Archive for July, 2013

What Both Orwell and Huxley Got Wrong

July 30, 2013 6 comments

Most of you have either read or are familiar with the basic premise of the best known works of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. In case you are still wondering, I am talking about 1984 and Brave New world. I am also reasonably sure that you have read many “expert” opinions about which of these two fictional dystopias is closer to present day reality. Some see Orwell as being more prescient, others thinks Huxley was more accurate and then there are those who think both got some parts right. But this post is not about who got it more right. Instead, I will examine one unconscious, but very crucial assumption, that is common to both books.

Did you notice that the elites in both books are very intelligent, hyper-competent, very disciplined and restrained in their personal greed.

Have you ever wondered why both dystopias have elites that are remarkably alike? And could either dystopia function for any extended period of time without that feature? In Huxley’s book the elite alpha are literally bred to be like that, while Orwell talks a lot about careful selection and whetting of people for positions in the Inner Party. Both also describe the elaborate precautions and constant pressures to keep things that way.

But is that realistic or feasible under any set of conditions? And how do you reach that state to begin with?

As I have said in many of my previous posts (such as 1, 2) the elites in every single society, that we know of, attained their position mainly through chance and luck. They are NOT the smartest, most competent, most creative, most capable or even the most greedy or sociopathic. They just got lucky for a variety of reasons such as birth parents, era and country they were born in or chance meetings with people who had the right complementary abilities.

Scamming others in believing that they deserve their position and riches has been the only real “special” ability of elites throughout human history.

The ability to con and steal from others is the only thing elites have ever been really good at. Basically every single elite from someone in the ruling class of the first Mesopotamian or Egyptian Kingdoms to an associate at Goldman-Sachs or other “financial” institutions are, first and foremost, CONartists. This also applies to the heads of every large institution with a steep hierarchy- from temple head priests in bronze age kingdoms to upper management in corporations, universities and municipalities. Even institutions operated under paradigms other than capitalism (of any flavor) tend to be led by the same type of people. Do you really think that the elites in USSR or Mao-led China were that different from their counterparts in “western” capitalist countries?

And this brings us to the next logical question: How long can a bunch of CONartists keep up the facade of high intelligence, competence, discipline and manage to restrain their greed?

Luckily we can use history to answer that question. Large institutions can persist, and even flourish, irrespective of what they do as long as they can create enough surplus to redistribute to even their most junior members. To put it another way, even fairly dysfunctional institutions can escape collapse and widespread defection as long as they grow fast enough. But why is this surplus or growth necessary? Conversely, why do large institutions decay start decaying without that surplus or growth?

Well, here is why..

In every large system, the undeserving elite always take the biggest portion of any surplus created by the institution they head. Consequently, only amounts of surplus large enough to temporarily saturate the appetite of elites will ever reach the majority of the people in said institution. Even then, the insatiable appetite of the elites and their ability to extract rent from their own followers quickly returns that institution to square one. Once that occurs, the followers start losing trust in the abilities of their elites. Without further large surpluses, things end in one (or more) of the following three ways: Slow collapse, Internal Coup or Conquest.

Only a continuous stream of ever larger surpluses such as those experienced by western europe (~1800-1990s), north america (~1800-2000s) or east asia (~1950s-2000s) can provide the means to keep everyone in the system somewhat content. This growth also provide the means to literally paper over the mistakes of elites and make them appear intelligent, competent, disciplined and altruistic. But such conditions cannot last forever and elites show their true nature once those surpluses start drying out.

As I have also previously said, elites react to reduced opportunities for external growth by doubling down on repression and rent extraction at home. It is always easier to steal than create something new. This process of domestic parasitism usually starts slowly, but keeps on accelerating and intensifying till it becomes their main source of livelihood. It might appear stupid and short-sighted, but try telling that to cancerous cells. Eventually the entire system becomes unstable, dysfunctional and fragile due to a combination of elite parasitism and defensive responses by the majority. Did I also mention that this pattern of events has repeated itself throughout human history.

The biggest obstacle to making those fictional dystopias function is therefore not technological. It is far more simpler.. How do you convert cancerous cells into intelligent, competent, disciplined and restrained people? especially when being a cancerous cell is far more profitable in the short-term.

What do you think? Comments?

