Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Caution - Maverick Scientist Ahead

Interesting article on David Goldstein (a co-author of my Evolution textbook) in the New York Times Mostly, it is kind of portraying him as a "maverick" in genomics (Note - Nick Wade seems to specialize a bit in portraying scientists as mavericks -- think of Craig Venter). Maverick of course is a term that is being overused in the election in the US these days and Wade does not use it to describe Goldstein, but that is the gist. Even the title "A Dissenting Voice as the Genome Is Sifted to Fight Disease."

The key quote is
“There is absolutely no question,” he said, “that for the whole hope of personalized medicine, the news has been just about as bleak as it could be.
He also sort of disses the HapMap project and related activities. Goldstein, who I went to grad. school with, certainly can be contrary. And I do not work on human genomics so I do not know how close to home his claims about the lack of utility of the HapMap. But I think his general feeling here is probably right. Human genomics, as with many other genomicy things, has been oversold by many of the practitioners. That does not mean it is not useful --- and Goldstein makes this point. It is just that we need to be careful (I think and it seems so does Goldstein) in making claims about what the benefits of something in genomics will be before we see the actual benefits.


  1. Does Goldstein really believe that (as Nick wrote in the article) "natural selection has been far more efficient than many researchers expected at screening out disease-causing variants"? I note that this isn't taken from a direct quotation, which makes me somewhat suspicious -- is Nick misinterpreting things or does David deserve one of your Adaptationomics awards?

  2. I do not know ... but you are right ... this is very very adaptationomicy ...

    I do not think Wade would misinterpret ... it probably is a direct quote of David's

  3. I read and enjoyed this article. I like to think all this sequencing is good for something but it doesnt hurt to be reminded that science takes time and that paths to disease cures are not simple.

    John McCain should step aside and let Goldstein take his place. Or if not that, can we at least see Goldstein debate Palin on the usefulness of teaching evolution in science class?

  4. Goldstein debating Palin would be fun to watch.

  5. Portraying any scientist as a maverick is doing a disservice to the community, where ideas are batted back and forth all the time - and hotly debated. Scientists who don't question things aren't scientists. (Maybe that makes all scientists mavericks...)

    Anyhow, I would dispute your comment that Genomics are oversold. As pamela (comment #3) said, you have to take a longer view of the field, just as we now have the ability to do with computers.

    In the 1940's computers were used in the UK to crack Nazi codes - a small, but important task. By the 1960's, they had applications in business, but only in limited areas. It took until the 1990's before everyone had a computer on their desk and a dialup connection to the 'net. There were plenty of opportunities to claim that the technology was over hyped... and yet here we are, more than 50 years after the development of the transistor, reaping the rewards of the billions of dollars sunk into computing technology.

    Genomics is the same way - another 10 years, and we'll be genotyping people at the doctor's office (Using Pacific Biosciences SMRT technology), from which a lot more information will flow, to aid us in the understanding of diseases.

    Genome scientists understand the applications, we just need to improve the tools we have to work with. (Hey, we're only now getting past PCR, developed in the 1970s!)

  6. I have to totally disagree with David. I work now (and this is not intended as a plug) at an institute full of biotech companies who are developing and implementing advances in personalized medicine. Just last night, we told a group of 120 people from the community about 3 tests for cancer, based on specific markers identified via genomics. These tests stratify cancer patients into groups that should or should not take certain chemo regimens. If my family member had cancer, and one of these tests kept him/her from having to suffer, I think that is a victory for personalized medicine, dangit!

    I like David as well but must respectfully submit that he is off-base with that comment. Maybe GWAS have not yet yielded "personalized medicine," but other technologies have and will continue to do so as soon as practical and regulatory hurdles can be met.

  7. Anthony

    I was trying to come across as mocking the use of maverick in the political press ...but I can see how that was not clear. I agree with your point in the ideal -- that is I wish more scientists would express their opinions more openly. This is why I have the blog in a way. But many scientists seem more inclined to express their opinions only when done anonymously and that I find distasteful. Goldstein, whether you agree with him or not, does not shy away from expressing opinions publicly.

  8. Also - I simply do not agree that genomics is not being oversold. It is being oversold all the time at the peril of those of us who work in the field. I have heard from many funding agency people and political types who are getting skeptical of genomics because of the overarching predictions/claims of scientists that then turn out to not be realized.