About this Author
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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May 17, 2005

Very Wrong, or Very Right

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Posted by Derek

It's not completely fair of me to make fun of the old hype about rational drug design, because every moment has its overhyped technology. (Perhaps, as we've speculated around here before, today's candidate is RNA interference. . .) All of it ends up sounding silly in the end.

And the arrogant tone that the proponents of some new systems often take sounds laughable, too, after things don't work out. But that same attitude is probably needed, up to a point. You really have to have some nerve to remake a scientific field. After all, at the very least you're saying to everyone that there's something important that they don't know about yet. And sometimes, the message is a flat "You people have this stuff completely wrong, so step back and let me show you why." It's not a job for the meek.

People with shy and fearful personalities will almost never make a great discoveries in the first place, much less publicize them effectively. That kind of thinking will cripple you with all the reasons why things won't work, why someone else (surely smarter and more competent!) would have already tried this, and so on. And even world-beating ideas tend to fail a lot before they finally get going, so the timid or easily discouraged will be convinced that they're wrong before they ever get a chance to be right.

I'm not saying that all the great discoverers are intolerable, although some of them sure are. But even if they're good to the people around them, they're mighty hard on nature and on their experiments, and harder still on the existing order.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Who Discovers and Why


1. David Govett on May 18, 2005 3:21 AM writes...

What is this rational drug and where do I buy one?

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2. Martin on May 18, 2005 9:05 AM writes...

Any thoughts on Sirna's RNA interference candidate for AMD?

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3. Orac on May 18, 2005 10:43 AM writes...

Actually, the other overhyped technology of the day is stem cell research. I have no doubt that it will turn out to be useful, but I highly doubt it could ever live up to the hype that is surrounding it at present.

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4. jsinger on May 18, 2005 12:11 PM writes...

That kind of thinking will cripple you with all the reasons why things won't work, why someone else (surely smarter and more competent!) would have already tried this, and so on.

That's the incredible thing about RNAi. It's not that some people had seen the phenomenon and not followed it up. It's that everyone doing antisense had seen it and not followed it up! They all used sense RNA as their negative control, and brushed it off when it had the opposite effect!

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5. The Novice Chemist on May 18, 2005 2:19 PM writes...

Orac, I think you're right. It probably has to do with the fact that the exaggerators are politicians and the general public. They're better at the hyping games than scientsits.

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6. Ward on May 18, 2005 4:07 PM writes...

"Nothing is more difficult than to introduce a new order. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new"...Niccolo Machiavelli, 1532AD

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