NSFW Links: July 26, 2013

July 26, 2013 4 comments

These links are NSFW.

Instagramy Nubiles: July 26, 2013 – Dreamy nekkid nubile cuties

Smooth Spread Cuties: July 26, 2013 – Slim cuties with smooth coochies

Nubile Cuties: July 26, 2013 – Bare cuties with especially pretty faces

Enjoy! Comments?

Categories: Uncategorized

When Loyalty To Your Own Species Becomes Counterproductive

July 20, 2013 11 comments

Many of you are probably aware that pictures and videos of small or otherwise cute animals are among the most frequently viewed and shared categories of media on the internet. Some have linked this phenomena to recent technological developments, namely the ease of sharing them on the internet. Others see it as a symptom of formerly hard-working and obedient slaves slacking off and amusing themselves. Yet others see it as people longing for child surrogates in societies with low fertility. I, however, have a very different theory.

High levels of interest in the welfare, company and humane treatment of animals are just one manifestation of a predominantly subconscious understanding that loyalty to members of your own species is now almost universally counterproductive.

Did you catch the most heretical part of what I just said? Let me repeat it, once again- “subconscious understanding that loyalty to members of your own species is now almost universally counterproductive”. Yes, I am implying that interest in the welfare, company and humane treatment of animals is less about altruism than recognition that almost all members of your own species (including those you relate to) are adversaries. Still confused, let me explain..

Most educated morons try to model the dynamics of human societies based on what we sorta know about bee colonies, wolf packs or troops of monkeys and apes. While small human groups in the past had some resemblance to troops of monkeys and apes, we have gone way past that stage. Human societies, especially those found in countries with at least a basic level of industrialization and technology, are unlike anything else in the entire animal kindom. The combination of self-awareness, relatively long life spans, widespread contraception, ubiquitous communication and transport technology has removed many of the constraints experienced by other animal species AND opened up possibilities without any precedent.

The flip side of this somewhat Faustian bargain is that it creates many new possibilities and opportunities for humans to screw other humans.

But why are these new possibilities and opportunities to screw each other over such a big issue for humans? Aren’t we smart enough to avoid the pitfalls of engaging in counterproductive archaic behavior patterns? Well.. not really. OK, here is a thought experiment. Imagine a world where chimpanzees evolved the intellectual ability to make decent metal spears, swords and knives. Do you think that these new abilities and tools would not have an effect on their societies? Would it not increase the chance of chimpanzee conflict and deaths rather than decrease it? The short answer is that such an evolutionary development is very likely to create chimpanzee societies which are even more centered around war, conflict and killing.

But why would that be so? Wouldn’t chimpanzees who evolved the mental ability to create metal weapons go on to evolve the ability to be more restrained? My answer is.. sure, some chimpanzees could certainly go on to evolve the mental ability to have a conscience or think in the long-term. But how could those smarter chimpanzees stop the ones who are just smart enough to make and use metal weapons but not smart enough to recognize the long-term consequences of their actions. It would take many generations and scores of horrifying wars before enough marginally clever chimpanzees got killed for the cleverer ones to prevail. As you know, it did take a few centuries of conflicts and wars culminating in WW1 and WW2 to convince most people in West-European countries that militarism was a bad idea.

The introduction of new ways to kill, enslave and screw other individuals will always cause a lot of damage before “things work themselves out”. However the process of “things working themselves out” can sometimes take longer than functional societies can keep on existing. Furthermore, a new development can always upset any forming or nascent equilibrium. But what does any of this have to do with viral pictures of cute animals, people spending tons of money on pets and the loss of loyalty to fellow humans?

The answer lies in how humans form, join and maintain functional groups or societies. A lot of human behavior, unlike that of other animals, is not instinctual or hard-wired. One of the advantages of having a large brain is that we can learn and modulate a lot of our instincts, and this has some peculiar consequences. Bees don’t think when they form or join colonies and wolf packs are formed and maintained through instinct and smells. Only the ‘higher’ apes and, perhaps, dolphins display the beginnings of individuals evaluating their willingness to give back to the group based on what they are getting out of it.

The sense of self and selfishness are thus two sides of the same coin.

