No Insults Intended, But...

Deaddog Ellington at Frodo.MGH.Harvard.EDU
Sun Feb 10 12:08:51 EST 1991

In article <Feb. at> 
kristoff at (David Kristofferson) writes:
> I was trying to emphasize the fact
> that many scientists are hung up over "real science."

Yes, this is the crux of the matter.  Is "real science" more important
than bookkeeping efforts such as the Genome Boondoggle?  

"Real science" generally addresses questions (the old "test the 
hypothesis" saw).  Of course, if there were unlimited resources 
for data accumulation, the necessity for focus would be minimized:  
we could chain those million hoary monkeys to typewriters to see 
if they really would write Shakespeare (well, at least until the Animal
Rights Activists blew the Institute of Monkey Shenanigans to 

But, sadly, there are not unlimited resources.  Therefore, some 
semblance of focus must be maintained.  For the public sector, this 
has been provided by peer review of grants.  Questions which begin
with "how" and "why" and "what" are answered.  For the private 
sector, the magic of the marketplace has held sway.  Questions which
begin with "how much can we make" are answered.  

If the Genome Boondoggle was a corporate effort I would cheer.  And I
would gladly pay through the nose for the sequence of the BLAH gene.

But as a public sector project, I must demur.  There are (a very few)
"how" and "what" and "why" questions that will be answered by having a 
sequence of the human genome.  In addition, it will be a wonderful
resource for answering questions that haven't even been asked yet.
But that in no way justifies the expenditure, especially given that it
siphons resources away from "real science" (please, no rehash of 
this debate:  those of us who scrounge for grants say one thing, while 
those of you who are contemplating which Genome Center to go to say

More importantly, regardless of whether the Genome Boondoggle is 
"real science," it corrupts "real science."  Your message was a prime 
example.  I did not spend the last ten years of my life in indentured
servitude so that I could become a Certified Public Genetic Accountant.
I want to do "real science" on questions that I think are interesting.  And
it galls me to see money wasted on projects that ask few and tiny questions.
And it galls me to see facile statements such as: 
> one can imagine the psychological trauma that such
> a change might entail if this meant giving up one's dreams of getting
> into the history books (skewer the smiley)

Most researchers put up with anonymity and low pay and the constant 
hassles of teaching and grant writing so that they can Do What They
Want To Do.  And to suggest otherwise is ridiculous and, in fact, 
insulting.  Saying that a researcher should not be "hung up over 'real
science'" is like telling an aspiring actor that s/he shouldn't be upset 
at having to wait on tables, or telling a college athlete that if s/he 
doesn't make the pros he can still play in a league on weekends.  It's 
just not the same thing.



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