what software do biologists need?

Raul Valdes-Perez valdes+ at CS.CMU.EDU
Mon Mar 22 17:32:25 EST 1993

In article <1993Mar22.125855.9461 at gserv1.dl.ac.uk>, ajt at rri.sari.ac.uk (Tony Travis) writes:
|> Peter Rice (rice at de.embl-heidelberg) wrote:
|> : [...]
|> : > |> > We should keep in mind the old joke about bad marketing:
|> : > |> > to determine the demand for a new bridge, go to the river
|> : > |> > and count how many people swim across.  The analogy is not
|> : > |> > exact, but the spirit is similar.
|> : > |> 
|> : > |> But a biologist would ask: Why are they swimming across?
|> : > 
|> : > But, there is nobody at all swimming across.
|> : 
|> : Are you trying to confuse me? You succeeded.
|> : 
|> : You count how many people swim across. You determine that nobody does. Then
|> : you build a bridge???
|> No, Peter:  you count the number of people stood on the bank wondering
|> how they can get across without a bridge unless they swim (ie. you
|> assess the demand for a bridge not the number of people who succeed in
|> doing without it - they don't need a bridge anyway ...).
|> As the joke indicates - it is bad marketing to target the people who
|> don't need what you are trying to sell ;-(

My interpretation of the joke is a bit different.  The implication is
that if you count the swimmers, you find none, that is, zero.  Hence,
the bad marketeer concludes that there is no demand for a bridge.

The biological relevance is that asking biologists what software they 
need misses a lot of interesting opportunities.  The computer scientist, 
who after all should be the expert in what is practically computable 
(although perhaps as a research problem), should spend part of his time
trying to dream up things that biologists never thought could be computed,
because that's not what they are experts at.  Of course, the computer
scientist has to know something about biology to even get an idea.

Raul E. Valdes-Perez		    valdes at cs.cmu.edu
Carnegie Mellon University	    (412) 268-7127

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