As I have said many times before, functional human societies cannot exist or persist if most individuals in it believe that they are not getting a fair deal. Which brings us to the world we live in today and also what preceded it. For most of human history and prehistory almost every person belonged to some or the other small group that they could trust. Now, I am not claiming that things were perfect or everyone was happy with the arrangements. But pretty much every person could expect a core group of people to care for, help or stand behind him or her.

But is that still true? How many of you can trust your employers to not screw you over, for a very small gain I might add. How many of you can trust the government, or its various institutions, to treat you fairly most of the time? What about the many corporations you deal with every day? What about your parents? What about your friends? Your girlfriend, fuck-buddy, wife or whatever else? Your kids?

Every one of these institutions and individuals repeatedly make loud assertions that they are trustworthy, only to repeatedly demonstrate otherwise.

A lot of this untrustworthy behavior is the result of a rapidly changing matrix of possibilities. They pull that shit because they can get away with it, at least in the short-term and it is not going to get better. And here is the worst part- almost everybody is doing it to everyone else. Consequently a lot of people now prefer to limit human contact. Do you really think that TV or radio would have become so popular in the last century if society was not already pretty dysfunctional? Would people in functional societies spend so much of their free time using smartphones, social media or playing video games?

The high and increasing levels of interest in the welfare, company and humane treatment of animals in the last 30 odd years is therefore just a proxy of what we think about each other, including those who are supposed to be in our ‘in’ group. We have reached a point where the companionship value of another human being is so low or the associated risk so high that association with animals such as dogs, cats and pigs is more emotionally fulfilling and safer.

What do you think? Comments?

Why “Reality TV” is More Real Than Most People Want to Believe

July 17, 2013 39 comments

The rapid and sustained rise of “reality television” is one of the most significant shifts in the nature and content for that medium since it came into existence. What started out with a few surprise hits in the late-1990s has become the dominant form of TV programming for the last few years. There were those who thought that reality TV was just another passing fad before people returned to the highly formulaic and bland TV shows which dominated TV for the previous 4-5 decades. However the success of reality TV and its subsequent metamorphosis into various subgenres have relegated conventional TV sitcoms to the background. But this post is not about trends in reality TV or the future of that genre. Instead it focuses on one of the main lines of criticisms leveled at such shows.

Reality-based TV shows are often lambasted for selecting, promoting and rewarding their participants based on their levels of superficiality, obnoxiousness, narcissism and ability to manipulate other people.

To put it another way, some critics of reality TV say that it depicts pretty, petty, egoistic and especially greedy sociopaths winning against ‘normal’ people. According to those same critics, this is supposedly “not realistic” and sets a bad example for viewers. They fear that it might convince ‘normal’ people to behave like vain, greedy, back-stabbing and manipulative assholes.

So, does this criticism hold any water? Does reality TV really reward pretty, vain, greedy and manipulative types more often than in real life? Is the attitude, behavior and mindset of those who win or become popular through reality shows significantly different from those who succeed in contemporary societies? Do we really reward honesty, integrity, competence and ability over looks, image and generic sociopathy?

Look around you. What do you see? What personality types are concentrated in high-earning and high-status professions?

Have you ever seen a competent CEO who is devoted to the future of the company they head or those who work for him (or her)? How many highly-paid CEOs have even a cursory understanding of the products and technologies their corporations make or develop? What about the board of directors and higher levels of management in corporations? How do these people reach those positions in the first place? Is it through knowledge, integrity or competence? Or is it through meeting and socializing with others at “elite” schools, universities and social clubs? How many rise to their positions from inside the corporation and how do they achieve that? Don’t most of them just parachute into their jobs because they know the ‘right’ persons?

Or take businessmen. Most want you to believe that they are truly special and deserve every penny they make. But do they? How many got successful because they were in the right place at the right time? How many benefited from having the ‘right’ contacts? How many were to screw over slightly less-sociopathic competitors or partners? How many inherited their wealth? Hoe many paid legislators to facilitate a ‘legal’ monopoly or oligopoly? How many lives were destroyed to pave their path to success? How many rely on government handouts to run their business well enough to make a profit? How many give anything back to the society that gave them all those handouts, special privileges and supplied their employees?

