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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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In the Pipeline

« An Early Day Off | Main | That Retracted Stressed Stem Cell Work »

July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth of July, 2014

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Posted by Derek

This, at least, I have observed in forty-five years: that there are men who search for it [truth], whatever it is, wherever it may lie, patiently, honestly, with due humility, and that there are other men who battle endlessly to put it down, even though they don't know what it is. To the first class belong the scientists, the experimenters, the men of curiosity. To the second belong politicians, bishops, professors, mullahs, tin pot messiahs, frauds and exploiters of all sorts - in brief, the men of authority. . .All I find there is a vast enmity to the free functioning of the spirit of man. There may be, for all I know, some truth there, but it is truth made into whips, rolled into bitter pills. . .

I find myself out of sympathy with such men. I shall keep on challenging them until the last galoot's ashore.

- H. L. Mencken, "Off the Grand Banks", 1925

In those days the New York dockers were renowned for their truculence, inefficiency and sheer slowness. Four hours was supposed to be the standard and we got the standard. Neverthless, the difference from the British equivalent did not strike me as very marked, and by the time we sailed out into the dusk. . .among the wondrous multi-colored lights of the New Jersey Turnpike, at that time utterly unparalleled at home - by then I knew. . .that this was my second country and always would be.

. . .I only ever spent a few nights in (New York City), but made a lot of day and evening trips and saw quite enough of the place to convince me that anyone who makes a business of hating it or being superior to it, and there were plenty then, home-grown and foreign, is a creep, and that anyone who walks up Fifth Avenue (say) on a sunny morning without feeling his spirits lift is an ***hole.

- Kingsley Amis, "Memoirs", 1991

There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. ... Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.

- J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1949

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping


1. luysii on July 4, 2014 2:46 PM writes...

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. -George Orwell

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2. RKN on July 4, 2014 6:22 PM writes...

What Mencken said.

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3. dearieme on July 5, 2014 7:56 AM writes...

"To the first class belong the scientists": them wuz the days.

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4. watcher on July 5, 2014 10:03 AM writes...

With the greatest respect for the wise and far-seeing who were in the building now known as "Independence Hall" in Philadelphia on July 2 and July 4, 1776.

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5. Anonymous on July 5, 2014 1:37 PM writes...

"So I have just one wish for you--the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom." -- Richard Feynman (last paragraph of "Cargo Cult Science", 1974. Online source: ~DSIMANEK/ cargocul.htm

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6. cliffintokyo on July 6, 2014 7:50 AM writes...

So Derek, after fooling us with your relaxing day-off recipes, a call to 'arms'!
Sterling stuff (did Mencken really write that way back in 1925?), and an appropriate day in the USA calendar to remind everybody to guard their independence and integrity as human beings.

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7. R on July 6, 2014 10:48 PM writes...

So Mencken applauded scientists, but denounced professors. Apparently he failed to notice that these sets overlap substantially.

It is also somewhat difficult to square this veneration of scientists with the actions of those whom Stephen Pinker in The Blank Slate dubbed "political scientists" - the cabal of left-wing biologists who have fought for a generation to suppress and deny scientific knowledge that conflicts with their ideological agenda.

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8. luysii on July 7, 2014 9:16 AM writes...

#7 R -- Read Wade's book "A Troublesome Inheritance" for more, much more.

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9. John Wayne on July 7, 2014 9:44 AM writes...

I have a pet hypothesis that larger pharma companies tend to over invest in new ideas that could make drug discovery more profitable; good examples are combinatorial chemistry, computational chemistry and biophysics. Once established, new tools are used to beat down every problem; sometimes it works, most of the time is doesn't.

Whenever one (or more) of these tools becomes required by a project, creativity is being managed out of the system. People in the project team should be free to grab any tool that answers the question, creating and changing their screening funnel as appropriate.

The problem with this trend for most of the readers of this blog is that companies aren't over investing in chemists anymore.

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10. pharmacologyrules on July 7, 2014 11:32 AM writes...

#9 My hunch is that there is still the investment in chemists, but the investment is more in numbers of chemist and not experienced drug discovery chemists. The bean counters figure I can get 3 chemists in India or China for less than one chemist here. AND 3 must be better than one.

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11. Curious Wavefunction on July 7, 2014 12:50 PM writes...

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool." - R. P. Feynman.

“In every investigation, in every extension of knowledge, we’re involved in action. And in every action we’re involved in choice. And in every choice we’re involved in a kind of loss, the loss of what we didn’t do. We find this in the simplest situations. . . . Meaning is always obtained at the cost of leaving things out. . . . In practical terms this means, of course, that our knowledge is always finite and never all encompassing. . . . This makes the world of ours an open world, a world without end. ” - J. R. Oppenheimer.

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12. sparky on July 8, 2014 1:04 PM writes...

Based on this quote, "There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.", I am suspecting Oppenheimer would be ridiculed if he dared to question the settled science claims of global warming or climate change or ...

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13. mje_ucsf on July 9, 2014 11:52 PM writes...

Derek, great book by Vince Fitzpatrick, my high school english teacher, about HL Mencken

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