08. August 2008 · Comments Off on Philip Ball on water in biology · Categories: Science · Tags: , ,

Philip Ball, author of “Life’s Matrix: A Biography of Water”, and publisher of the excellent blog, Water in Biology,  reports on recent papers about the interaction of water and bio-molecules, including a recent study on trehalose:

H. Nagase of Hoshi University in Tokyo and his coworkers have continued their exploration of the molecular mechanisms of anhydrobiosis and how trehalose acts as a bioprotectant in this regard (H. Nagase et al., J. Phys. Chem. B. 112, 9105-9111; 2008 – paper here). They have studied the crystal structure of trehalose anhydrate, and find that it contains a one-dimensional channel threading between the trehalose molecules which may be filled with water in the dihydrate form of solid trehalose.

Such investigations, and research in related fields like cryoenzymology, are of great importance to elucidating the molecular mechanisms of cryoprotectant toxicity. Cryoprotectant toxicity is the foremost obstacle to reversible vitrification of the mammalian brain without loss of long term viability.

06. August 2008 · Comments Off on Interview with Cryonics Institute president Ben Best · Categories: Cryonics, Death · Tags: , , ,

This is the first in a series of interviews with individuals in the life extension and cryonics movement. We start off with an interview with Ben Best, president of the Cryonics Institute.

What is your philosophy toward life?

I think that “sense of life” or emotional involvement  in life is the most crucial determinant of orientation toward life per se. I can rationalize and try to  understand my sense of life — and probably exert  influence — but to assert that I have “control” of  it would be saying too much. Existentially, although I sometimes feel “thrown” helplessly into the world,  for the most part I have a conviction that I must accept responsibility for my conditions and exert  effort & intelligence to improve — and that effort  & intelligence can produce results.

I have an immense appreciation of my life and  experiences whether those experiences are positive or negative. I certainly don’t enjoy negative or  painful experiences at the time I am experiencing them (and do not seek them out), but I am glad to have  them in my history. My greatest regrets in life are not so much things that I have done or that have  happened to me, but things that I have not done. The great evils of life are aging and death. If  these two evils could be remedied there would be  time enough to use all that has been learned from  the negative experiences and to create positive experiences that fulfill the promises of life  which I have experienced in tantalizing tastes.  (This is not to say that I have not already  experienced life in a wide variety of ways.)

But regrets aside, I love all that I have  gotten from life, and I simply want more, more,  more… And I am sad that there aren’t more  people who feel the same way. I have written on  these themes on my website:


Are you still a practitioner of caloric restriction?

I practice calorie restriction only to the  extent of eating fewer calories than I would  eat were I not so conscious of benefits of  restricting calories. I was once far more  aggressive in restricting my calories than I currently am. My CRAN (Caloric Restriction with  Adequate Nutrition) practices have been described on my website:


Do you believe that taking supplements can extend life?

Yes, I think there is no question that supplements  can “square the curve” and extend average lifespan. A major breakthrough occurred in the mid-1990s when  the AMA published a study showing that selenium supplements caused a 50% reduction in cancer  incidence [JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION;  Clark,LC; 276(24):1957-1963 (1996)]. Formerly the  medical establishment insisted that dietary supplements  are of no benefit. My website contains considerable  evidence of supplements reducing the incidence of  various disease conditions:


More controversial is the claim that supplements  can extend maximum lifespan. Unfortunately, too many people believe that lack of convincing evidence  that supplements can extend maximum lifespan is equivalent to evidence that supplements do not  extend lifespan in any way. “Squaring the curve” and preventing disease may be a means to live long  enough (and healthy enough) to benefit from rejuvenation technologies — whether or not  supplements can extend maximum lifespan.

How did you get involved in cryonics?

I was very interested in my health from an  early age — and not because I had serious health problems (I haven’t). I also had an early aversion  to death, and later, as a teenager, enjoyed science fiction stories that described  immortality and endless youth. I found  the PROSPECT OF IMMORTALITY in a health  food store and I also read Alan Harrington’s  THE IMMORTALIST. I argued in favor of the idea  of cryonics years before I became seriously  involved. After getting my computing science degree  and beginning work as a programmer in Toronto  in 1987 I seriously studied life extension and less seriously got involved in cryonics  (became a Director of the Cryonics Society of Canada). My emphasis was more on life  extension, because I did not give cryonics a very good chance of working. Since that time  I have become much more optimistic about the chances of cryonics working. And hopefully I am improving  the chances of cryonics working.

