Curves (was Competitions?)

Karen Lona Allendoerfer ka143 at columbia.edu
Sat Jul 25 00:19:23 EST 1998


Bmartin wrote:

>It is rare that a drug is 100% effective with no side effects.  New drugs
>are chosen to replace existing drugs because they have higher efficacy,
>fewer side effects, lower production costs, or numerous other slightly
>different properties.  This is most definitely a curve.

What I was thinking of with "curve" was an artificial situation designed by
an instructor, in which grades are assigned in order to force a test
population into a "bell curve"  (I think this is where the term "curve"
comes from) with a certain number of A's on one end, and a certain number
of (what?  C's, D's, F's, I guess, depending on what the dean allows) on
the other.

When I said that new drugs were not discovered on a curve, I meant that a
drug that didn't work or had unacceptable side effects doesn't get an "A,"
no matter how much better it might have been than all the other proposed
drugs.  The final arbiter of whether a drug gets an "A" is how useful it is
to patients, not how all the other drugs did on the same test. I know that
the pharamaceutical world is not perfect, and dangerous drugs get approved,
and not all drugs are very efficacious, and all that.  The process isn't
anywhere close to perfect.

Nonetheless, I think that science, when practiced by professionals, has
some absolute standards against which success and failure can be measured
(whether we can always find these, or even know what they are, given our
limitations, is a separate issue).  If the point of your research is to
find a comet, it doesn't matter if you spent more time than your friends
with your binoculars pointed at the sky, or if you developed a cleverer
search algorithm than your competitor at Harvard.  What matters is, did you
find the comet?

What we have here, it appears, are different definitions of "curve." It
reads to me as if your definition of "curve" is a rather general something
like "awareness of the context for the drug/discovery/idea."  Both
definitions have validity.

Karen






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