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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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October 25, 2004

Actually, It's Everything Else That's Off-Topic

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Posted by Derek

Here we are, with one week to go before the election. Several bloggers that I read regularly have called on the other opinion-spouters in this business to state who they're voting for, so readers can know where they're writing from. Since I talk about the politics of health care and drug industry (in between lab stories and bizarre patents, that is) I think I should go ahead and turn over my cards. The point of a blog is to have an opinion, after all, which opinion is expressed both in what I choose to write about and overtly within the writing itself.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise to regular readers that I will be casting my vote for President Bush next week. I'm not exactly going to be whistling as I walk into the booth, though, because Bush has done several things that would, under other circumstances, be deal-breakers for me. The limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research are one example. Since the issue turned into a political football it's been distorted past recognition, but while recognizing that embryonic stem cells are not going to suddenly send people leaping out of wheelchairs, and realizing that private money can (and is) funding such research, I still dislike the limits that the Bush administration has proposed. I understand their reasons, but I disagree with them and I worry about the precedent that they set.

Another problem has been the administration's wobbly attitude toward free trade. I don't like seeing tariffs anywhere on much of anything, so the steel and textile actions of the last few years don't sit well with me. I think that free trade is the closest we come to getting something for nothing in this world, and I worry every time someone messes with it for political advantage. (If I thought that Sen. Kerry would be any better, my decision to vote for Bush would be that much harder.)

Next we come to the nominal subject of this blog, pharmaceutical research. As you'd expect, Sen. Kerry's constant hammering on the drug companies make it next to impossible for me to consider voting for him. His proposals would significantly raise my chances of being tossed out into the street, unable to make a living at my chosen trade. And given the state of the industry, those odds are already quite large enough, thanks. I recognize that some of Kerry's statements are just campaign rhetoric, and that a Republican-controlled Congress would be unlikely to act on many of his plans. But it seems foolhardy to vote for someone on the assumption that he doesn't really mean what he says.

So under other circumstances, I'd be back to my situation in 1992. I was disappointed in Bush(41), did not trust Clinton (remember, I'm from Arkansas), and considered Ross Perot to be dangerously unstable. I took an awful long time in the voting booth, and finally cast a protest vote for the Libertarians, which required a bit of nose-holding even then. Ah, those 1990s. But this much too serious a year for protest votes. It would take a truly un-Libertarian amount of coercion to get me to vote for them this year.

My personal worries are about continued pharmaceutical employment, but the biggest issue in this election is foreign policy. And I simply cannot trust Senator Kerry's instincts in that area. I have disagreements with some of the things that the Bush administration has done and how it's done them, but those are nothing compared to the ones I can see having with a Kerry presidency. I believe that he, as well as many of his supporters, are living with a view of the world that correlates rather weakly with reality. And yes, I well realize that they believe the same thing about people like me.

There you have it. I'm not necessarily trying to bring anyone around to my point of view, since I don't think there's much convincing left to do at this late date. But now you know where I'm coming from, and can adjust your dials accordingly.

Comments (31) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Current Events


1. Gil Roth on October 25, 2004 9:49 PM writes...

My connection to the Pharma biz is a lot more tangential than yours, but you've pretty much summed up everything that's going through MY head about next Tuesday, too.

Now finish up this month's column!


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2. Gary on October 25, 2004 10:45 PM writes...

I'm disappointed -- the Bush admin has been thoroughly dishonest and incompetent. It's too bad the democratic party settled for Kerry, but getting rid of Bush and the neocons he brought with him needs to be done, or the country will explode. Plus, Bush seems to getting creepier and creepier -- the ads they're running are getting worse as the days pass.

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3. Drew on October 26, 2004 1:18 AM writes...

Sure, a nice job is nice, but is the future of "continued pharmaceutical employment" more important than the future of this country and everything it is based upon?

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4. threegoofs on October 26, 2004 10:44 AM writes...

I work for Pharma too.... but I cant vote for Bush. Pharma always gets abuse in election years, and frankly, the marketing end of pharma is a bit out of control.

But the absolute dealbreaker for me is the war and its aftermath. No one makes preemptive war in my name and can get away with getting my vote. Twenty thousand dead in Iraq trumps my job in pharma anyday.

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5. Derek Lowe on October 26, 2004 11:13 AM writes...