Do you think humans can achieve immortality?

Sadly, no. Forever is forever, and something will  eventually kill every human. I have written about this subject in detail on my website:


What do you consider the most important reasons why  not many people sign up for cryonics?

They don’t enjoy life enough or they discount the reality/proximity of death or they believe that cryonics is in opposition to religion. The third reason is probably  the most important for the most people, but I believe that  it is important to mention the first two reasons as an  explanation for the attitudes of people who do not  use religion as an argument against cryonics.

Do you agree that cryonics should be presented as a form  of long term critical care medicine?

This is a far more reasonable approach than  opposing cryonics to religion, especially because cryonics can only hope to extend life, not guarantee  immortality. I more often describe cryonics as “experimental medicine” to emphasize that it is  unproven and not guaranteed to work.

Have you talked to children about cryonics?

Not much. I did have a recent experience in  which I spoke to about a hundred middle school  students about cryonics in five classes (groups of  20) for about an hour per class. The students were mostly silent, asking very few relevant questions,  so I can’t say much about what it is like to discuss cryonics with children. I was later told  that the next day the children came to class with many relevant questions.

What are your other interests besides cryonics and life extension?

My website shows a range of my interests:


which include travel, history, philosophy, economics,  computing, business, and science in general. I have interests, like massage and humanistic psychology, which  I have not discussed on my website. I have some good  friendships, and I am interested in my friends. I am actually  interested in almost everything to some extent and my love  of learning, thinking and understanding has much to do with  my love of life.

I have made a hobby of learning about every element in the periodic table. I have cards with information about each element, and I study these cards while I work-out on my stairmaster, which is my main form of exercise. (I have tried running, but injured myself too often. Stairmaster allows study while getting low-impact aerobic exercise.) A large portion of my Wikipedia edits (aside from cryonics and life extension) are clarifications of information about elements and compounds — questions that occurred to me while studying on my stairmaster.

I have also recently become more interested in planetary science and space travel. Formerly, a desire to see the world of the future did not play much of a role in my craving for extended youth, but increasingly I add a disappointment for not being able to see and participate in all of the exciting things that will happen.

The only sport that interests me very much is women’s tennis. Some of my best friends are women. I am fascinated by women  and hope that I will someday have a lasting and fulfilling  relationship with one. However, I am too much of  a workaholic devoted to cryonics and life extension to  spend much effort on that project.

What kind of jobs did you work before being elected President of CI?

I had many odd jobs before working as a taxi-driver  and teamster (including semi-trailer driver). I also worked as a computer operator, tutor/teaching assistant  and as a pharmacist. Then I became a computer programmer  for a bank and taught computer programming languages  (APL and Java) at night school in Toronto.

What made you decide to run for president of CI?

I decided that the time had come for me to devote my  life to cryonics. I felt that I could make a unique and profound contribution to the workability of cryonics.  Although work as a computer programmer paid well, the  product of my labor was not personally meaningful to  me (which is not the same as satisfaction with doing a good job). It is extremely satisfying to me to be  able to do the work I do as CI President. I cannot think of any other work I would rather be doing. And  I have no desire to not be working as long as I can  do this work.

How did you meet Saul Kent, and to what extent does Mr. Kent  currently influence your actions and behaviors?

I met Saul Kent at the October 1989 Cryonics Conference held near Detroit Michigan:


Although Saul has been very influential in other cryonics  organizations, this was not the case with the Cryonics  Institute. I am not often in communication with Saul, but I respect what he has done for cryonics and on a few  occasions I have deferred to his wishes on matters  that were not of great significance. I am not conscious  that he influences my actions and behaviors aside  from my appreciation of his financing of cryonics-related  research. Saul is certainly influential in terms of his  authority at Suspended Animation, Inc., with whom many  CI Members (including me) have contracts for  standby/stabilization. But for the most part I have not  dealt with him directly.

What do you consider your biggest failures and achievements at CI?

I failed to get the IRS to grant 501(c)13 status to the  Cryonics Institute. I failed to get a patent for CI-VM-1. I failed to change CI policy to allow acceptance of  neuro patients. I have failed to restore the ability of CI to perfuse in the CI facility.

