31 August 2005

The Twists and Turns of Science.

There are a group of people out there who complain incessantly about how much money has been devoted to a certain "lifestyle drug" for men, often promoted by unsolicited e-mails, which shall remain nameless here so that it doesn't provoke Google hits and other internet yuckiness, on the theory that it shows how biased the drug research community is towards the minor concerns of men, while not dealing with life and death issues for women and children.

An article at the exceedingly respectable Science News, which is basically a weekly abstract service of scientific journal articles, shows the limitations of that view. It turns out that this drug was invented in the 1980s in an effort to treat high blood pressure and angina (i.e. the chest pains that signal a dangerous heart condition), but didn't seem to work for that purpose.

Even more remarkably, further research has now shown that this drug can treat pulmonary hypertension, and may have "a role for the drug in conditions including chronic heart failure and fetal-growth restriction." In the end, this drug is even likely turn out to be a drug for some life threatening conditions that affect only women and children.

Science is an area where aksing the ancient Roman question "Qui Bono?", i.e. judging an action by who is benefits, is not a very useful method of determining the motives of the investigators. Science is cumulative and you can never tell who may benefit down the road from discoveries that at first glance seem to have questionable usefulness.

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