Some of you might believe that the ‘competence based’ professions such as medicine, law or academia are relatively free of such people. Well.. think again! Ever wonder what factors determine your acceptance into medical school? Sure, there are the so-called “objective” criteria such as your MCAT and GPA scores. But aceing those will only get you interviews. The final decision about admitting somebody into a monopoly-protected area such as medicine is based upon saying the “right” things, kissing the asses of the “right” people, pulling the right strings and generally pretending to be someone you are not.

Law school is not much better. Sure, the admission process in most reasonably good law programs is more meritocratic than medical school. But what about the outcome? Will a lawyer who has graduated from a reasonably good state university have the same career trajectory as someone who graduated from an ivy-league university? and why is that so? Is the lawyer from the reasonably good law school that much inferior to his (or her) counterpart from an ivy league law school? What if they have scored the same on all standardized tests and exams? Which brings me to next question- How do you get into an ivy league law school as opposed to one in an established state university? Is it just your LSAT score and GPA or is it more about knowing the “right” people, getting the “right” references, having the “right” CV profile and saying the “right” things?You get my point..

Academia is very similar to law school. Sure, you can get into a decent post-graduate degree program if you are reasonably smart and motivated. But what happens after that? Are you ever going to get an academic position, let alone one that is somewhat decently paid, unless you studied under the “right” academic in the “right” university? Can you really exercise academic freedom and support viewpoints that are not in fashion or considered to be “un-correct” (not incorrect)? Are you ever going to rise in the academic hierarchy unless you are a ruthless politician, slave driver and conman- all rolled into one.

The same is true in pretty much every other area of life. Society reward the most manipulative, narcissistic, dishonest and superficial with massive rewards that have no relation to the real contribution of those people to that society. At the same time- it also abuses, punishes and impoverishes those who are honest, competent and hard-working while simultaneously insisting that they should keep on playing the rigged game.

The unpleasant truth is that we reward people in real life for exactly the same reasons we reward them in reality TV shows. Therefore these shows are, at best, slight exaggerations of how society actually works in real life.

what do you think? Comments?

NSFW Links: July 11, 2013

July 11, 2013 2 comments

These links are NSFW.

Instagramy Nubiles: July 11, 2013 – Nubile chicks all filtered up.

Shaved Frontal Cuties: July 11, 2013 – Professionally photographed frontal cuties.

Enjoy! Comments?

Categories: Uncategorized

The Spectacle of “Justice” in USA

July 9, 2013 5 comments

In a previous post, I had speculated that societies always try to cover up their biggest deficiencies through varying degrees of systemic self-deception. Towards the end of that article I said..

Most propaganda, lies and misrepresentations are not meant for others. They are meant to convince yourself that you are basically a decent human being inspite of substantial evidence to the contrary.

One of my favorite examples for illustrating this point is the “justice system” in USA. Not a day goes by when plaintiffs, defendants or their lawyers in a famous (or semi-famous) case give a public statement professing their full faith and belief in the justness and wisdom of the american legal system. These expressions of trust in the system are sometimes genuine, often wishful and frequently ritual. Curiously, public expressions of distrust in the system are very rare even when doing so carries no extra penalty or consequence.

But even a brief look at facts and figures about the “justice” system suggests that it does not dispense anything approaching justice, at least by any non-sophistic definitions. The USA incarcerates more people than China or Russia- both in sheer numbers and percentage. Most criminal cases in the USA never go to trial and are settled via onerous plea bargains and mandatory sentences. A significant and still growing sector of the economy is devoted to locking people up for the longest time possible. Furthermore the “justice” system is designed to cause recidivism and keep those prisons full.

Employment in organisations that spy on, arrest, process and incarcerate people on an industrial scale is one of the remaining options for many people whose parents were once part of the american middle-class.

The high numbers and rates of incarceration in the USA have nothing to do with levels of “crime”. In any case, what constitutes a crime is very objective. For example, embezzling billions of dollars via “legal” means is considered to be very respectable as long as you donate generously to the campaigns of political candidates. However carrying even a few marijuana joints, especially if you are black or hispanic, can get you a jail term and criminal record. Similarly selling drugs that kill more people than help them is perfectly “legal” if you are Merck, AstraZeneca or Lilly or any other big pharma multinational corporation. But a guy selling Ecstasy pills from his apartment is considered a dangerous criminal who deserves to be locked up for many years. You get the point..

