developerWorks: Open Source in the Biosciences
Nov 19, 2002, 08:30 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Cameron Laird)
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"There are two kinds of bioscience. Open source is important to
both, but in different ways. Let's look at both kinds from a
developer's perspective, starting with Edsger Dijkstra's sage
"'The programmer is in the unique position that his is the only
profession in which such a gigantic ratio [10^9], which totally
baffles our imagination, has to be bridged by a single technology.
He has to be able to think in terms of conceptual hierarchies that
are much deeper than a single mind ever needed to face before. ...
[A program] has, unavoidably, the uncomfortable property that the
smallest possible perturbations -- i.e., changes of a single bit --
can have the most drastic consequences.' --Edsger Dijkstra,
"The first kind of bioscience is 'small' bioscience: natural
history, paleontology, limnology, and other traditional pursuits.
'Small' here refers strictly to budget constraints, not constraints
on intellectual excitement or even physical challenge. For the
present purposes, though, it's convenient to lump these biosciences
together with other academic disciplines. developerWorks recently
profiled open source's growing contribution in general science and
engineering (see Resources later in this article).
"The other kind is the biosciences or bioinformatics you see
mentioned in business or technology circles. However, the speakers
invariably have something more narrow in mind: research of medical
or, occasionally, agricultural benefit. Gargantuan investment pools
are in pursuit of those biosciences, and it's essential to
understand the consequences in order to see bioinformatics