I succeeded in going through all of the CI Member files  and creating a computer database that provides a means of  quantifying and quickly accessing Member information (and in  the process eliminating bad records of lost and deceased members).  I have greatly improved the content (not the appearance)  of the Cryonics Institute website. I have made significant  revisions to the paperwork and I created contracts for Standby/Transport services for CI Members with  Suspended Animation. I have created computer control for patient cooling. I have placed all of the financial  bookkeeping on CI’s computer, relieving the CI Treasurer of most of the chores of gathering data  for financial statements and payment of taxes. I have written case reports for all new CI patients. I have caused prepayments  to be treated as liabilities rather than income. I have  changed the fiscal year to be the calendar year.  I continue to make improvements in CI perfusion  equipment and procedures. Among other things…

CI encourages member involvement through elections and  mailing-lists. Do you think CI benefits from this?

I co-created the CI Members’ forum with John de Rivaz  and I am pleased with the channel of communication that it has promoted. The forum has put CI Members in touch  with CI Members, Directors, Officers and Staff. I am  usually a very active participant in the CI Members’ forum.

I have actively encouraged CI Members to be candidates  in the Board of Director elections. I think that voting  and running for office increases Member participation  in the Cryonics Institute — which I believe is a  good thing.

What kind of improvements would you like to implement  at CI in the coming years?

I want to improve the efficiency of patient cooling and add the capability to cool two patients simultaneously.  I want to be able to create financial statements more  quickly and easily. I want to improve perfusion methods  and equipment, with a particular eye toward reducing edema.  I want to improve the safety associated with operations in  the patient care area. I want to restore the ability of CI  to perfuse at the CI facility. I want better documentation  for what is done at CI. I need to address the challenges of growth, including adding physical capacity and  additional staff. For CI (and in the cryonics community in general), I would like to see more fruitful attention  and effort devoted to wireless vital signs alarm systems.  Too many cryonicists living alone have suffered massive  ischemia, autolysis and decomposition due to the absence  of such systems. Cryonicists who have a cardiac arrest  while sleeping next to a spouse would also benefit.

What is a typical day like at CI?

Most days involve a reasonable amount of answering  the phone and e-mail. Readings are taken of liquid nitrogen levels in the cryostats daily, which I only  do when Andy is away. Filling of some cryostats is done twice weekly by Andy — only once weekly are all of the  cryostats re-filled. Andy does the member paperwork and  building maintenance. I do the bookkeeping/tax payments  and website updates. A large part of the time I am researching and writing. When we get a patient, the  patient becomes the center of attention.

You have investigated the issue of molecular mobility at low  temperatures. Has this made you more or less skeptical about  intermediate temperature storage for cryonics patients?

I am more skeptical about the value of intermediate  temperature storage, but I am skeptical of my skepticism  because my results are so inconclusive.

At the recent CI training, Alcor’s Readiness Coordinator Regina Pancake attended and led a successful case simulation. Do you think it would be a positive development if there was more mutual assistance and cross-training between staff and members of cryonics organizations?

The co-operation between CI and Alcor in the last few years has been reasonably good. A CryoSummit was held between Alcor, ACS and Alcor in August 2002. After some wrangling I was permitted to attend an Alcor training in October 2003. In the summer  of 2007 Tanya and I co-led a training in Alberta. Dr. Pichugin  gave some training to your wife Chana when she was an Alcor  employee in December 2007. In May 2008 Alcor sent Regina  to attend the CI Cryonics Rescue Training. I would like to witness/participate in an Alcor case, but the  opportunities for doing this seem limited.

The thorniest issue related to co-operation between CI and Alcor has to do with local response in areas where there is a mix of Alcor and CI Members, such as in Toronto and the UK. The UK has set a good example (with Alcor approval) of allowing both CI Members and Alcor Members to participate in the trainings. But where proprietary information is involved such as the Critical Care Research meds, even signing a non-disclosure agreement would not be an option for CI Members insofar as they are the people the non-disclosure agreements are designed to “protect” against. Worse, if a CI Member becomes terminal and the local group decides to do volunteer standby and stabilization, how much Alcor equipment can be used? Alcor invests a great deal of money in that equipment, and proprietary sentiments are completely appropriate. In practice, this has not been a problem thus far, but if both cryonics organizations continue to grow, situations of this nature are bound to arise and I hope that reasonable solutions can be found.

How do you feel about competition in cryonics?

I believe that arrogance and complacency are poison  for cryonics organizations, and competition is of value in shaking complacency (sometimes). I definitely think  that it would be a bad idea for cryonics to have all the eggs in one organizational basket. I opposed the  idea of a merger between Alcor and CI when the issue was raised at the CryoSummit in 2002. There is already  too much vulnerability to lawsuits and legal/political  threats. More organizations in more locations  (including more countries) would reduce this vulnerability.

