One subtle way in which increased regulation and other government intervention dampens progress - quite apart from raising costs, reducing competitive development, and making it harder for now technologies to be introduced - is by encouraging the formation of research communities with no accountability for progress, and no need to define and strike out for goals.
We humans are all backsliding apes at core; the only thing that keeps us honest and working hard is competition in the process of earning a living by building new and better things. Finding a niche where you don't have to stretch, work hard at ambitious goals, and make real progress - that's comfort for many.
You don't have to look too far in this world today to see just how pathetic progress in medical technology has been in comparison to other, much less regulated fields of endeavor. Over the decades, opportunity has been wasted on a grand scale. There are no excuses, no rationalizations. Medicine is just engineering, no special cases here. Other branches of engineering, just as technically challenging, have raced ahead while medical progress dawdled by comparison.
During the time Andrew S. Grovespent at Intel, the computer chip company he co-founded, the number of transistors on a chip went from about 1,000 to almost 10 billion. Over that same period, the standard treatment for Parkinson's disease went from L-dopa to . . . L-dopa.
Grove (who beat prostate cancer 12 years ago and now suffers from Parkinson's) thinks there is something deeply wrong with this picture, and he is letting the pharmaceutical industry, the National Institutes of Health and academic biomedicine have it. Like an increasing number of critics who are fed up with biomedical research that lets paralyzed rats (but not people) walk again, that cures mouse (but not human) cancer and that lifts the fog of the rodent version of Alzheimer's but not people's, he is taking aim at what more and more critics see as a broken system.
On Sunday afternoon, Grove is unleashing a scathing critique of the nation's biomedical establishment. In a speech at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, he challenges big pharma companies, many of which haven't had an important new compound approved in ages, and academic researchers who are content with getting NIH grants and publishing research papers with little regard to whether their work leads to something that can alleviate disease, to change their ways.
I noticed the symptoms of this malaise in a funding announcement not so long ago.
This might as well be language lifted from a mythical government release on the Full Employment Act for Gerontologists. It's all so grey and tired - rescue the scientists, pay the scientists, help the scientists. Note the utter absence of any sort of discussion of goals or results. What are these scientists actually doing? What is the value of it? Where are they going? When will they get there? What does it mean to me?
Does anyone really think that the computing industry would have achieved its growth if there was an FDA of computers, forcing every new development through billion dollar testing over a decade, stifling innovation under a weight of red tape and forbiddance?
The real obstacles to developing medical technologies to repair the cellular damage that is aging are not technical. No. They're all to do with the rules people make while trying to steer the lives of others. Government, representing centralized, forceful control over other people, has always led to broken systems; there is no substitute for freedom and competition if you want things done, done fast and done well.
The main obstacle to a future of far longer, healthier lives is not the technology. It's those people who are gleefully burning the boat that could get us there.