I try to avoid too much philosophising over academic issues. “What is bioinformatics” is a popular one – is it a discipline, a research tool or just “biology plus computers”? Similarly, some people like to argue over the distinction between bioinformatics and computational biology. Some of those people have even tried to define
the distinction. Personally, I try not to worry too much about what to call it and concentrate on how best to do it.
Perhaps I’m having a cynical day, but I’m starting to think that computational biology is nothing more than a very desirable and long-overdue increase in the computer literacy of biologists. I recall my own voyage of discovery in the biology -> computing direction, which goes something like: (1) discover open source software, (2) abandon Microsoft, (3) embrace Linux, (4) learn a scripting language, (5) learn SQL and web programming, (6) discover all those little tools that make life a joy – emacs, version control, LaTeX, crontab etc., (7) make deeper inroads into maths and statistics, (8) you are now a computational biologist.
Then you talk to your friends who work in physics, maths or computer science. “Oh yes”, they say, “we’ve been using that stuff for years. We learned it as undergraduates.” Suddenly, you don’t feel quite so clever.
It may simply be that with the increase in available information due to the *omics, biologists are finally discovering what other scientists have known all along – that skills in computing, mathematics and statistics are useful to have. I suppose the big question for educators is how to address that from day 1 of every undergraduate biology course.