December 5, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

How One Bright Young Scientist Challenged the Junk-DNA Paradigm

A young snowboarder turned to science and turned the consensus on its head.  PhysOrg, in “Turning trash to treasure,” told the story of John Rinn (Harvard Medical School), who challenged the paradigm of “junk DNA” and discovered a new class of functional molecules: lincRNAs (large intervening non-coding RNA).  He found important functional molecules “in a part of the genome that science had previously thought to be filled with nonfunctional genetic junk.
    A snowboarding accident 13 years ago prompted Rinn to give up the sport.  Pondering his next path, he chose science.  He quickly excelled and is now among the top bright young biochemists (03/12/2009).  Coming at the junk-DNA paradigm with a youthful freshness and enthusiasm, he made his discovery that was at first “met with scientific skepticism.”  Now, many classes of functional RNAs are well known (e.g., 01/27/2009), and the junk-in-the-genome notion is steadily going out of fashion (05/18/2009).
    “Perhaps it was his anti-establishment youth that led Rinn to push on when some critics told him that his early lab results recorded just noise in the genome,” the article ends.  “Rinn admits to having something of a chip on his shoulder, to always feeling like he has to prove himself.  “‘A lot of people thought it was an artifact,’ Rinn said.  ‘We figured we’d give it a chance, give it a fair trial.’”

This goes to show that design-theoretic approaches in science have nothing to do with religious motivation.  Rinn has probably not challenged the Darwin paradigm; we don’t know, but it would be unlikely he could succeed in today’s academia without pledging allegiance to Father Charlie.  That’s beside the point.  Something in John Rinn did not accept the conclusion that the genome is full of junk.  He may have reasoned that if something is there, there must be a reason for it.  No theology was involved.  He merely applied himself to figuring out what the so-called junk was doing.  Challenging the assumption of his mentors led to a major discovery.  Do you hear that, Eugenie Scott, Michael Shermer and all the rest of you Darwin dobermans?
    Maybe you picture scientists as the anti-establishment free-thinkers.  Not any more.  These days the establishment is the Darwin Party.  How often does the Darwin-drunk storytelling establishment get it wrong?  Let CMI count the ways.  Calling all young snowboarders and surfers: the real anti-establishment revolution is on!  It’s called intelligent design science.  Join the rebellion!  Or at least give it a fair trial.

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