This comment was posted in defence of John Mattick, but it was on an older post so I thought it would be better to put it up front in a new post. I (and others) have talked about the problems with Mattick’s distortion of the history of junk DNA research, his convenient interpretation of data, and his pronouncements of being a revolutionary, but here is a different perspective. Thoughts?
Paul Ebert wrote:
You probably don’t know John personally. He is not only a tremendous scientist, but he is also a superb communicator. He enjoys interpreting science for audiences at all levels. Sometimes use of the term junk DNA is an appropriate communication device. He certainly is aware that people spoke of possible functions of “junk DNA”. Text books even mentioned the possibility of functions even though they also used the term “junk DNA”. John spent many years running two research programs. One was mainstream science and the other was an extended effort to discover the function of non-coding RNA. The work on non-coding RNA was carried out under the stigma of working on “junk DNA”.
There was a nearly 30 year span between the “common sense” quotes above and the breakthroughs associated with understanding the roles of regulatory RNAs. I have heard John use the term “intellectual laziness” to refer to the time during which the term “junk DNA” was used. John is certainly not scientifically illiterate as suggested above.
By the way, if you really wanted to rubbish John for his comment, you would have referred to the following:
Science 165: 349-357, 1969.
That paper was much more that a throw-away “common sense” comment. Instead it was a complete description of a possible role for regulatory RNAs. The thinking presented in that paper was displaced by the model of gene regulation provided by bacteria.