Monte Carlo’s Place in Bioscience

The increasing number of mentions of Monte Carlo simulation in the popular press usually refer to its use in the realm of finance–for such applications as determining value-at-risk, reserve estimation, and credit risk management–because this is where quantitative analysis hits us directly in the pocketbook and where the technique is relatively easy to explain.  But there is a parallel upturn of coverage in the realm of medicine, particularly in pharmaceutical risk management, that is mostly taking place out of the public eye. 
 
This coverage appears in specialized periodicals–such as Genetic Engineering — their online counterparts, and in the offerings of online aggregators targeting in audiences in medicine, public health, and the pharmaceutical industry.  These articles deal with statistical analyses that are not so easy to explain– pharmaceutical risk assessment in drug trials, diagnostic probabilities in new treatment regimes, risk analysis of public health hazards–and only a limited number of readers can understand them.

I mention this parallel stream of publishing because of the sheer number of medical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology studies that rely on Monte Carlo simulation. The steady rise in the number of Google alerts I receive is pretty clear evidence that the technique has escaped corporate headquarters and is deeply entrenched in the biosciences, going to work on life-and-death issues. 

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