Two Thoughtful Comments

Two Thoughtful Comments

From Andrew Bromage on Bioinformatics versus Real Life:

Modern democratic systems understand this. Elections are a very blunt tool which answer only one large question, namely, which people are to do the job of representation. They are not actually about specific issues, which is why they dont actually happen that often.

If you actually care enough about specific issues, there are a large number of more fine-grained tools available to you. You could write to or meet with an elected representative or their staff. You could bring it to the attention of the media or social media. You could organise or participate in a public meeting or protest. You could take the government to court. You could even stand for office yourself.

A lot can be said about how well the US system specifically works in practice, especially at the moment, and especially when it comes to the role of big money. Nonetheless, the theory makes sense: Its all of these other tools which actually bring specific issues to the attention of the government. Elections are the blunt instrument which (in theory) make the rest of these tools work, by providing an ultimate reality check on how responsive elected officials are to all of the other ways the citizenry can use to influence their decision- making.

To put it another way, the GC content is rarely what youre ultimately interested in.

Thanks Andrew. Maybe Australia is different due to its smaller and more homogeneous population. We suffered through two very large democracies (USA and India) to know that the fine-grained tools rarely work in practice in large systems. If a country can be ‘divided and conquered’, moneyed interests know how to play various groups against each other. Larger the country, easier it is to rule using money and propaganda (misinformation).

Adam on Question from a Reader on Studying Bioinformatics:

Interesting points. A few comments:-heated discussion often ensues as to the best route into bioinformatics computer science to biology or vice versa. Ultimately I suspect it doesnt matter much, as one of our goals is to eliminate traditional disciplinary boundaries. One thing I would say is: ensure that your methods are relevant and address real-life biological problems. Ive seen a lot of examples where someone presents a cute or clever computational technique of which they are very proud, but its application is almost an afterthought. Multiple incremental refinements which allegedly generate more accurate multiple alignments is my favourite example of this. Ultimately, biologists are looking to you to solve their problems they dont care if algorithm X is better than function Y.-a lot of biologists are uncomfortable with computers not to mention maths, statistics, physics, engineering and more or less anything outside of the gene that they are cloning or the organism they are studying. Its a real challenge getting those types of people to realise what theyre missing out on. Give them lots of simple, practical examples and theyll get it eventually.-biology is indeed complex. But biological processes are also consistent and reproducible. Again, the challenge is getting biologists to understand that physical processes cause what we observe, as opposed to something mysterious and peculiar to biological systems. Some biologists also confuse lots of data with complex data . A microarray experiment may generate a matrix with many thousands of rows, but thats not complex data its a lot of data. And handling a lot of data is what computers do.-Im with you on Perl. Simply because a lot of data formats and program outputs are plain old ASCII and Perl was designed with text processing in mind. And of course, because of Bioperl which is just fantastic and makes my life inestimably easier every day.-offering your services is both a blessing and a curse. Particularly if as I am, you are the sole source of bioinformatics skills in a department of computer-illiterate biologists. It is satisfying when you provide a script or web page in 30 minutes which saves your colleague weeks or months of work and it may win their admiration and respect. However, its very easy to fall into the role of service provider, which from a career point of view can be frustrating. Whilst your input is valued and seen as essential, it can also feel as though all you provide is technical support to the bigger picture (think: a string of 3rd, 4th or 5th authorships or even we thank xxx for computational assistance ). So make sure you keep a couple of your own projects on the boil at all times.

While we were away, we received several comments coming from facebook links. Some of them, like the above one, are directly relevant to the topic of discussion, while the others are unrelated to the main commentary even though they seem technically sound (check one posted here). We are not sure what is going on, but decided to let those comments stay for the time being.

Written by M. //