Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Can a Biologist Fix a Radio?

http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~lilien/CSC2431F08/readings/CanBiologistRadio.pdf

Explores the idea of having a formal language for expressing biological processes and structure, using the analogy of trying to fix a radio. An engineer would use a 'formal language' to describe the internal structure of the radio (amplifier, 10k ohm resistor, etc), and deduce the problem that way. A biologist would likely spend years of comparative research on other working radios, classifying parts based on phenotype, etc. This system quickly becomes too complicated for any one person to understand, primarily due to conflicting definitions of parts originating from different researchers. The author proposes that formal methods and language for biology will make cellular analysis much easier and vastly different, in the same way PowerPoint revolutionized slide-based presentations, and that biologists much catch up or be left by the way side.

1 comment:

gvwilson said...

Note that "revolutionized" != "improved". Is there evidence that the analogy the author is making is valid or fruitful one? "Physics envy" has a long and ignominious history...