[extropy-chat] Futures Past

Mike Lorrey mlorrey at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 10 14:00:04 UTC 2005

--- Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com> wrote:

> At 08:26 PM 10/9/2005 -0700, The Avantguardian wrote:
> >Well for one thing, the human genome was mapped way
> >faster than any one, either transhumanists, pundits,
> >or even the scientists that were working on it
> >themselves thought possible.
> No it wasn't (I think, but unfortunately my major reference materials
> are 
> thousands of kilometres away). The announcement that the project was 
> complete was made in advance of expectation, true, but they were
> disguising 
> the unwelcome fact that it *wasn't* complete. Here's a fragment from
> my 
> book FEROCIOUS MINDS (footnotes unavailable in this text, sorry.):
> =========
> In February 2000, then-United States President Bill Clinton stood
> proudly at a podium to announce that the human genome draft was
> complete. Actually, this map of our common genetic recipe was still
> badly gappy. Clinton called it `a day for the ages'. He was flanked
> at his
> left by Dr. Francis Collins, devout Christian leader of the
> painstaking
> public American end of the global Human Genome Project (HGP). At his
> right stood Dr. Craig Venter, the carpetbagger who had roared into
> Dodge fixing to finish off the genome by the `shotgun' method,
> beating
> those slow-poke bureaucrats even though they'd drawn first--and, if
> his
> Celera Genomics company could get away with it, patenting the spoils.
> Ironically, Venter was soon to be fired by Celera, which was less
> interested in research than in realizing profits from pharmaceutical
> applications.

The problem with this version of history is it isn't quite accurate:
Venter wasn't "soon" fired, he was canned in 2002, two years after the
announcement, primarily because his board of directors, and wall street
were bummed that the genome knowledge wasn't turning into profitable
drugs with every quarterly report.

Answers.com claims he was fired in 2000, while this:
confirms his firing in early 2002, as does wikipedia.

> Nearly half a century after the fabled DNA helix was first unraveled
> in Britain by Englishman Francis Crick and a youthful visiting
> American,
> James Watson, a key non-American strand of the Genome Project’s
> thread in this vast common project was largely overlooked. Prime
> Minister Tony Blair seized photo opportunities, but not many people
> knew that a major player in this epochal search was a genial expert
> in nematode worms, John Sulston (now Sir John). In 1989 Sulston had
> helped start the sequencing project, with DNA helix co-discoverer Jim
> Watson and another American worm specialist, Bob Waterson, and ran
> the United Kingdom end, the Sanger Center, until late in 2000
> (Sulston and Ferry, 2001).91
> The speed of these successful efforts was genuinely breathtaking. As
> recently as mid-1996, the effort was only just gearing up after vast
> preparation for its major push, massively and crucially funded by the
> philanthropic Wellcome Trust, heirs to a pharmaceutics fortune. Only
> a few percent of the three billion genetic letters had yet been read.
> In May, 1998, with the aid of venture capitalists, Craig Venter
> entered the arena, ready to complete the human sequence within
> three years--four or five years earlier than the public project's
> goal­and without a cent of taxpayers' money.
> Journalists were agog. Here was the brash American way at its best:
> audacious, putting its money where its mouth was in expectation of
> prodigious rewards, perhaps even a bit unprincipled. The race hotted
> up
> with incredible speed. To everyone's astonishment, private and public
> wings released their data simultaneously to the scientific press in
> February, 2001--Sulston's team (although by then he had resigned)
> through the British journal Nature, Celera's via the American journal
> Science. The human genome had been decoded in barely more than a
> decade, a triumph comparable, we were told, to placing men on the
> Moon, with unfathomable future consequences.
> The trouble with this story, like the one about political asylum
> seekers in Australian waters throwing their children into the sea to
> force their rescue by an unwilling Navy, is that it is untrue, and
> politically motivated. Sulston's own brilliantly enthralling tale
> blends his amused, amusing and slightly bumbling persona (as
> captured by science journalist
> Ferry, who adds meaty chunks from her interviews with other major
> players) with the increasingly furious, indignant tones of a prophet
> scorned. Those publications in 2001 were not at all the glorious
> consummation trumpeted in the press. Indeed, the human genome was
> not really finished until the original HGP target date, 2003, and
> even then some small fragment remained undecoded.25

Actually, you are writing the version that is face-saving for the
government project: face saving for Sulston, and face saving for the US
HGP effort. The facts are that Celera had it all sequenced in 2000,
while the HGP did not, the government project did not itself finish
until 2003 doing the same work, and wasting more tax money in its
duplication of effort. In this respect Craig Venter didn't save the
taxpayer any money, though he allowed Clinton to hoodwink people into
thinking that Venters work had stopped the taxpayer pork rind factory
in its tracks.

Mike Lorrey
Vice-Chair, 2nd District, Libertarian Party of NH
Founder, Constitution Park Foundation:
Personal/political blog: http://intlib.blogspot.com

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