All of this brings me to the most recent spectacle staged in the american justice system aka State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman. Now I am sure that most of you have some opinion about whether his guilt or whether the guy he shot “deserved” it. Most of you have also seen tons of evidence, testimony and “experts” about which side is the bigger liar. But how many of you have asked the simple question..

Does the verdict in that trial have any value beyond entertainment?

Is the spectacle of that trial (or others like it) any different from a morality play in the late dark ages? Does the conviction of Zimmerman affect the fate of millions of black and hispanic men who have been incarcerated for victimless “crimes”? Does the acquittal of Zimmerman improve the living standard of whites? Will employers pay you more because Zimmerman is acquitted? Will they steal less from your paycheck or give you more vacation time? Will your medical bills or insurance premiums change because of this verdict?

Will the result of that trial dent the business model of Goldman-Sachs? Will it reduce speculation on the prices of gasoline? Will it make your medicines cheaper or food safer? Will it stop the NSA and other government agencies from spying on you? Will it stop CEOs from collecting tens of millions inspite of the performance of the corporations they head? Will it reduce the interest rate on student loans or make them dischargeable in bankruptcy? and why is higher education so expensive anyway?

It is obvious that most Americans are too bigoted, gullible and delusional to care about things that actually matter. They would rather spend their time arguing whether the latest piece of evidence or testimony finally proves that Trayvon was a “thug” or Zimmerman was an evil racist.

What do you think? Comments?

Snowden Has Become “Anti-Citizen One”

July 6, 2013 8 comments

The latest development in the Edward Snowden saga is that three countries in south america have offered him political asylum. There is of course the question of how he will get there, but the very clever trick pulled by Russia and Bolivia earlier this week has made it very hard for the USA and other “western democracies” to stop him.

Some morons are already yammering about how the CIA might try to target him in South America, how “those” countries are shit-holes or wondering about what he will do for the next few decades. I have one quick answer to that.. Bradley Manning. The fate of Bradley Manning and other recent whistle-blowers who did not (or were not able to) escape the USA after leaking evidence of systematic wrongdoing is enough to convince any sane person that Snowden did the most rational thing. In any case, why should he care about the opinions of people who have no interest in actually helping him? Would you bother pleasing people who wanted to see you suffer?

Others have said something about how he has broken the “law”, how he should trust the american “legal” system or martyr himself like MLK. My suggestion is.. you go first. If you believe in the whole “nation of laws” and “fairness of legal systems” bullshit.. you are either retarded, brainwashed or just playing dumb. Furthermore, why should anyone martyr themselves for a bunch of retarded assholes? Has he not already sacrificed enough? What kind of moron will accept daily humiliations from the bully and yet question the methods of someone who is standing against the bully?

There is however an interesting, if little noticed, parallel of this story with events in a video game series – Half Life 2. The main protagonist in that game series and the prequel (Half-Life) is a physicist known as Dr. Gordon Freeman. As you can see below that character has more than a passing resemblance to Edward Snowden, something that has been previously noted on other blogs.


But the parallels between Snowden and Freeman run even deeper. The Freeman character just like Snowden did not start out as a person out to bring down the system. Infact the first few minutes of ‘Half Life’ shows him to be an otherwise unremarkable scientist at a secret government facility. He becomes what he ends up becoming the main character largely because of a combination of circumstances and events beyond his control, or G-man puts it at the beginning of ‘Half Life 2’- “the right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world.”

I find it fascinating that the society in ‘Half Life 2’ has more than a few parallels with the USA today, or more precisely where it is heading. It is a society where a few alien overlords and their immediate human collaborators (the ‘Combine’) enjoy unimaginable luxury and power. It is also a society where the rest of the population live on daily food doles in dilapidated buildings and constant surveillance. The only real jobs are in the police and security apparatus who have monthly quotas for beating, torture, harassment, SWAT-style raids and all the other spectacle accompanying such a system. Did I mention ubiquitous propaganda, surveillance drones and killer drones. In this dystopic society ‘well-behaved’ subjects are known as ‘citizens’ and those who rebel and join the underground are considered to be ‘anti-citizens’.

Anticitizen is a term used by the Combine to designate a person as a threat to their control. The Combine use the term ‘anti citizen’ because the behavior of Anticitizens is the opposite of that of citizens (or at least, the Combine’s definition of a citizen as a person under their rule who does not resist them). Each Anticitizen is given a number representing how dangerous they are to the Combine, and ranked in descending order.

