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Jun 13 2009

Basic Fucking Research

Candid Engineer has a nice post up today concerning the distinction between directly cure-oriented biomedical research and more basic research. The attitude of some of her laboratory colleagues chaps her ass:

So what really bakes my noodle is the often dominating opinion within my lab that the only reason we should be doing science is to get a product into people. And if we don’t get a product into people, then what the hell is the point and we should all be totally depressed about how all of our hard work didn’t amount to jack shit at the end of the day.

Even if you think that the only reason for doing science is to treat people, you should still be in favor of basic research. This is because some of the most important discoveries that end up leading directly to getting shit into people–e.g., the discovery of small non-coding RNAs–are stumbled upon by researchers who weren’t intentionally trying to get shit into people.

If all you do is focus on things that you a priori perceive as likely to lead to getting shit into people, you are without question going to be missing out on a whole fuckload of opportunities to discover shit that will end up in people.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Coturnix

    This post deserves only one comment – a basic fucking Amen!

  2. 2
    Spiny Norman

    A-fucking-men. Basict research on frog and urchin eggs, and brewer’s yeast, allowed us to (mostly) understand cell cycle control. Without that fundamental information, almost no other information about cancer biology would be interpretable. And there are literally thousands of other fucking examples.

  3. 3
    Anonymoustache

    Agreed totally.
    I think that all product-driven or ‘applied’ research is, by definition, prejudiced and not open to all avenues of investigation. This is not always bad —for those purposes. But it is not the best research in that it doesn’t generally allow for truly novel discovery.
    Truly open basic investigation is the only way to expand the knowledge base in an unbiased manner.
    It should be communicated to the general public that, for instance, more has probably been learned about cancer by studying basic processes such as cell cycle control and signalling, in simple organisms such as yeast, than has been gleaned by studying tumors alone.

  4. 4
    Anonymoustache

    Sorry—I see that I should’ve added “As Spiny Norman pointed out…”

  5. 5
    Genomic Repairman

    I got my MS in a lab that did a lot of translational, patient-oriented research (my lab fell under the dept. of surgery). So far one year working in a basic research laboratory, has been more rewarding to me both personally and professionally. I feel more like a real scientist, figuring out what makes thing ticks. And at least at my institution, most interviewing candidates for grad school have a massive intellectual boner for translational research.

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