A Rousing Scientific Debate

Dr. Dan Graur, Professor, University of Houston

June 24, 2014

When scientists disagree on a particular hypothesis, data set or interpretation, the issue is usually resolved through a highly structured exchange of views, perhaps the presentation of additional data or a reanalysis of already published results. The discussion is subdued and highly objective.

However recent debate over the ENCODE project, its intepretation and indeed its actual scientific merit have generated an over the top blast of sarcasm that one rarely encounters in the scientific literature.

As reported in SCIENCE, NATURE and a number of other journals, University of Houston molecular biologist Dan Graur has called into question the main conclusion of the ENCODE project, a megascience project funded by the NIH aimed at identifying all the functional elements of the human genome.  

ENCODE's leading claim is that the data allowed assignment of biochemical functions to 80% of the genome, leading to their conclusion that, "very little of our genome is junk."

While many might look upon this as a rather staid, non-controversial observation, it seems to have enraged Graur, who feels that the conclusions ignore the theory of evolution, and are lousy science, designed to justify the great expense of the ENCODE project.

Whatever one may think of Graur's tactics, the colorful controversy has generated a lot of interest in the ENCODE project, and its actual value. It will be sometime before the debate is resolved (if it ever is) but in the meantime it has forced a lot of reconsideration and questioning of the premises and the value of the ENCODE project, and the value of megascience projects in general.

And maybe this is what Graur was trying to do all along.



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