Friday, April 23, 2010

so now tricorders are real, and super expensive

It will be a long time (i.e. never) before tricorders a la Star Trek will just be free. Courtesy of a link to The Atlantic over at Mockingbird I have learned that the scanners now exist. Laser spectographic scanning alows the little scanners to identify several dozen narcotic substances. The eventual medical application of this technology is potentially immense.

Thing is, there needs to be a profit incentive for doing the research to catalog and distribute the knowledge base. Want to know the Raman signature of lead? Gotta look that up and someone has to pay something for it. As the old axiom has it "knowledge is power" but as school tuition rates indicate knowledge is not free.

These clashes between the desire to have knowledge of the innate order of things (i.e. the way matter is assessed by laser analysis) be readily available and the profit motive will continue to make things problematic in medicine and everywhere else. We could just rip on big corporations who are only interested in money but that's a foolish line of reasoning, especially for any serious conservative. The reason for this being a foolish line of reasoning SHOULD be obvious but in some cases it won't be--corporations who stand to make no money figuring out how to help people have no reason to invest the millions or billions of dollars and work-hours needed to figure things out. There are some conservatives who paradoxically seem to think medical innovation shouldn't really be market based or that we should use the "old" ways a la homeopathy that are better (except when they often aren't).

Now I have an immutable physiological condition that is the result of a medical screw-up. My attitude about medicine, however, is not that we should look with suspicion on scientific research or medical innovation. Just because some doctor botched something with me thirty-six years ago doesn't mean I have no reason to trust doctors. It also doesn't mean that some "giant corporation" is the bad guy for wanting a boatload of money to do boatloads of work.

But who will pay for this research to be done? If Star Trek style tricorders exist and can eventually be used to identify a certain range of tumors instead of using radiation then this means that diagnosing certain kinds of cancers could come with a reduced risk of the diagnosis process itself putting a patient at risk for another kind of cancer due to radiation exposure. But that means the treatment will be expensive. Here comes one of any number of talking points about private enterprise medicine and "socialism". If the nature of matter is such that a material's response to lasing should be publicly available then making that information publicly available means someone must pay for the time and work to discover that. Should the government pay for all this? Should private enterprise do it? If private enterprise does it then the expense will still be collosal and the expenditure will be passed on to whomever invests in it (currently one of those little scanners costs $15,000)

Scientists who can work off of government and private foundation grants can afford to be idealistic. Practicing doctors can't because malpractice suits will always exist. I don't really have an answer, I'm just considering the question of how much this work will cost and how soon it may be before such a technology will be practically available to people. I'm not as yet sure how the current health care changes will or won't effect this. Theoretically if the government ponied up a collosal amount of money to get this stuff on file for things like DEA busts it could pass that data along to medical groups. I guess I'm pondering whether the costs will translate into a collosal one-time investment or a progressive enterprise. Given the collosal amount of work and the time needed to get it done progressive seems more likely. What I'm sure won't happen is that a bunch of people will just do it for free out of the kindness of their hearts because we live in the Federation.