Best programming language for biology students?

Michael Torok mtorok at
Thu Apr 13 22:05:25 EST 1995

Niels Larsen (niels at wrote:

: Sorry, I quite disagree with the suggestions made here, that Visual Basic,
: Visual C and C++ are optimal languages for biology graduate students.

: The typical needs of the biologist are things like 1) to recast a file, 2)
: test an idea quickly, and 3) be able to work on most computers without
: change of environment. And the speed of development is usually much more
: important than the speed of execution. Most often biological programming
: involves analysis of data and making constant alterations to code, until
: there appears to be a good method. Biologist usually cant have a clear 
: idea of how to write the program, it is often impossible to lay out the 
: specs in advance. This is in contrast to writing a text editor for example,
: where everything can be designed. So biologist above all needs something
: that can be changed quickly. 

I respectfully disagree with Dr. Larsen's condemnation of Visual Basic, 
Visual C, etc. I submit that these languages (particularly the Basic 
varieties) do allow biologists to test ideas quickly and easily. They are 
flexible enough to allow the dynamic code changes required for most any 
project. The platform problem is a non-issue for many people because the 
majority of the operating systems in use currently are DOS/Windows.

: For this Perl 5 is quite perfect. There is no compile-link cycle, its easy
: to learn, it is non-proprietary, it works on DOS, NT, across all Unix
: systems and maybe on Macs, and does things at a high level. The following

While I don't disagree that Perl is quite nice, I think you are beating 
up on the other languages a little too much here. First, the compile-link 
cycle generally takes seconds for most code on a reasonably fastr 
machine. In addition, it is not even necessary to compile and link code 
in Visual Basic to check its operation. BASIC is also easy to learn and I 
think many biologists would benefit from learning a structured language. 
As for non-proprietary, how is that relevant outside of the cost factor?


Michael Torok
Michael L. Torok, M.S.              |    Specializing in:             
Consulting Wildlife Biologist       |     -  radio-telemetry          
Internet: mtorok at         |     -  custom engineering and   
Phone: 408-336-4530                 |        computer programming     
FAX: 408-335-3115                   |     -  marine environment       

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