" drug discovery. It should be enough.
But it isn't, not always. These roll-the-dice ideas keep occuring to me, and some of them just seem to have to be tried out. It's hard dealing with the results, which (so far) have been relentlessly negative. That goes for this current idea, which is a little over a year old, and for the ones I've had in past years. None of the really good ones have worked, not one. And that bothers me, as it would bother anyone. But I think, eventually, it would bother me more if I never tried. Here goes, again.
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