Back from Boston

May 3, 2007 at 3:50 pm | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Your trusty DCC blogger is back from the BioIT World conference in Boston. There I learned about the growing world of bioinformatics, in which everyone is creating a new standard practically every day. I also absorbed lots of information about the disconnect that exists between the end-users (in this case biologists) and their IT staff. I wonder if we’d have the cure for cancer in our drugstores right now if only folks from other academic persuasions could understand IT better. 

I think in a perfect world, we could all be IT experts. I don’t mean simply able to use a computer, but able to plan complex systems and adjust them to suit our specific technical needs. That way, a genius biologist could simply create an array of computers that could simulate protein folding all day, and also design a system to capture that data, analyze it, secure it, and back it up.

With our current level of technology, I don’t think that idyllic day is upon us quite yet.  Computer technology is still too various, too complex, and cannot be mastered without a great deal of time and devotion.

Unfortunately, the part no one seems to understand, is that we have not reached the perfect day in which an IT expert can be a biology expert, either. Much like the field of IT, biology has many specific elements which are not intuitive and require a great deal of time and dedication to master. It’s impossible for an IT expert to view the problem in the same way a biologist will.

The same holds true in many fields wherein computer science is quickly becoming part of the landscape.

I think the term “bioinformatics” lends itself handily to the solution for this problem.

Cross-discipline fields with IT components must become part of our Universities’ curricula. Some key examples of this have already begun; for instance, many communications departments are incorporating IT or computer sciences with their telecommunications programs. Many Math, Statistics, and Economics programs have specialties which include some degree of technical computing training.  I think it would be wonderful if bioinformatics could be a course of study. There also need to be people who have training in chemistry/IT, and pharmacology/IT. Most importantly, however, there should be people who have studied medicine and IT together. I think someday that will happen, and it will be a great advancement for all of us.

There aren’t any scientific fields left in which advanced computers do not play a key role*, and yet we are still academically separating the computers from the scientists.

*Except perhaps those guys who swim around with dolphins. They probably aren’t using computers all that much.


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