As the story progresses in ‘Half Life 2’ Gordon Freeman ends up becoming “Anticitizen One” or the living being who poses the most danger to the Combine. But what danger does a physicist running around in high-tech hazard suit with a crowbar and a few other weapons pose to the Combine? What damage could he possibly do? His only allies in the beginning are a bunch of people in the underground, a few friendly aliens and the mysterious G-man. In contrast the Combine has all the military resources and equipment that you could want.

The answer to that question becomes clearer you play ‘Half Life 2’. To make a long story short, he becomes a symbol of the non-omnipotence of the Combine. The very fact that he manages to stay alive, out of the Combine’s clutches and keeps on damaging the system in increasingly public ways makes it increasingly harder for the Combine to keep the subdued rabble under control. His continued existence makes it increasingly harder for the Combine to make their ‘subjects’ keep on being good compliant slaves.. I mean ‘citizens’. The ‘subjects’ already know that they don’t have much left to lose and now they have an example of somebody who is defying the system and staying alive.

If you have followed the current events and read a few of my previous posts on Snowden, you know what I am talking about. The brouhaha over Snowden is more about what he represents than what he has leaked or will leak in the future. It is more about the damage to their image of omnipotence than about specific names, facts or figures. And that is why Snowden has effectively become “Anti-Citizen One”.

What do you think? Comments?

The Real Reason We Still Cannot Cure Most Cancers

July 3, 2013 10 comments

Media hypes trumpeting the discovery of “new”, “revolutionary” or “breakthrough” treatments for some, or the other, type of cancer are often seen as textbook examples of bad journalism. However, a more detailed look at this phenomena reveals that the researchers, institutions and corporations featured in such articles are every bit as guilty of perpetuating the hype as those who report it. Infact there is very good reason to believe that journalists are, at best, minor beneficiaries of such scams.

Things have gotten so bad today that the majority of “breakthrough” anti-cancer research published in “top-notch” peer-reviewed is no longer reproducible. And let us be clear about one thing- this problem of irreproducibility is not restricted to the discovery of new anti-cancer therapies as potential new therapies for treating conditions as diverse as Depression, Psychosis, Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Coronary Artery Plaques etc have experienced a similar large increase in rates of failure at every step in the process of drug discovery.

There are those who make official-sounding noises about how all the “low hanging fruit” have been discovered. Others make similar noises about how certain diseases (especially cancers) are too complex and tricky to treat. However a closer look at their theories reveal them to be ex post facto rationalizations for explaining their failures. The same people who talk about “low hanging fruits” and “limits of biology” used to sing a very different tune as recently as a decade ago.

So before I go further, let me briefly trash both their arguments. Firstly, it is impossible to determine what is a “low-lying” fruit without the benefit of hindsight or historical revisionism. Similarly, our understanding of biology is still too fragmentary to make any reliable assessments of feasibility- especially in areas where we have few (if any) significant successes. Would you take cooking advice from someone who cannot cook an edible entrée? What about advice on sex from someone who has never done it successfully? Get it?

Consider antimicrobial drugs- especially anti-bacterials, anti-protozoals and anti-fungals. For millenia, infectious diseases were not even considered to be infectious- let alone caused by microscopic life-forms. Even after the discovery and initially reluctant acceptance of the microbial theory of infectious diseases, it was considered almost impossible to specifically target them as earlier attempts (from 1890s to early 1930s) had almost universally ended in failures.

Then a guy working at Bayer discovered anti-bacterial sulfonamides and suddenly everyone started believing that it was not only possible but fairly easy to discover such drugs. Similarly synthetic anti-malarials were a pipe-dream for over 70 years before Chloroquine and Mepacrine were developed in the 1930s. The same is true for many other drug classes as diverse as antihistamines, anticholinergics, natural opiates, synthetic opiates, anti-depressants, anti-epileptics, anti-psychotics, anti-inflammatory, older immunosuppressives, many anti-hypertensives and many others.

Even drugs developed based on some understanding of their mechanism of action such as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors and even ‘statins’ were developed before we understood their mode of action- which in some cases we still don’t quite understand.

