Are introns just junk? (textbooks)

Michael Gilman gilman at
Wed Nov 3 14:22:15 EST 1993

In article <1993Nov2.092727.17706 at>, arlin at wrote:

> In article <2b3lo3$dua at darkstar.UCSC.EDU>, rafael at (David Konerding) writes:
> > arlin at wrote:
> > : Here, here!  Its been known for about 10 years that there is not a general
> > : 1:1 correspondence between exons and domains (see Blake, 1983, Nature 306:
> > : p. 535), but this canard is repeated _ad nauseam_ in reviews and textbooks, 
> > : such as Watson, et al. (_Molecular Biology of the Gene_) which has the 
> > : sententious section heading "Exons Correspond to Functional Domains of 
> > : Proteins" (p. 1146).  This textbook also informs us of "The Great 
> stuff deleted
> > 
> > It saddens me somewhat, as an undergraduate studying to be a molecular
> > biologist, to know that Watson's text is filled with speculations
> > presented as fact.  I'd expect (after paying about $50 for the book,
> > and about $10,000 for an education) a little more.
> > 
> > David Konerding						   rafael at
> > University of California, Santa Cruz			   rafael at
> Please allow me to add a little qualification to my previous statements: 
> writers of textbooks sometimes cannot present all sides in a debate, and
> so they pick the side they feel is most likely to correct.  Sometimes
> the relationship of data to theory gets over-simplified in an effort to
> persuade, or just to make a complex question more comprehensible.  
> But this type of modification/simplification/distortion (call it what you 
> will) is not limited to textbooks.  Its also found in the primary literature.  
> Its also found on UseNet.  Its also found in newspapers.  Its also in our 
> very thoughts-- perhaps I'm doing it right now!  As students of science,
> we always have to be critical and skeptical, whether evaluating arguments
> in a textbook, an author's conclusions in a research article, *one's own*
> conclusions-- even one's own observations (i.e., do I see what I think I see?) 
> If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't.  
> Arlin

Having been involved in writing a textbook, I wish to second Arlin's point.
And I'd like to add that, although every rule has exceptions, it is usually
the rules and not the exceptions that are the important things to
communicate to a student in a textbook. Students who are motivated to learn
more can be pointed to the relevant literature, so that they can explore
these exceptions and decide for themselves, heaven forbid, whether these
exceptions are significant and enlightening.


Michael Gilman
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory             email: gilman at
P.O. Box 100                              tel: 516-367-8406
Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11724              fax: 516-367-8454

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