As I said, foreign policy is the biggest issue in the election. I don't particularly want this comment section to turn into an Iraq wrestling match, but if you compare the average death rate under Saddam to the casualties of the war, the war comes out ahead. And, weirdly enough, I actually buy into that modernizing-the-Middle-East business.

Disagreement with these arguments, though, is a perfectly legitimate reason not to vote for Bush.

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6. threegoofs on October 26, 2004 12:08 PM writes...

First, to the poster above... if you wont read someone's comments because they support Bush, you are an idiot. That is a perfect template to develop a narrow mind, which is clearly what you have been working on for a while.

As far as Dereks comments go... I would put significant money that Saddam was not killing thousands of insurgents a year in his country. The death rate in Iraq before the war seemed to be inflated... and those mass burials??? Looks like Iran-Iraq war casualties for the most part.

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7. SRC on October 26, 2004 12:41 PM writes...

I'm with you, Derek, 100% - and my job at a failing startup is going "poof!" literally as we type...

For me, foreign policy is the only issue; all others dwindle into relative insignificance. Pre-emptive war, to make sure the horror is there and not here, gives us at least have a shot at introducing democracy into the Muslim world - the only long-term solution.

Furthermore, we can't afford to take the first punch in fighting terrorists; a single vial dropped at the Super Bowl would mean airport-like security at every public venue in the US. Our civil liberties would never be the same.

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8. Ken on October 26, 2004 12:57 PM writes...

As someone who hopes to be a consumer of advanced pharmaceuticals over the next 40 years, and is additionally hoping that as a consequence he will be a consumer of really advanced pharmaceuticals over the next 10,000 years, I'd have to follow Derek's line of reasoning on the domestic side.

I'm not thrilled about the stem cell bit. I'm horrified that Bush is pushing for a UN convention calling for a worldwide ban on all forms of cloning. But Kerry is determined to pursue policies that threaten to bring pharmaceutical advancement to a screeching halt, and thus remove any chance we might have of a stay of execution past our first century.

On the foreign side, not only are we well rid of Saddam, but Iraq makes a nice staging area for us to do what needs to be done to keep the mullahs running Iran from getting their hands on nuclear weapons. Say what you will about the details - like Grant "at least he fights", unlike John "McClellan" Kerry who only knows how to criticize and thinks that the "plan" is everything and no fighting should be done without being planned to the smallest, most insignificant detail.

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9. Sigivald on October 26, 2004 1:16 PM writes...

goofs: Iran-iraq war casualties that are separate graves for men and another for women and children, shot in the head with pistols?

Right. Well. Even if we assume that Hussein was being nice while the UN was "sanctioning" him (pun absolutely intended), I see no reason to beleive he was "reformed" and would not go back to killing anyone he felt it useful to kill the moment he thought he'd get away with it - and according to available evidence, that would be "as soon as France, Germany, and Russia could get the sanctions lifted".

Which translates to "as soon as an American President thinks it's more worthwhile to please Paris than contain Hussein". So, er, I can't imagine that state of affairs lasting forever. It seems inevitable that, had there not been this war, Hussein would have escaped from sanctions. Unless you have evidence he'd become a Very Good Boy, it seems specious to pretend his murderous tendencies are not fair game for argument.

Gary: I take it that by "worse", you mean the ads are more effective and are making you think your guy might lose? Because if you mean, say "more inaccurate", it appears that both sides are guilty in (roughly, it's hard to quantify spin!) equal part, from what I can glean from SpinSanity and FactCheck. And I suspect "the country" won't explode if Bush wins... just you and your compatriots who can't bear the idea that people actually think Bush would do a better job.

(Honestly. Do you suspect that the "red states" will riot if Bush loses? Seriously?)

I gotta agree with Derek here (not that I'm generally reluctant to); Bush has been far, far from perfect, but I can't see that Kerry would score better on the Important Things, and this is an election full of Important Things.

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10. Sigivald on October 26, 2004 1:17 PM writes...

Ah, I see the blog eats linebreaks. HONEST, when I hit "post", there were paragraphs there.

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11. Dawn B. on October 26, 2004 4:38 PM writes...

I'm in pharma too, but I will be voting for Kerry. I believe that Bush has done more bad than good for science overall [stem cell, funding to NSF & NIH, etc.]. While Kerry may have some other badness, I don't think my job will be in danger from his policies. Maybe I'm blind. On the other fronts, Kerry comes out way ahead of Bush for me.