Some people say that CI should offer its own standby and  stabilization services. Do you agree with this?

CI does not have the resources to provide standby  and stabilization in the Detroit area, much less anywhere else. There is very little demand for these services by  CI Members — and very little willingness to pay more than  the minimum. CI Members interested in contracting for  standby and stabilization do so with Suspended Animation.

I have attempted to provide both local and remote CI  Members with support in volunteer standby and stabilization.  The May 2008 training was given as part of this support,  although only six CI Members attended. I have obtained and  discussed equipment that local groups could use, but very few CI Members showed any interest. I will continue to  support volunteer effort by CI Members, but my expectations  are not high.

What are the prospects of CI Members coming to the CI area  to retire, create mutual support communities and start  cryonics hospices?

A few CI Members have shown an interest in creating  a mutual support community near CI, but for the most part CI Members would rather remain near home and family  when they become terminal. In a couple of cases, CI Members  with serious health problems have recently moved to be  near CI. This creates the potential for faster  response, but in both cases the Members are living  alone and may not benefit without alarm systems.

Dr. Yuri Pichugin resigned his post at CI several months ago.  Are there any plans to hire a new researcher or to continue  research at CI in some way?

There are no plans for a new researcher. Concerning  R & D, I think the most immediate need is for greater Development, rather than Research — except to the  extent that my own studying & experimentation with equipment & procedures is considered research.

In the recent past you have stated that there should be the  equivalent of a “Manhattan Project” for cryoprotectant toxicity. Can you elaborate on this? How do you think cryonics can realize this goal?

I have elaborated on this in the March/April 2008  issue of LONG LIFE magazine. Eliminating or greatly reducing  cryoprotectant toxicity would be the greatest possible step  toward suspended animation through cryopreservation with  vitrification. If suspended animation through cryopreservation  became a reality there would be immediate acceptance and  adoption by conventional medicine. Patient stabilization  would be perfected by researchers all over the world and  adopted in hospitals and other medical facilities.

I think that too much research effort in cryonics is devoted  to whole body vitrification, which is a side issue.  Cryoprotectant toxicity needs to be the focus of attention,  and studied with experiments directed toward understanding  the molecular mechanisms on a theoretical level — not simply  trial and error. Whole body vitrification could very well be  achieved more quickly if cryoprotectant toxicity was the  focus of study.

CI is regulated as a cemetery, you are not allowed to cryoprotect patients in your own facility, and neuropreservation seems to be controversial in Michigan. Is it not time to relocate CI to another state?

It would be far too costly and risky to attempt to move to another state.

06. August 2008 · Comments Off on Suspended animation is not cryonics · Categories: Cryonics, Death · Tags: , , , ,

On the Immortality Institute cryonics forum, Alcor Board member and researcher Brian Wowk has posted some insightful comments on the difference between suspended animation and cryonics. Although  impressive technical advances in cryonics to date, such as vitrification, have failed to translate into increased membership growth for cryonics organizations, many cryonics observers believe that demonstration of reversible vitrification of a small mammal will be a turning point in cryonics.

But as Brian points out, the key idea of cryonics is that patients should continue to be cared for, even if contemporary technologies cannot reverse cryopreservation. As has been reiterated on this blog before, even when suspended animation is perfected, there still will be a need for cryonics to care for patients that cannot be treated by contemporary medical technologies. Dismissing cryonics until there is proof of successful suspended animation ignores the fundamental, and humane, premise of cryonics to use  low temperature  biostasis  so that critically ill people may benefit from medical technologies that have not yet arrived.

Suspended animation is not cryonics. The paradigm shift of cryonics is something different. It is a paradigm shift that could happen before suspended animation is perfected, or perhaps not even after suspended animation is perfected. The key idea of cryonics– the paradigm shift of cryonics –is the idea that patients should continue to be cared for even if they are beyond recovery by contemporary means. It’s the idea that almost everything that medicine calls “death” in a particular era is destined to become a treatable pathology in a later era. That is an idea that transcends suspended animation, and that is so far from normal social mores that it may never be accepted by the mainstream whether there is suspended animation or not. It is a paradigm shift that requires overturning the idea of closure, which is a deeply uncomfortable proposition for most people regardless of demonstrated technology.

