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October 31, 2013
Models and Reality
I have to admit that I enjoyed seeing this question asked: how come we still use wind tunnels in aerodynamic engineering? Why don't we just model everything in software? The answers, from people who've actually done some of the work, are what you might expect: the models all involve degrees of approximation, gloss over some effects that are sometimes important, can help you but have to be given a reality check, etc. (Turbulent flow is no joke, theoretically or computationally, as any physicist can tell you).
The exact same sorts of answers, with a few nouns swapped out, could be given for the similar question of why we don't just design drugs using computer simulations. I'm asked that often by people outside the field, and have run into many people over the years who assume that it's just the way that drug discovery is done. But no, the continued existence of med-chem departments, such as they are, is testimony to the empirical nature of the business. It's sometimes maddening, but reality can be that way.
Note: every good modeler I've worked with has made it very clear that they know that they're working with approximations of reality - in fact, I think that's a prerequisite for someone to be a good modeler.
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