Friday, 30 July 2010

Der Spiegel interview

While some of us are off tasting the newest batch of home-brew, I was reading this great Der Spiegel interview with Craig Venter - decoder of the Genome, creator of the first artificially produced genome. Craig Venter is a fascinating character. His arrogance allows him to tackle projects that most people would feel are unworkably hard and complex. Is it still arrogance if you and your team is really that good? Between the two central 'characters' of the human genome sequencing project, Venter and Francis Collins, I much prefer Venter because he talks no-nonsense Science, while Collins has the tendency to slip into generalities, speak in hyperbole, and mostly has been a one hit wonder. Venter comments on him, accurately in my estimation,
SPIEGEL: So you don't consider Collins to be a true scientist?

Venter: Let's just say he's a government administrator.
A good administrator, in my estimation, for managing the behemoth government run genome project, but not the gee wiz scientist who cracked the genome that everyone seems to think he is. There's this tendency to introduce him as 'the man who sequenced the human genome.' What bothers me the worst is that he rarely, in my experiences, corrects this mistake.

This is how the interview starts, and it only gets better and better:
SPIEGEL: Mr. Venter, when the elite among gene researchers undertook the decoding of the human genome, you were their greatest enemy. They called you "Frankenstein," "blood sucker," "Darth Venter" and even "asshole." Why do you attract so much hostility?

Venter: Well, nobody likes to be beaten -- by superior intelligence, planning and technology. That gets people upset.

SPIEGEL: Every area of science is competitive. But it doesn't lead to that kind of hostility in all areas.

Venter: The human genome project was completely different, it was supposed to be the biggest thing in the history of biological sciences. Billions in government funding for a single project -- we had never seen anything like that before in biology. And then a single person comes along and beats scientists who have been working on it for years. It is no wonder they didn't like that.

SPIEGEL: Wasn't it more the case that your opponents were afraid that you, as a profit-oriented entrepreneur, would make the human genome your own private property?

Venter: That is totally absurd; and you know it. Initially, Francis Collins and the other people on the Human Genome Project claimed that my methods would never work. When they started to realize that they were wrong, they began personal attacks against me and made up these things about the ownership of the genome. It was all absurd.
I strongly encourage you to read the full thing. Der Spiegel did a bang-up good job on this interview!

1 comment:

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

I've always thought it was great that he beat "The Human Genome Project". They wuz none too happy.

I'll make some chili beers and set them aside for a while if you are ever in the area.