Angier, Natalie, "Vast, 15-Year Effort To Decipher Genes Stirs Opposition," New York Times,
5 June 1990, pp. C1, C12.
The funding for science may be increasing but more and more money is going for Big Science,
big ticket items. These huge projects drain money from the pot available to the rest: the genome
project is just one example. It will take years and years of highly technical and boring work plus
billions and billions of dollars. Several critics are being heard saying that it is just not worth all
the money and effort. The promises for major breakthroughs as a result of this project are very
shaky indeed. There are claims spin offs will result, but there are doubters.
James D. Watson and the others in the program have promised much will derive from the work:
"It is essentially immoral not to get it done as fast as possible."
The opponents argue that payoffs are not inevitable, that there will be reams and reams of useless
data. Some believe that this is "...an incredibly bad idea." This critic is Michael Syvanen, a
microbiologist at the Medical School at Davis, California. Such big ticket research threatens
normal science. What some of the critics want to do is to "influence the course of the project, and
assure that it does not drain resourses from other research." (p, C12)
"Grousing about the genome enterprise might have continued to wane had it not been for recent
budget limitations on new grants at the health institutes. Between 1987 and 1990, the number of
new grants dispensed to young, independent researchers has shrunk from 6,446 to 4,633, largely
as a result of administratrive changes in financing policy that had nothing to do with the genome
project." (p. C12)
"But left without support for their struggling labors, many young researchers have attacked the
genome project as unfair." (p. C12) "‘You can't prove it, but I think it is widely felt that the two
are in competition,'" said Dr. Bernard D. Davis, a professor microbiology and molecular genetics
at HJarvard Medical School."(p. 12)
"Opponents wonder whether many of the new converts to the human genome project have been
persuaded less by the inherent worthiness of the project than by the possibility that they, too, can
win genome-related grants. The project has een greater appeal now that the NIH genome office is
offering a new type of grant. In the fall, the office will designate four large groups of scientists as
the first of a series of so-called genome centers.
"These centers will receive arond $3 million a year for up to five years, which is about 10 times
the average grantgiven to a university lab. Eventually, the institutes' genome office will distribute
about half of its money in giant grants to centers.
"Beyond money issues, critics of the program quarrel with its medical and scientific claims. They
say that the best approach to understanding human disease is not to thwack away randomly at the
thick forest of human DNA, as they say genome researchers will do, but to study one specific
disease at a time, as scientists traditionally have done.
"To further buttress their position that the genome project is misbegotten, critics note that the
early phase of genome mapping already is behind scheule. Project planners had hoped to produce
a detailed map by this year or the next, but now that deadline has been extnded to 1995." (p.
The article ends with this quote from Wyngaarden, "Most knowledgable people and most
eminent scientists are solidly behind the genome project... The ones who are critical are
journeymen biochemists who may be having a hard time competing themselves."