When people say that they hope they never need cryonics, I’m not sure in what sense they mean this. Do they mean that in the same sense that we all hope we never have to go to a hospital, even though the probability of eventually being hospitalized for some reason converges to near certainty? Or do they actually believe that they may never need cryonics? Such a belief is equivalent to the belief that one will never suffer a medical crisis that is untreatable by available medicine. I suppose an alternative possibility is the belief that one’s first and last major medical crisis will be vaporization. That doesn’t seem very likely. We live in a time when for the foreseeable future, Singularity or not, virtually everybody is going to need some form of cryonics at some time.

Brian Wowk quotes cryonics advocate Thomas Donaldson:

If you’re involved in cryonics, you’ve got to make your peace with the unknown, because it will always be there. You’ve simply got to make your peace with it.

05. August 2008 · Comments Off on Recent developments in the treatment of Alzheimer's · Categories: Health, Neuroscience · Tags: , , ,

The full text of the Life Extension Foundation magazine article (August 2008) describing the use of Enbrel for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and announcing LEF’s new Enbrel trial, is now available. As previously discussed, Enbrel (entanercept) has been shown to provide immediate benefits in Alzheimer’s patients, improving memory performance and less frustration and agitation within minutes of treatment.

The more recent publication (pdf document) of additional data from the same patients in the previously reported six month Phase II trial adds further evidence to these results, specifically noting a rapid improvement in the verbal fluency of patients undergoing weekly perispinal Enbrel injections. Additionally, case studies of two more patients are given in the text of the report, and a stronger case for carrying out larger scale studies (including Phase III clinical trials) is made.

A blog post at Al Fin reports on other promising Alzheimer’s treatments such as the drug Rember, which “appears to target ‘Tau tangles’ in the portion of the brain most active in memory formation.”

04. August 2008 · Comments Off on The history of scientific immortalism · Categories: Cryonics, Death · Tags: , , ,

Now online is Mike Perry’s article “Historical Steps Toward the Scientific Conquest of Death.” This article was previously published in 2003 in Physical Immortality, a short-lived publication by the Society for Venturism.

The article is adapted from Chapter 2 of Mike Perry’s book, Forever For All: Moral Philosophy, Cryonics, and the Scientific Prospects for Immortality.

This book considers the problems of death and the hereafter and how these ages-old problems ought to be addressed in light of our continuing progress. A materialistic viewpoint of reality is assumed, denying the likelihood of supernatural or other superhuman assistance. Death, however, is not seen as inevitable or even irreversible; it is maintained that the problem can and should be addressed scientifically in all of its aspects. The book thus follows recent, immortalist thinking that places hopes in future advances in our understanding and technology. A functionalist, reductionist argument is developed for the possibility of resurrecting the dead through the eventual creation of replicas and related constructs. Meanwhile, it is urged, medical advances leading to the conquest of biological death should be pursued, along with cryonics: freezing the newly deceased for possible, eventual reanimation. A common ground thus is sought between two hitherto largely independent strands of scientific immortalism, the one based on hopes in a remote but hyperadvanced future, the other on the nearer-term prospects of presently advancing technology. The resulting philosophy, encompassing both past and future, is directed toward the long-term interests of each sentient being, and it thereby acquires a moral dimension. The immortalization of humans and other life-forms is seen as a great moral project and labor of love that will unite us in a common cause and provide a meaningful destiny.

03. August 2008 · Comments Off on Mike Darwin on obstacles to progress in cryonics · Categories: Cryonics · Tags: ,

The blog dw2-0 reports on Mike Darwin’s recent ExtroBritannia talk in London:

“Mike Darwin made the same connection at an utterly engrossing UKTA meeting this weekend…. He spoke for over two hours, and continued in a formal Q&A session for another 30 minutes….

….The most poignant part was the description of the people issues during the history of cryonics:

  • People who had (shall we say) unclear ethical propriety (“con-men, frauds, and incompetents”)
  • People who failed to carry out the procedures they had designed – yet still told the world that they had followed the book (with the result that patients’ bodies suffered grievous damage during the cryopreservation process, or during subsequent storage)
  • People who were technically savvy and emotionally very committed yet who lacked sufficient professional and managerial acumen to run a larger organisation
  • People who lacked skills in raising and handling funding
  • People who lacked sufficient skills in market communications – they appeared as cranks rather than credible advocates.”

More here:

Human obstacles to audacious technical advances

Another account of the event here.

