Thursday, March 31, 2011

Whatcha gonna do, brother, when our med chemists run wild on you?!?!

Of course our compound is going to make it
 through the clinic! Brother, would I ever lie
to you? Photo credit: Wikipedia
 "Kayfabe" is a professional wrestling term of art. Wikipedia refers to kayfabe as "the suspension of disbelief that is used to create the non-wrestling aspects of promotions, such as feuds, angles, and gimmicks, in a similar manner with other forms of entertainment such as soap opera or film."

I think there is a kayfabe aspect to being a leader in any sort of a research organization. You have to project a sense of hope and optimism that things are gonna work out. You have to tell the people around you that, hey, we're pretty smart and if we work hard and have just a little bit of luck, we can crack this thing (intractable SARs, tough chemical development issues, whatever).

At the same time, I suspect it must be difficult to not take a little sip of your own Kool-Aid. If you keep saying very hopeful things to other people, you might actually start believing some of the very hopeful things that you say. While that's okay, I think that most bench scientists are deeply skeptical in general and pretty knowledgeable about boss kayfabe, and will get nervous if the boss delves too deeply into it.

Ultimately, I believe scientific leadership works well when there is a careful mix of determination, optimism and realism. Too much of any of those, and you're going to upset that willing suspension of disbelief.


  1. I think it's one thing to have a bit of this within a project team. Medicinal Chemistry is a bit like gambling in that we are always believing that the next analog we make will be the 'winner'. Keeps you going.

    Where things get ugly is when project team leadership in starts to talk to upper management about how great things are going and how close the team is to a break-through when they aren't.

    This is when Hulkamania will start running wild.

  2. Definitely a lot of kayfabe in "The Billion Dollar Molecule", a fun book about the early days of Vertex.

  3. @James

    To be certain, a lot of that was added to make the book interesting to a broad audience. However, I recall a part of that book that brings up another important (and potentially self-deluding) aspect of kayfabe for small companies: generating that initial investment capital. You've got to convince a lot of people with deep pockets that your molecules for the targets you've chosen are going be winners.

  4. The end of that caption really needs to have a "Brother!" on the end of it.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20