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12. William Knight on October 26, 2004 5:41 PM writes...

First, I think credit should be given to Derek Lowe for being up-front about his political views, even though I strongly disagree with him. Decisions made in the drug business are highly influenced by politics, not just science, so it's important to know where he's coming from.

On the Iraq question, I can understand why people would support Bush for the long-term goal of democracy in the middle east, even if they did acknowledge Bush's incompetence and dishonesty.

However, at this point, there is a lot of evidence to indicate that Bush's actions have caused serious damage to the chances for democracy in the middle east. Democracy is now a dirty word for many people in the Arab countries, because of the chaos in Iraq, the death of innocent civilians, the Abu Ghraib scandal, and the larger hypocrisy of the US in supporting repressive Arab governments and Israel.

If the Bush team had planned things right, it might have worked, but it didn't.

In the more general view of how we should respond to threats to our security, the increasing power of technology is really REALLY going to change the nature of the game pretty soon. People like Derek should understand this more than most. As the technology for the synthesis and distribution of chemical and biological materials becomes more advanced, it will become available to EVERYONE.

As a result, the 'get tough' approach of using large military force will simply move the entire world into a self-reinforcing cycle of terrorism, economic devastation and religious fundamentalism.

The only sane alternative is to try to engage the vast numbers of people in the mainstream of society, on all sides, to join together against extremism.

Bush can't do this. With his 'fear' politics, he's doing the EXACT opposite. Kerry can help pull us back from the brink.

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13. SRC on October 26, 2004 8:59 PM writes...

The only sane alternative is to try to engage the vast numbers of people in the mainstream of society, on all sides, to join together against extremism.

Er..."join together" and do what, exactly?

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14. steve on October 26, 2004 9:15 PM writes...

One of the good things about this blog is that DL mostly doesn't write about his right-wing politics, he writes about something he's an expert in. It's fascinating to read things about Pharma chem from a guy who's really knowledgeable about that topic. Very interesting reading. Blogs where experts talk about their expertise make for great reading.

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15. William Knight on October 26, 2004 9:45 PM writes...

Re SRC's question:

Join together in advocating the rule of law instead of resorting to violence and war.

Join together in exchanging intelligence about terrorist activities through international cooperation.

Join together in refusing to fund terrorism (government-sponsored and otherwise) and instead use the money for health, education and economic development.

Now, if you respond and say that it's naive to appeal to terrorists like this, you are completely misrepresenting the argument.

This is not a proposition for terrorists. This is a proposition for the vast majority of mainstream populations, in all countries. That's where the real battle is. Because if you think the mighty US military is going to be able to crush the terrorists 10 or 20 years from now, if we have antagonized half the world or more, you're wrong.

If large percentages of populations in other countries decide to throw their lot in with extremists and terrorists, there are going to be enough smart and dedicated people amongst that pool who will develop and deliver biological and chemical weapons that will wreak catastrophic destruction in our country and the rest of the world.

It will happen, and all the George Bushes in the world ain't gonna stop it.

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16. The Novice Chemist on October 26, 2004 10:21 PM writes...

I'm terribly amused by the above comment by Steve about Derek's "right-wing politics." What right-wing politics? I'm guessing (from reading Derek for almost three years now) that he's a vaguely areligious libertarian (with hawk tendencies.) Socially non-plussed, fiscally conservative.

Oooh, looks like Jerry Falwell's best buddy to me!

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17. biff on October 26, 2004 11:25 PM writes...

I agree with the Novice Chemist -- it's always amusing when folks call libertarians "right wing"...I mean, since libertarians also tend to support things like decriminalization or outright legalization of drugs, open borders, gay marriages , and so on, I guess that Jerry Falwell must be a libertarian, too. As a libertarian myself, there is a lot of philosophical distance between W and me, but I seem to get called "right wing" (and, often enough, "Nazi" or "Fascist") whenever I suggest that W might actually be more than just a chimp, and that he may actually have positions worth considering regarding security and foreign affairs. As usual, the people doing the labeling seem to have little idea of what the labels actually mean, and they tend to use labels, rather than reason, to push their arguments. I guess that's just life in a blue state...

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18. steve on October 26, 2004 11:44 PM writes...

