One of the central principles in the field of Bioinformatics is the idea of Garbage In, Garbage Out. Essentially, no matter how robust an analysis program is or how much error correction is part of the algorithm design, if you have crappy data as your input . . . you are going to get crappy data as a result. We like to blame the program first, change the various settings second, and look for alternative programs when that doesn’t work. It is easier to keep looking until you find something that sort of works, than to come to terms with the idea of repeating a costly experiment or sequencing run because the data just isn’t very good.
I thought about this today during class as I was reading through the nearly 50+ options in the standard BLAST alignment tool. For those of you who aren’t familiar with BLAST, the program is designed to compare sequences of letters, think A-C-G-T’s to other sequences of A-C-G-T’s. The idea is to find the optimal match between your sample, and a database of reference sequences, or previously categorized and known sequences. It helps to determine where in a genome, what species and a whole host of other things in relation to your sequence. The numerous settings help with all the possible situations that could result, either from poorly generated data, low potential matches, high variability and many other things. Regardless of the settings though, if you have junk data . . . you’re going to get junk results.
The reason I thought about Garbage In, Garbage Out, and why I wanted to talk about it a bit today is because of last night. Last night I really didn’t feel like going to the gym. Wednesday is typically and off day, but I wanted to support Ellie who is working hard to get to where she wants to be. Despite my typical protests and complaints, we set out for the gym. I did a reasonably responsible stationary bike workout where I tried to keep my pace up, though I avoided pushing it hard. I could tell from the start I really wasn’t feeling it, and it was going to be a struggle to stay for the duration that Ellie most likely would want to stay.
The initial 30 minutes were what I would consider a legitimate easier off-day workout. After that, I did some machines and some assisted pull-ups and dips . . . and that was about it. I got on the elliptical and went through the motions . . . barely. I realized how easy it was to sit on a machine doing the bare-minimum. I was able to go about a mile without hardly moving my body. Garbage In. This was pure garbage. I didn’t give my all, or even close to my all . . . and I got nothing out of it.
Today’s lesson got me thinking about how often I “mail it in”. I like to think I rarely do once I get going, but I know I don’t push myself to my best each and every workout. I know that no matter what settings I change, or workouts I do, unless I put forth a good effort I’m going to get crap returns.
GIGO is true of all things really. Eat crappy food: you feel like crap. Watch crappy TV: your mind turns to crap. Put no effort in: get nothing of value back. Sometimes you just don’t feel it and that is OKAY . . . but I think it is important to realize that you gotta make an effort to see results. The more you try, the better you’ll get. No more phoning it in.