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New: First Things on March for Science, cites junk DNA as reason not to trust “consensus”

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From Wesley J. Smith at First Things:

Science is never truly settled. Indeed, challenging seemingly incontrovertible facts and continually retesting long-accepted theories are crucial components of the scientific method.

Examples of perceived truths overturned by subsequent discoveries are ubiquitous. Here’s just one: So-called junk DNA that does not encode proteins was, until relatively recently, thought by a large majority of scientists to have no purpose, and was even used as evidence of random and purposeless evolution. But continuing investigations in the field led to the discovery that most “junk DNA” actually serves important biological functions.

Think what might have happened if scientists seeking to continue exploring this area of inquiry had been warned away because of the “scientific consensus.” What if the self-appointed guardians of existing perceived wisdom had gotten researchers to abandon their investigations for fear of losing university tenure, being scorned by colleagues, or having research funding blocked? The biological truth about non-protein-coding DNA might well have never been discerned. Yet these are the very anti-science tactics deployed today to chill scientific challenges to the theory of evolution and the questioning of “consensus” climate change conclusions.More.

Yes, that’s the trouble. Science has become a gravy train for entrenched mediocrities with PC theories. And we’ve…

nowhere the navy
to float all the gravy

… they demand. Assuming we intend to go on supplying them, of course. In some quarters, that’s unclear.

First Things seems to be changing, for the better. We can remember when published articles on issues related to design in nature crossed the line to dumb-down stupid, the sort of thing that earns plaudits among decaying Thomists or profs at a dying Bible school.

The issues today are way too serious for all that piffle. For example, this is March for Science’s best-known figurehead: Bill Nye would criminalize dissent from human-caused global warming claims.

These vids certainly show different side to Bill Nye… Someone asks, does Nye has a future as the ”Pee Wee Herman of popular science”? Maybe that’s what’s left now.

Oh, and, Bill Nye now wants to shrink science classrooms further by penalizing people who have extra kids.

Good grief, what’s next? Almost any approach will yield better results than the Pussyhats for Science movement. Credit to First Things for seeing that.

Note: Re “junk DNA” claims, some background. Here’s a great deal more background.

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18 Replies to “New: First Things on March for Science, cites junk DNA as reason not to trust “consensus”

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    If you read Larry Moran over at Sandwalk you will find that there is good reason to think ‘junk’ DNA is still ‘junk’ DNA and I would prefer to take the word of a professional scientist over that of a lawyer who promotes the pernicious doctrine of human exceptionalism.

  2. 2
    asauber says:

    Sev,

    You have presented:

    “the word of a professional scientist” = good

    “the pernicious doctrine of human exceptionalism” = bad

    Think about it for awhile.

    Andrew

  3. 3
    Dionisio says:

    asauber (Andrew),

    Is “the word of a professional scientist” the opinion of a Canadian biochemistry professor who publicly affirmed –here in this website* a couple of years ago– knowing exactly how morphogen gradients form?
    Can such an opinion have any persuasive value in a serious discussion?

    (*) details are available upon request

  4. 4
    wd400 says:

    So-called junk DNA that does not encode proteins…

    So, Smith literally doesn’t know what junk DNA means.

  5. 5
    Dionisio says:

    Aren’t there more important issues to resolve in biology than this?
    I think so.
    For example, isn’t the concept of biological procedures mentioned by gpuccio more relevant? What are they, where and how are they stored and timely activate? Those seem like real spatiotemporal questions that demand answers.
    Perhaps it would be interesting to know what proportion of the DNA is the result of the messy history of this accursed world, but that might come along as more discoveries are made in the future.
    The constant stress affecting the biological systems could have caused molecular and cellular mess, part of which may be catalogued under any title.
    Had we remained in Eden none of this would have been an issue.

  6. 6
    Dionisio says:

    asauber @2:

    Please, can you respond the questions @3?
    Thank you.

  7. 7
    asauber says:

    asauber @2:

    Please, can you respond the questions @3?

    Yes!

    Is “the word of a professional scientist” the opinion of a Canadian biochemistry professor who publicly affirmed –here in this website* a couple of years ago– knowing exactly how morphogen gradients form?

    I don’t know.

    Can such an opinion have any persuasive value in a serious discussion?

    My suspicions are probably not.

    The point of my comment was to try and illustrate to Sevsky that it’s inconsistent to smear the idea that humans are exceptional in one part of a comment and hold up the pronouncement of a human as having some kind of superior quality in another part of the same comment.

    I’m going to go listen to the birds sing now.

    Andrew

  8. 8
    Florabama says:

    Seversky @ 1, If you read Encode you will find that there is good reason to think ‘junk’ DNA is no longer junk’ DNA and and that the evolutionary predictions to that effect have been falsified and I would prefer to take the word of a WHOLE GROUP professional scientists over that of ONE who promotes the pernicious doctrine of materialism.

