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Bad Manners and Good Gossip

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November 22, 2006


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Mouth of the Yellow River

Ni Hao! Kannichi Wa!

There is an intimate relationship in the first and last of Mullis’ favorites unified by recent developments in Human Cancer Genome Sequencing. Lewis Carroll had Barbour (“time as we know it does not exist. It is a faulty perception, similar to our perception that the world is flat”) preempted by many years in Through the Looking Glass.

The Alice’s have begun their futile run with the Queen (see here) in further sequencing “human cancer genomes” to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars distributed among the Baylor College of Medicine, The Broad Institute (a Harvard and MIT joint venture) and the Washington University Genome Sequencing Center. And these are “pilot projects” mind you.

The meek understatement of an oncologist in the Texas Medical Center in Houston where Baylor resides was quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "There is some controversy that big science is winning out over small science." But he chimes “concentrating the sequencing efforts in the hands of a few established centers, has one major benefit that small-scale science doesn't. It should continue to drive down the price of sequencing.”

Great Buddha, this is what the scientific method has been reduced to—mindless data generation with no rationale other than doing it will make doing more of it cheaper.

And at the expense of those who would like to probe alternatives to the collective point mutation theory of cancer progression.


The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything. “I wonder if all the things move along with us?” thought poor puzzled Alice. And the Queen seemed to guess her thoughts, for she cried, “Faster! Don't try to talk!”


Perhaps the laureat's over the top praise for Bialy's admittedly fine book is somehow connected to this odd story .

Alban T.

I am an immigrant to the United States from post WWII Europe, and have witnessed a good proportion of the last century, which I am fond of characterizing as an epoch in which the singular achievment was the ability to make big out of little in practically every conceivable manner.

Having just read Dr. Bialy's review of the PCR book, I now discover that this insight also applies to Dr. Mullis' otherwise totally splendid idea.

Bialy calls PCR, "the ability to make more and more out of less and less, the ultimate decontextualization of genetic information."

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