Careful readers will note that I didn't use any label to push my arguments. I didn't make any political argument whatsoever. I didn't accuse my opponents of using labels, rather than reason, like biff did. Nor did I say anything about Jerry Falwell, or Nazis, or Fascists.
It's obvious from his link list than Derek tilts right. I didn't say that was good or bad. I said I was happy that he talked about his area of expertise on this blog. I think it would be much less interesting if he talked about politics more.

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19. steve on October 26, 2004 11:46 PM writes...

it should have been "that Derek"

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20. Pedro on October 27, 2004 12:23 AM writes...

Steve: Idon't think you got Novice Chemist's point. Libertarians are generally pro-freedom in the market and in people's lives. Right-wingers pay lip-service to market freedoms, while left-wingers pay lip-service to civil freedoms. Libertarians are generally divided on military and defence issues. I assume this is why Novice finds it amusing when Libertarians are described as Right-wing. They could just as (un)correctly be described as left-wing.

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21. biff on October 27, 2004 12:36 AM writes...

Careful readers will note that I never even mentioned steve, but rather I made a general remark about a tendency among many individuals to equate libertarian positions with the right wing. I realize that I may have cranked up the rhetoric meter on my previous posting by a notch, but I wasn't aiming the rhetoric at steve. Apologies for any misunderstanding. I do have to agree with steve about the focus of Derek's blog -- I'm a fan of the blog because of its focus on the drug discovery process, and I would bet that a more overt political focus would make the blog less compelling (well, aside from the impact of politics on the industry).

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22. steve on October 27, 2004 12:51 AM writes...

In fact, it was months after I started enjoying In The Pipeline before I noticed DL's politics. That's a good thing. Some blogs start as essays about the writer's expertise, and then trend towards the writer's politics, which often prove much less competent and informed than the former subject matter. See also Den Beste, Steven, for an object lesson in this. In his case--which just to preempt misunderstandings, I do Not mean to equate to Derek's--the resulting arguments proved more than he could handle, and he cracked. Now he has a pervy site where he lusts after a teenage anime chick. It's very disturbing.

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23. Derek Lowe on October 27, 2004 6:52 AM writes...

Y'all have my politics about right - fairly right-wing, but with a suspicious attitude toward some of the religious wing and little patience for the likes of Pat Buchanan and other paleos. And fairly libertarian, but with a suspicious attitude toward anyone who thinks that there's a Utopia to be had in that direction.

But I don't write much about these subjects here, because political opinions are as common as dirt. There's an endless supply of the darn things. On the other hand, I think I'm still the only person blogging from inside the drug industry, so that's my ecological niche.

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24. jim on October 27, 2004 7:33 AM writes...

I'm in pharma. I'm voting Democrat for the first time in my life. My *only* issue: make access to meaningful healthcare a right. The next few years will be just awful in pharma, regardless of the election. Investors know that the marketing arms are world-class, and they know that the research arms are failures. The management of these companies do not know why productivity is so low, so they cannot repair it. Who do you think will be shown the door first? This Rolex industry will rapidly become a Timex industry. As more former-Rolex folks experience a lack of insurance, then they will begin to understand that you are not a patient, you are not a human, you are cash-flow under the current system. I am absolutely willing to give my job in exchange for this sea change.

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25. Threegoofs on October 27, 2004 9:55 AM writes...

In reply to a much earlier post, I'd like to point out that Saddam was responsible for roughly 300,000 deaths in Iraq in his 24 years, according to Human Rights Watch. But please note that the vast majority (250K) came from crushing Shiite and Kurdish uprisings against the govt in the Iran-Iraq war and after the Gulf War - the first which the US was supporting Saddam and the second which the US refused to help, even though they knew the uprisings were taking place because of the hope the coalition would invade.

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26. Carl on October 27, 2004 10:53 AM writes...

Derek says he's voting for Bush (partly) because Kerry threatens Derek's job: "Sen. Kerry's ... proposals would significantly raise my chances of being tossed out into the street, unable to make a living at my chosen trade."

He sounds just like any other employee of a business threatened by a change in the market. It's just like loggers voting for politicians that allow chopping down the last remaining stands of old-growth. It's just like Sprint, MCI, and AT&T long distance attempting to prevent the FCC from rescinding the "unbundling" requirements on local telephone carriers. In both cases, it's denial that reality has changed.

