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Epigenetics research weakened by unchallenged assumptions?

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In “The Mark of Faith”, Harvard’s Robert E. Kingston

(The Scientist, 2011-03-01) ponders the problem in science of belief precluding testing:

The motivational issue is worrisome—on two levels. Even in flies, where the experiment is feasible, it will take a lot of work. But more to the point is the experience of one investigator who recently recounted that he was asked repeatedly why he would waste time doing an experiment that is so hard when everyone already knows the answer. The received wisdom is that of course methylation of lysine 27 is critical for epigenetic regulation: Isn’t it usually called an epigenetic mark? This reliance upon what is essentially an act of faith—methylation of histones makes sense as a mark that might be epigenetic, therefore it must be—is dangerous to progress. The fact that a hypothesis makes sense does not eliminate the need to test it as rigorously as possible. Hopefully, mammalian technologies will advance so that point mutation of residues perceived to be epigenetic can in fact be performed, because the spectrum of mechanisms that govern these issues is not the same in flies and mammals. Until such definitive experiments are performed, skeptics will have free run, and the field will continue to spin its wheels.

It wasn’t anyone here who said that the field will continue to “spin its wheels” due to unchallenged assumptions.

It reminds me a bit of the Butterfly Mimics and the Peacock’s Tale: Staples of the Darwinist lecture room mediocrity and the Evolution TV special – until someone tried to test them, and then the mediocrities droned on as before, while an undiscovered, and much more complex, world lay all around them.


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