real science, science, genomes etc.

Deaddog Ellington at Frodo.MGH.Harvard.EDU
Mon Feb 11 10:31:15 EST 1991

In article <9102111606.AA25622 at> 
gribskov at FCRFV1.NCIFCRF.GOV ("Gribskov, Michael") writes:
> I suppose the that the cataloging of galaxies is a similar boondoggle,
> in spite of the fact that this effort is currently leading to some of
> the most important and interesting progress in astrophysics.  I guess
> the real problem with these kinds of projects is that the day-to-day
> work is tedious, and results only come in the long term.  Strange how
> much of science falls in that category isn't it?

Ah, Michael, you really should ask for my opinion rather than just
making one up for me.

Catalogue them galaxies!  Discover the secrets of cosmology; see how stars
form; determine the mass of the Universe and how it is distributed; find
amazing physical phenomena never before observed by human eyes.  Yes,
all these and more can be yours if you just continue to fund astrophysics.
A noble and worthy cause.

Make me a list of similar worth that has to do with the Genome Boondoggle.

> These comments make it clear that what Dr. Ellington considers to be
> real science are only problems that are "what I think are interesting".
> Anything else is clearly a boondoggle.

Again he peers into my tiny mind.  Ah, to have telepathic powers like Dr.
Gribskov.  I could even get a job at a parapsychology institute.

> Modern science is too complicated for every person to be out there on
> their own.  We need to have people interested in methods development,
> and in assembling large amounts of data into useful forms.  Some people
> have suggested that in the near future there will be a critical need for
> people who do no "hands on" research, but mainly concentrate on
> synthesizing results from specialized researches who are t[o]o narrowly
> focused to see the forest for the trees.  In the current organization,
> any of these important activities are only fundable only if they are
> tacked on to a "research" proposal tackling "real questions".  But let's
> be realistic -- are grant proposals generally a statement of a real
> problem -- or are they a post hoc justification for doing what we think
> is interesting.  (Or, in the best cases, both--Dd)

Yes, yes, and again, yes.  Data base management and construction is 
essential for cutting across the disparate grains of the biomedical 
community.  And genome sequencing is not even generally nonsense:  
for systems where the wealth there is a huge wealth of genetic data 
(Coli, Drosophila, Yeast), one can make reasonable arguments for having 
the sequence of large slices of the genome.  

> I have my own misgivings
> about the genome project, and especially about the rate that funding is
> being ramped up, overall I think it will be an extremely useful project.
>  One of the main positive features of the genome project is that for
> once it is explicit that the people developing methods, and those
> putting the data in useful forms are valuable members of the project.

As well they should be.  But the solution to a lack of emphasis on data 
base construction and sequencing technology would seem to be to emphasize
the positive scientific benefits of funding such projects.  Instead, a 
huge smoke screen, the vainglorious Genome Boondoggle, has been constructed.  

Let us compare it with other 'initiatives:'

The Manhattan Project:  make something that goes boom.  O.K.
SDI:  make something to prevent things from going boom.  O.K.
The War on Cancer:  cure a disease.  O.K.
The Human Genome Initiative:  ??????????????????????

What will the sequence of the human genome tell us?  The other
initiatives had defined and worthy goals at the outset.  What are
the defined and worthy goals of sequencing the human genome 
that could not be done any other way?  Why is this the vehicle
that has been chosen for funding basic technology development?  

And, recall, my original response was not:  "By God those industry
running pig dogs should be put to the sword." or "Let's really dump on
the technical support folks."  but was:  "Dammit, David, what if 
I don't want to sequence a genome?  What if, in fact, I think that 
sequencing the human genome is a big waste of time and not 'real science?'
I am OFfFfenDeD that you would suggest I should just bag my ideals and 
go off to happily catalogue genes at random.  And I am outraged that
*alternative service* in science may come to mean just that."

So:  your amazing telepathic abilities failed to discern that I agree
with all your opinions save one:  I don't think it will be an extremely
useful project.


(Say, do you have antennas, like on "My Favorite Martian," or what?)    


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