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What is Informatics?

Bill_A_Nussbaumer at ms.bd.com Bill_A_Nussbaumer at ms.bd.com
Thu Jan 18 11:49:59 EST 2001

I see your point.  People see dollar signs and everyone rushes for the
"sexy" science that day (or at least the investors and funding agencies)
creating a vacuum of money, visibility and respect for the equally
important "existing" sciences.  In the case of bioinformatics, it's link to
two other "sexy" (real but fad) fields, biotechnology and the internet
craze probably have a lot to do with fostering it's recent status and
resentment.  I'm not old enough to have witnessed first hand the evolution
of our current "scientific hierarchy" but I suspect the molecular biology
field had (and maybe still has) similar resistance in establishing itself
as a subset of biology.  It won't be long before bioinformatics (if the
term survives) is knocked off it's pedestal by the latest and greatest.

It's obvious that computational biology (bioinformatics?) falls within the
realm of biology.  The question is, is it large enough, real enough and
general enough to warrant it's own "field designation"?  Or could it  just
be a tool to support molecular biology, microbiology, cellular biology,
biochemistry, etc. ... with terminology picked up by venture capitalists
and pharmaceutical firms to add to their lexicon of "sexy sounding names
that draw money".

My personal and self serving hope is that the answer is the former, giving
me the opportunity to "specialize" in the field.  The real problem seems
not to be so much the terminology itself, but human beings need to assign
varying degrees of status to one "bucket" or another.  Dr. Seuss taught us
that.  One day your a sneetch with a star on your belly but you can bet
another sneetch is coming along with something better.  And now I've
strayed too far off course.

BTW ... I'm not sure I understand what Proteomics is either.


Sent by:  owner-methods at hgmp.mrc.ac.uk

To:   methods at hgmp.mrc.ac.uk
Subject:  Re: What is Informatics?

In article <OF04596E45.00C2274F-ON852569D6.004EE13F at ms.bd.com>,
Bill_A_Nussbaumer at ms.bd.com wrote:
:I sense a resistance, in this and another post, to the formation of
:bioinformatics as a separate and distinct discipline.  It's true that
:bioinformatics aims at the same questions that traditional molecular lab
:techniques do (although increasingly in a more global sense).  I see the
:use of computers as an additional tool to speed and focus biological
:research.  I think it's well recognized and accepted in the
:"bioinformatics" community that computer prediction cannot and assuredly
:will never replace lab science, only compliment it.  However, computer
:science is a very distinct field from biology and as such, the merger of
:the two sciences requires a very different and specialized skill set.  I
:think this calls for a separate logical designation for those practicing
:specifically in the discipline of computational management and analysis
:biological data.
:Language is the only way we have to communicate with one another and
:language generally requires that "things" (whether they be physically real
:or conceptual) have common names and definitions to effectively talk about
:them.  Is there a better name than bioinformatics?  There's nothing to
:portions of one field from spilling into other fields.  Why do we
:between biochemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, or even physics?
:They all certainly have some overlap and intermesh one way or another.
:they are also distinct enough that people feel it necessary to
:separate them.  This is surely a big debate and not one that is unique to

All true. It comes down to semantics (sp.?). My $0.02. The sense of
resistance you noticed is very real and has a lot to do with the
fact that many people (myself included) get irritated when others
invent new buzz words totally unnecessarily (as far as the subject -
- science in this particular case - is concerned, and do so solely
for the purpose of achieving some extraneous (sp.?) goals - funding,
recognition, new labs, more jobs, etc, ect.

Unfortunately, this is inevitable - that's the way "real world"
works. Still irritating if you ask me. One of the prime examples
of the same from the past is "bioorganic chemistry", which,
if the rumor  has it right was invented as a separate "discipline"
in order to allow creation of the new department for some of
the big bosses out there. Another example is "proteomics".
Now, what the heck is PROTEOMICS? Whenever I see the
term in some flashy publications, it always comes in three
ways: a modern day analogue of 18th century zoology cataloging
proteins, a normal daily life biochemistry as we all know it for
decades, or - the worst case - a curtain to hide the lack of ideas
all the while acquiring large sums of money. I don't think
any of the three warrant a new term in the dictionary.

        - Dima


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