The history of successful drug discovery is therefore mostly about good observation, bold guesses and oodles of good luck.

But what does all of this have to do with our current inability to develop truly effective anti-cancer drugs.. you know the type that can give people almost normal life expectancies. Why have we failed so badly in that area? Why have extremely large amounts of money, “brains” and effort yielded so little? Why do researchers get so excited over some drug that has semi-decent efficacy in one particular variant of an uncommon type of cancer? Why have the largest improvements in cancer therapy come from better diagnostic and imaging technologies rather than drugs? What is going on? Why does throwing ever larger amounts of money, people and resources at the problem not improve the situation?

Some of you might believe that big-pharma is suppressing real cancer cures to keep on making money by selling barely effective or toxic drugs. I believe otherwise and will explain my reasoning in a minute. Now, I am not suggesting that corporations including big-pharma posses anything even vaguely resembling conscience or morals. However believing they are “suppressing cures” implies that they have a grasp on the problem- which they don’t. Let me explain.

Previously, I said something about most breakthrough drugs being discovered before their mode of action was understood. Ever wonder why that was the case? Could it have been that our ability to synthesize hew molecules exceeded our ability to understand their mechanism in the golden era (mid 1930s-early 1990s) of drug discovery? Or is there something about trying to understand the mechanism of drugs or finding new targets for therapeutic intervention that somehow short-circuits the ability to find newer breakthrough drugs? And how is any of all this relevant to our inability to develop truly effective anti-cancer drugs?

Here is the answer.

Drugs discovered before the era of “modern biology methods and techniques” (beginning in the 1980s) were almost always discovered and structurally fine-tuned by testing them in animal models of diseases conditions carefully selected to resemble their human counterparts. But doing so required a very good understanding of functional physiology, pathology and limitations for each animal model. To put it another way, you had to maintain a roster of specialized people who had spent decades developing and studying animal models of human diseases. Their expertise was also pretty hard to transfer and replicate easily. You can see where this is going..

The advent of ‘modern biological methods and techniques’ appeared to herald an era where a completely reductionist approach to biomedical research was within reach. People thought that we would be able to develop drugs against anything and everything of we just cloned every receptor, obtained a crystal structure of every protein and enzyme, made every transgenic mice model possible or made millions of compounds to explore every chemically feasible structure. For a time, from the early 1990s-mid 2000s, it appeared that the new ways would make the older ones look stupid and unproductive.

But then reality intervened and it became obvious that almost every new technique, methodology and ‘paradigm’ introduced since the late 1980s had produced a lot of data but no real or large therapeutic breakthroughs. To make a long story short, the new reductionist ways failed to produce the breakthrough drugs they promised. The area of cancer research was probably the one most affected by this generalized failure of reductionism in drug discovery.

But it was too late. Most scientists recruited in the system since the late 1980s were the product of this reductionist mindset as were the programs that funded the university that “educated” them. Simultaneously, big and medium pharma was overrun by MBA-types who believed that bio-medical research was something amenable to reductionism and cranking out well-understood widgets. It did not help that small pharma also became a get-rich-quick scheme. I have not even touched on the toxic effects of widespread management fads, corporate intrigue, reorganizations, mergers and financialism. Consequently the whole pharma ecosystem detached from reality and became a bizzaro game based on legally acceptable fraud and exaggeration, publishing lots of crap, making cleverly worded claims, selling crappy ideas in nice packages and doing everything except discover truly innovative and efficacious drugs.

It just so happened that the true start of ‘big’ publicly-funded cancer research (early 1980s) coincided with the beginnings of reductionism and MBA-style thinking in pharma research (mid-1980s). This overlap resulted in many unfortunate synergies- from scientists who were indoctrinated in reductionism, public systems that did not fund the older ways and an industry that abandoned what used to work for what sounded and looked good. You get the general idea..

So, the real reason we cannot yet cannot cure most cancers is that we have spent the last 30-odd years trying to do everything but cure common cancers in human beings

Of course, people could admit that they screwed up. They could admit that reductionism is particularly unsuitable for understanding and modulating biological systems. But who will do that? Who is going to expose themselves to ridicule? Who will risk their careers? Who will admit that hundreds of billions and decades was spent on chasing mirages and delusions? Who will admit that they are clueless?

What do you think? Comments?