Miscellaneous Links

A beautiful visualization of ocean currents

Pictures of math: a tumblr of science/math visualizations

And for those of you following such things, Myriad (the gene patent case) is remanded for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Prometheus: NYT, GEBN, Patent Docs, Patently-O. And a very interesting passage from the last post on Prometheus:

The first critical mistake is the Court’s assumption that Prometheus’ [diagnostic test] claims recited a “law of nature:” “The claims purport to apply natural laws describing the relationships between the concentration in the blood of certain thiopurine metabolites and the likelihood that the drug dosage will be ineffective or induce harmful side-effects.” The facile assumption that this relationship is a “law of nature” is incorrect, and potentially the most damaging misstep by the Court.

First, let us assume for the moment that there are in fact such things as “laws of nature.” What would their characteristics be? A first approximation would suggest that a law of nature is immutable and universal, that it is not subject to change, and it applies in all circumstances. See, Evidence Based Science. Thus, gravity and the speed light apply to you and me equally, and under all conditions. (I’m purposely using these two examples, for reasons that will become clear.) However, this is not the case with the toxicity of any drug, including thiopurines, as acknowledged by the Court: the amount of a toxic dose varies between individuals for two reasons. First, different people metabolize at different rates, thereby producing different metabolite levels for a given dose. Second, individuals have differential responses to a given amount of the metabolites; a given level of the metabolites may be toxic in one person and not toxic in another. . . .

This relationship is a byproduct of human (or perhaps more generally mammalian) biology, which from a logical point of view is a contingent relationship that could have been otherwise: we could have evolved in such a way that the toxicity range was higher or lower, or the drug was entirely ineffective. That is, it’s an arbitrary and contingent fact that humans evolved so that thiopurine drugs were effective at all for treating immune-mediated gastrointestinal disorders, or that we metabolize them in a manner that makes them toxic at specific dosing ranges. Indeed, given that humans are not exposed to thiopurine in nature, it is hard to understand how it can even be argued that it is a “natural law” that these drugs have a specific range of toxic or effective dosages at all.

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