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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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« It Pours on Ligand | Main | Pretty Much the Reason You'd Think »

September 15, 2005

Here and There

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Posted by Derek

Work and home have conspired to leave little time for blogging for today. I'm glad that I do something easy for a living like discovering wonder drugs, rather than re-seeding my lawn full time. Crabgrass farming, on the other hand, I seem to have a natural touch for.

There are some other folks out there posting some worthwhile stuff, though. Try Orac on testimonials versus real evidence, for example. The "here's a true-life story" method of proving efficacy has never cut much ice with me, either, and it bothers me when patients line up at FDA hearings to recount their experiences with a drug up for review. Look at Iressa - it definitely helps some people, the ones with the relevant mutation, and those people will deliver an understandably passionate endorsement. But the patient population for which Iressa (and the other therapies) did nothing is not available to testify, being for the most part dead.

Teaching chemistry is the subject on another site. THe profession has been wrestling for a long time with this problem. Most students dislike chemistry when they encounter the introductory courses. Is that the fault of the subject itself, of how it's commonly taught, or is it the students themselves?

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1. Timothy on September 16, 2005 11:54 AM writes...

I think there's an analog to Chemistry teaching with that of Economics teaching. Conceptually, things aren't that difficult to understand in either discipline.

Case and point: My last college roomate was a biochem major, and I never had much of a problem understanding the broad concepts going on when she'd talk about classes, and I picked up some fun jargon like "nucleophilic backside attack", but anything detailed was quite over my head. Same deal with her and Economics.

The problem, I think, is that the introductory material in both Chemistry and Econ isn't that interesting, and doesn't have that much to do with how things work later on. It's important to understand the basics, but the basics are pretty wrong once you get farther along. There's no such thing as perfect competition, for instance, and demand curves aren't straight lines. I think students pick up on this, get frustrated, and quit. Only we pedants, and others with a true love for the material, stick around.

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2. Christopher C. on September 19, 2005 9:15 PM writes...

With regard to comparing teaching chemistry to economics, I don't really agree with the statement that It's important to understand the basics, but the basics are pretty wrong once you get farther along. It wouldn't surprise me if this turned out to be true in the social sciences but I know that it's not true about chemistry. Nothing I learned in introductory inorganic, physical, or biochemistry turned out to be wrong as far as I can remember, but a lot of it did turn out to be useless in my day to day work.

Now, as for teaching chemistry I think that teachers can certainly do a better job. But I think the main problem is that our culture in general does not value learning and academic achievement. As I remember it, the average student at my high school wasn't too motivated to learn any challenging academic subject, such as foreign languages. Among some cultures, Asian-Americans, for instance, learning is more valued and students try harder to appreciate the material. No teacher and no curriculum can overcome the built-in resistance to disciplined study that is present in so many American high school students. After all, you can't get blood from a stone.

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