Change in the drug industry is already happening. Voting for Bush only prelongs the inevitable a little while longer. Change is change. Deal with it like everybody else has to.

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27. Derek Lowe on October 27, 2004 11:22 AM writes...

Carl, I take your point, but only up to a point. Drug discovery isn't a wasting resource like old-growth forest, for one thing. Your telcom example is closer to reality, but in this case it's not that we fear competition. We fear importation/imposition of price controls. Perhaps it's not so much that the market is changing by itslef as it's in danger of being forcibly changed. . .

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28. SRC on October 27, 2004 6:11 PM writes...


Join together in advocating the rule of law instead of resorting to violence and war.

Already done. Most of the world already subscribes to this notion.

Join together in exchanging intelligence about terrorist activities through international cooperation.

Also done already. Most of the developed world, at least, already exchanges such information.

Join together in refusing to fund terrorism (government-sponsored and otherwise) and instead use the money for health, education and economic development.

As above, most nations (apart from Iran, Syria, and until recently, Iraq) already refuse to fund terrorism. And talking with other governments is hardly going to stop sponsorship by non-governmental organizations. Hell, we can't even do that in the US.

Furthermore, the suggestion of spending on health, education and economic development implies that terrorism is a poverty-driven problem. It's not, necessarily. Read the 9/11 Commission's Report (it's surprisingly well-written and interesting); the 9/11 hijackers were all highly educated and well-off middle class Arabs. No grinding poverty amongst them. Spending on health, education and economic development probably would no more have stopped them than it would have stopped kamikaze pilots, to whom they bear more than a passing similarity. Their squawk with us was philosophical, cultural, even dare I say spiritual, it wasn't for lack of a big-screen TV.

Now, if you respond and say that it's naive to appeal to terrorists like this, you are completely misrepresenting the argument.

Wouldn't think of doing that; that would be disingenuous. I understand your point, that we should make nice with other governments to try to isolate terrorists, I just don't think it would get us very far, because 1) some of the problematic governments are implacably opposed to us (e.g., Syria and Iran), while 2) others with the best will in the world don't have all that much control over terrorists (e.g., Saudia Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt).

This is not a proposition for terrorists. This is a proposition for the vast majority of mainstream populations, in all countries. That's where the real battle is. Because if you think the mighty US military is going to be able to crush the terrorists 10 or 20 years from now, if we have antagonized half the world or more, you're wrong.

The goal is not just to crush the terrorists, but to crush the culture that produces them. The historical precedents are obvious. The continued existence of malignant cultures was considered an unacceptable danger 60 years ago, and the same arguments obtain today.

If large percentages of populations in other countries decide to throw their lot in with extremists and terrorists, there are going to be enough smart and dedicated people amongst that pool who will develop and deliver biological and chemical weapons that will wreak catastrophic destruction in our country and the rest of the world.

Large percentages of populations are hardly needed; look at Tim McVeigh & Co. achieved with a couple of whackos. Terrorists lacking a nation-state they can use as a refuge, staging area, and production facility, pose much less of a threat than those who have one.

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29. William Knight on October 27, 2004 7:16 PM writes...

SRC: I appreciate your thoughtful reply, and recognize that we may never agree on this. However, your last statement leads me to think that I haven't sufficiently communicated the crux of the issue.

I'm not talking about Tim McVieghs or even Bin Ladens blowing up buildings. I'm talking about highly trained scientists, engineers and technicians departing from the mainstream because we are trying to crush their culture, not just their terorrists.

I'm talking about a time, not far in the future, when advances in technology will allow these people to create highly lethal and communicable viruses.

This entails destruction not just of buildings, but entire societies, within days and weeks. There will even be ways to selectively destroy certain societies and spare others. This changes the nature of warfare.

I think most people are still stuck in the 20th century mindset of large military actions as a response to threat. In the 21st century, unless we recognize this new state of affairs, we are going to see whole societies wiped out.

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30. Joss Delage on October 28, 2004 11:30 AM writes...

To say that the market is changing is misleading. There has not been a free market in a long time in this industry, and from this perspective, a vote for Bush simply means a slightly free-er market than under Kerry.

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31. matthew holt on October 28, 2004 8:24 PM writes...

I wrote a whole piece about Derek's lack of logic in his foreigh policy analysis (as opposed to his logic in oting for the candidate that he thinks will subsidize his job best)...and his maching ate it! Very sophisticated censorship!

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