02. August 2008 · Comments Off on Mike Perry on the first cryonics case · Categories: Cryonics · Tags: , ,

James Bedford’s freezing in January 1967 is usually regarded as the first true cryonic suspension, done immediately after legal death under controlled conditions which, though primitive by today’s standards, may have opened the possibility of eventual reanimation. Yet there was an earlier freezing that, while more problematic from the standpoint of viability, was nonetheless important in the beginning cryonics movement.

Continued here:
Mike Perry – A Freezing Before Bedford’s (2004)

01. August 2008 · Comments Off on Arthur C. Clarke's The Last Theorem · Categories: Arts & Living, Cryonics · Tags: , ,

As mentioned in a previous contribution, Arthur C. Clark was no stranger to cryonics. The famous science fiction author once stated in a letter in support of cryonics, “Although no one can quantify the probability of cryonics working, I estimate it is at least 90% — and certainly nobody can say it is zero.”  And although he did not choose cryonics himself, he has left a large legacy through his novels and it is exciting to read that together with Frederick Pohl (author of the cryonics novel ‘The Age of the Pussyfoot’) he collaborated on a last novel titled ‘The Last Theorem’.

31. July 2008 · Comments Off on Herbert Marcuse on the ideology of death · Categories: Death, Society · Tags: , , ,

Although critical philosophers like Herbert Marcuse (1898 – 1979) are not known for their contributions to economics or analytic philosophy, Marcuse’s essay “The Ideology of Death” (1952) should appeal to those who think that death is not a necessary part of existence, let alone something to celebrate. In this essay, the author discusses the phenomenon that prominent Western philosophers (Plato, Hegel, Heidegger) have not just accepted death as a biological fact that may be overcome, but have elevated its status to something that gives meaning to life. Unfortunately, this line of thinking persists today.  Although Herbert Marcuse lived through the 60’s and 70’s, he did not seem to have an interest in investigating scientific means to prolong life and overcome death.

In the history of Western thought, the interpretation of death has run the whole gamut from the notion of a mere natural fact, pertaining to man as organic matter, to the idea of death as the telos of life, the distinguishing feature of human existence. From these two opposite poles, two contrasting ethics may be derived; On the one hand, the attitude toward death is stoic or skeptic acceptance of the inevitable, or even the repression of the thought of death by life; on the other hand the idealistic glorification of death is that which gives “meaning” to life, or is the precondition for the “true” life of man…

It is remarkable to what extent the notion of death as not only biological but ontological necessity has permeated Western philosophy–remarkable because the overcoming and mastery of mere natural necessity has otherwise been regarded as the distinction of human existence and endeavor…

A brute biological fact, permeated with pain, horror, and despair, is transformed into an existential privilege. From the beginning to the end, philosophy has exhibited this strange masochism–and sadism, for the exaltation of one’s own death involved the exaltation of the death of others…

How can one protest against death, fight for its delay and conquest, when Christ died willingly on the cross so that mankind might be redeemed from sin? The death of the son of God bestows final sanction on the death of the son of man…

The fight against disease is not identical with the fight against death. There seems to be a point at which the former ceases to continue into the latter. Some deep-rooted mental barrier seems to arrest the will before the technical barrier is reached. Man seems to bow before the inevitable without really being convinced that it is inevitable.

Published in The Meaning of Death, Herman Feifel, Editor (1959)

31. July 2008 · Comments Off on Serendipity and drug discovery · Categories: Science, Society · Tags: , , ,

The blog Soft Machines writes about a new opinion piece in the Financial Times by David Shaywitz and Nassim Nicholas Taleb on biomedical science and drug discovery. The molecular revolution in biology was supposed to substitute rational design of drugs for trial and error and handwaving. So why do pharmaceutical companies have so little to show for their efforts?

The answer, we suggest, is the mismeasure of uncertainty, as academic researchers underestimated the fragility of their scientific knowledge while pharmaceuticals executives overestimated their ability to domesticate scientific research…So intent are managers on maintaining focus that important opportunities for novel discovery are lost, as is the intellectual space for tinkering and capitalizing on the chance observations and unexpected directions so important in medical research.

As Taleb, author of the brilliant book “Fooled by Randomness”, and more recently, “The Black Swan”, mentions in an article about him in the same paper:

There is a lot more randomness in biotechnology and any form of medical discovery. The role of design is overestimated. Every time we plan on trying to find a drug we don’t because it closes our mind. How are we discovering drugs? From the side-effects of other drugs.