If you've read anything in the past week about ENCODE—a group of laboratories that recently published their latest work on the human genome—then you need to read John Timmer's excellent piece over at Ars Technica.
What ENCODE has actually done, and why it matters, has been widely misrepresented in the mainstream press—largely because of misleading press releases put out by ENCODE, itself. Timmer sets the record straight. It's a long read, but a fascinating one. Highly recommended.
This week, the ENCODE project released the results of its latest attempt to catalog all the activities associated with the human genome. Although we've had the sequence of bases that comprise the genome for over a decade, there were still many questions about what a lot of those bases do when inside a cell. ENCODE is a large consortium of labs dedicated to helping sort that out by identifying everything they can about the genome: what proteins stick to it and where, which pieces interact, what bases pick up chemical modifications, and so on. What the studies can't generally do, however, is figure out the biological consequences of these activities, which will require additional work.
Yet the third sentence of the lead ENCODE paper contains an eye-catching figure that ended up being reported widely: "These data enabled us to assign biochemical functions for 80 percent of the genome." Unfortunately, the significance of that statement hinged on a much less widely reported item: the definition of "biochemical function" used by the authors.
This was more than a matter of semantics. Many press reports that resulted painted an entirely fictitious history of biology's past, along with a misleading picture of its present. As a result, the public that relied on those press reports now has a completely mistaken view of our current state of knowledge (this happens to be the exact opposite of what journalism is intended to accomplish). But you can't entirely blame the press in this case. They were egged on by the journals and university press offices that promoted the work—and, in some cases, the scientists themselves.
Read the rest of John Timmer's story at Ars Technica
Image: Micah's DNA, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from micahb37's photostream
Can you “hear” motion or light flashes? If so, according to new research from City University London, you may be experiencing a not-so-rare form of synaesthesia. Synesthesia is the fascinating neurological phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another sensory pathway. For example, a synesthete might taste sounds or hear colors. (In this study, […]
Scientists declared the ruby seadragon a new species in 2015, but that was based on dead specimens in a museum. Now though, Scripps Institution of Oceanography biologist Greg Rouse who led the team that originally discovered the species, managed to find two of the wonderful fish swimming around the Recherche Archipelago, off the south coast […]
Scientific American summarized five of Donald Trump’s “major moves many see as hostile toward science.” They are: • Trump’s pick for head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actively battled its mission “To lead the EPA, Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has long opposed environmental regulations and has questioned the science […]
Looking to upgrade your weekend? Here are three randomly awesome products on my mind this week.#3 FRESHeBUDS Pro Magnetic Bluetooth EarbudsAs more and more phones and gadgets switch to Bluetooth-only compatibility, you’ll need to get Bluetooth headphones like the rest of us. I’ve been super impressed with these affordable magnetic headphones. Pull the magnetic earbuds apart to auto-connect […]
Traditional folding wallets are designed for paper bills—but these days, carrying cash is rarely a necessity. More often than not, I don’t carry cash at all. This Bogui Clik Wallet is the best answer I’ve found for avoiding the hassle of those tight-fitting credit card pockets.This attractive, minimalist wallet features a protective lip, so my cards don’t […]
Using my iPhone while it’s charging is always a hassle. With tucked-away outlets and the meager length of included lightning cables, comfortable scrolling while plugged in is annoying. These 10-Ft MFi-Certified Lightning Cables are super convenient and probably the best iPhone accessory purchase I’ve made.At over three times the length of normal cables, these reach anywhere you […]