The Problem With ENCODE

My biggest worry with the ENCODE publication frenzy and press releases is that there is a lot of hype in what it is being said and published. I agree with ENCODE being a significant contribution to our knowledge of how genomes work, but I do not believe it is a “game changer”: it is an incremental contribution to a problem we already knew.

It has been said that ENCODE unveiled that junk DNA was not junk any more. We knew this before ENCODE came along. What ENCODE has been able to tell us is how many of these junk regions are actually functional elements within a genome, but please don’t sell me this as revolutionary. What has been revolutionary has been the publication of 30 papers at the same time, which also highlights some problems too. Revolutionary was the Human Genome Project, The Man On The Moon Expedition or the Higgs Bosom.

If we scientists keep on feeding the hype, it is likely that the public opinion might grow tired of overpromising and underdelivering. I still have fresh memories of the criticisms that the 10th anniversary of the Human Genome Project received as not having delivered the promised goods of revolutionizing medicine. I wonder for how long the public is going to keep on buying such grand statements before it grows tired and turns its back to Science.

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