Science gets it wrong… again

So much for “the biggest thing in the history of biological sciences” and “the scientific breakthrough of the century, perhaps of all time”.

“We Have Learned Nothing from the Genome”

SPIEGEL: So the Human Genome Project has had very little medical benefits so far?

Venter: Close to zero to put it precisely. . . . [W]e have, in truth, learned nothing from the genome other than probabilities.

SPIEGEL: Did it at least provide us with some new knowledge?

Venter: It certainly has. Eleven years ago, we didn’t even know how many genes humans have. Many estimated that number at 100,000, and some went as high as 300,000. We made a lot of enemies when we claimed that there appeared to be considerably fewer — probably closer to the neighborhood of 40,000! And then we found out that there are only half as many. I was just in Stockholm for the 200th anniversary of the Karolinska Institute. The first presentation was about the many achievements the decoding of the genome has brought. Then I spoke and said that this century will be remembered for how little, and not how much, happened in this field.

One needn’t insist that the Human Genome Project was entirely useless – it wasn’t – to learn the very important lesson that asking scientists how government money should be spent is a terrible idea. Let’s face it, “a cure for cancer” is the scientific translation of that old politician’s standby: “for the children”. Science would appear to be our best bet for curing cancer prior to the Eschaton, but that doesn’t mean handing over blank checks to every flim-flam artist with a PhD and a white coat is a sensible investment that justifies the opportunity cost.

And, of course, like the Neo-Keynesians, the Darwinians will never admit that this expensive and cataclysmic failure of so many scientific predictions and expectations casts a degree of doubt upon the reliability of their pseudo-scientific model. The historical and scientific fact is that the world of genetics isn’t anywhere nearly as simple as their evolutionary model had led them to believe it was.


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