  9. 9
    J-Mac says:

    I’m just wondering what the consensus of scientists would be if they were to provide one piece of evidence that persuaded them to believe that life originated on its own?

    I have written a post at The Skeptical Zone entitled:

    The embarrassing “science” of the origins of life: The missing piece of evidence that persuaded scientists to believe in abiogenesis.

    It has been waiting for approval for 2 weeks now…

    I’m just wondering why it’s taking the unbiased moderators so long to approve it?

    Does anyone know?

    Or is it because The Skeptical Zone only accepts certain type of skeptics? In other words, they only accept skepticism they can deal with?

  10. 10
    hammaspeikko says:

    J-Mac, the OP is now up at TSZ. Maybe your comment above embarrassed them.

  11. 11
    goodusername says:

    Florabama

    Seversky @ 1, If you read Encode you will find that there is good reason to think ‘junk’ DNA is no longer junk’ DNA and and that the evolutionary predictions to that effect have been falsified and I would prefer to take the word of a WHOLE GROUP professional scientists over that of ONE who promotes the pernicious doctrine of materialism.

    From what I’ve found, not even the ENCODE researchers themselves would agree with your assessment. In fact, it sounds like they are pretty much in agreement with Larry:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-552289

  12. 12
    Dionisio says:

    Aren’t there more important issues to resolve in biology than junk DNA?
    I think so.
    For example, isn’t the concept of biological procedures mentioned by gpuccio more relevant? What are they, where and how are they stored and timely activate? Those seem like real spatiotemporal questions that demand answers.
    Perhaps it would be interesting to know what proportion of the DNA is the result of the messy history of this accursed world, but that might come along as more discoveries are made in the future.
    The constant stress affecting the biological systems could have caused molecular and cellular mess, part of which may be catalogued under any title.
    Had we remained in Eden none of this would have been an issue.

  13. 13
    Eric Anderson says:

    wd400 @4:

    How would you define “junk DNA”?

  14. 14
    wd400 says:

    Junk DNA is DNA that has no measurable phenotypic effect. Removing it would not help or harm the organism that carries it, it is simply along for the ride.

  15. 15
    Eric Anderson says:

    Thanks, wd400, sounds reasonable. So junk DNA is DNA that serves no purpose, correct?

    —–

    Just so we’re clear, I presume we would then say that junk DNA does not include any DNA that:

    – operates only at a particular stage of development, even if removing it at another stage would not show a discernible phenotypic effect

    – assists with some minor efficiencies within the organism; efficiencies that aren’t critical, but that make life more efficient

    – acts as a backup or redundancy, even though almost never carrying out any observable function

    – serves as a template for copying protocols or error correction mechanisms

    – allows the organism to quickly adapt to or respond to new environments, stresses, predators, etc., even if rarely or almost never being observed to have any function

    – acts behind the scenes to do cleanup and housekeeping chores, even though the effects are not readily apparent

    – carries out any other function not required for survival

  16. 16
    wd400 says:

    Just so we’re clear, I presume we would then say that junk DNA does not include any DNA that….

    Sure. But note that falsifiability-evading statements about seldom-called-upon contingencies are almost impossible to maintain. Such sequences would be subject to mutations that break them between contingencies.

  17. 17
    Eric Anderson says:

    . . . falsifiability-evading statements about seldom-called-upon contingencies . . .

    You mean as opposed to the regularly-trotted-out naive claims about lack of function just because we don’t know what the function is yet?

    This despite the fact that we know there are thousands upon thousands of biological processes that have not yet been pinned down to DNA-level information. Indeed, many more yet to be pinned down than have been to date.

    —–

    We should also add to the list DNA that doesn’t have anything to do with coding, but which performs a three-dimensional spacing or temporal function.

    Probably a half dozen other functions we could think of without breaking a sweat that would be required for a complex, functional, digital-based system to operate.

    Are there unknowns? Sure. But that is the point. The function is unknown. We have little basis for claiming lack of function. On the other hand, there is good reason to expect significant amounts of additional function. They aren’t just vague guesses. They are based on what our extensive experience tells us about what is required for complex, functional systems to operate robustly in the real world.

    To each his own, but I would much rather be open to the possibility of significant additional function, particularly because the trajectory of the evidence can only travel in that direction, because our engineering experience tells us it is very likely to be there, and because we know of countless biological functions that have yet to be mapped to DNA.

    I would much rather adopt such a rational engineering-based position than to cling to naive ignorance-of-the-gaps claims about lack of function — claims that keep getting overturned as each level of our understanding increases.

  18. 18
    wd400 says:

    You mean as opposed to the regularly-trotted-out naive claims about lack of function just because we don’t know what the function is yet?

    No. This is not one of the main reasons? to think most of the genome of most animal?s is junk. Frankly, I never see this claim made. Perhaps you should educate yourself on this matter?

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