Santa Fe Institute

Meeting of minds: How physics can help physicians

Nov. 27, 2012 4:57 p.m.

In Nature, SFI 's Murray Gell-Mann, a physicist, and USC's David Agus, a physician and cancer researcher, discuss the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration, and how methods from physics might help further the field of medicine.

"Experimental results [in medicine] do not always reflect what goes on in a complex human system," says Agus. "Cells are part of a large, intricate network, much of which we're still trying to decipher."

The two explore how building models, rather than pursuing medical experiments too large and costly to execute, could lead to better insights for human health.

Say Gell-Mann: "We need to develop a new generation of scientists that take observations like these and bring them together by formulating a theory. We also need policies that encourage the publication of such theories."

"In addition," he says, "I think we would do well to pay more attention to outliers. They're generally neglected because it is easy to look at common cases and figure that someday, someone will explain away those pesky outliers. Looking at outliers is tiring but important."

Read the article in Nature (November 26, 2012)

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