Offices and Aliens

By Gil Roth | June 6, 2011

Plus: Corrections and missing squirrels

I recently listened to a podcast-interview with Brian Christian, author of The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means To Be Alive. (Yes, an editor’s life is that thrilling.) The premise of the book is that our interactions with computers may help us learn more about what it means to be human.

One of the intriguing points in the interview was that computers have grown ever more advanced and human-like, while humans are veritably regressing to a less nuanced world. That is, while they’re becoming more human, we’re becoming less human. As Mr. Christian put it,


One of the great ironies is that we’re now living in the world in a more disembodied way. Instead of actually going somewhere, we just go onto the internet and remotely interact with somebody who’s far away. To an observer from space, most jobs — regardless of what it is your job entails — would look the same: sitting at your desktop or laptop for eight hours. Maybe you’re an architect, maybe you’re a lawyer, maybe you’re a journalist, but the experience has become almost totally disembodied.


Working on this issue’s edition of our Annual Salary Survey on the 24” screen of my home-office iMac, I found myself thinking about Mr. Christian’s hypothetical alien and how similar we look to him/her/it. Our readers and survey-respondents hold a broad array of jobs; some of you have to gown up every day, while I only do so for plant tours (as far as you know). Many of us, though, spend the bulk of our days at desks, interacting through a screen, a keyboard and a phone.

But it looks like someone in pharma is taking a stand against mankind’s ongoing virtualization! Last March, GlaxoSmith-Kline made headlines with its proposed “open office environment” for 1,500 workers in RTP.

GSK has implemented this model at some sites in the UK; employees keep their things in lockers and pick a desk in the office each morning, with no assigned seats and no personalization of the workspace. What would the observer from space make of such an office? Would the people look less like desk-jockeys and more like ants?

According to GSK, this setup leads to increased face-to-face interaction and less time on the phone, e-mail and IM. I bet some of that direct, non-mediated communication involves expressions of rage over someone getting a better desk that day, but at least it’s face-to-face!




In the April 2011 article, Managing E/L in Single-Use Systems, a production error led to a missed superscript. Instead of “1 in 106” and “1 in 105,” the corrected passage should read:


An acceptable risk is often 1 in 106 additional events over a lifetime. A less stringent level, 1 in 105, is often proposed for pharmaceuticals because there is a positive benefit to the user that can compensate for the negative risk, whereas the more stringent level is generally proposed for food and beverages that have no such benefit.


Also, in the May 2011 editorial, Pigs, Cats and Armadillos, while lampooning the dietary habits of rural China and Texas, I failed to note that my own home town in northern NJ was warned in 2007 by the NJ Dept. of Health and Senior Services to reduce the amount of squirrel meat consumed per month, due to unsafe quantities of lead in local squirrels. The warning was later rescinded after the lab discovered that it had made a mistake in its testing protocol. That didn’t erase the fact that residents of my town eat a significant amount of squirrels.


What I’m Reading



Sanofi’s Zerhouni on Translational Research: No Simple Solution

Shirley S. Wang, The Wall Street Journal 

Comment: The former head of NIH now runs R&D at Sanofi and discovers that developing drugs isn’t so easy. You should also check out some commentary on that piece:


Derek Lowe, In the Pipeline


Megan McArdle, The Atlantic


Vaccines: The real issues in vaccine safety

Roberta Kwok, Nature

Comment: Now that Andrew “vaccines cause autism” Wakefield has been exposed as a fraud, maybe we can have a conversation about how to detect the actual risks that vaccines carry, and how best to minimize them.



The Leopard

Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

Comment: It’s a remarkable novel, written in the 1950s, about an aging Sicilian prince during the time of Italy’s unification (c.1860). We see the passage of both his life and his way of life. I can’t praise it highly enough.


What are you reading? Let me know at gil@rodpub.com, www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=1775433 or www.facebook.com/contractpharma

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