In light of the recent ENCODE data release and paper blizzard, I’ve decided to provide this list of truisms about large-scale biological research projects to make it easier for everyone the next time around:
1) The most pollyanish, expansive interpretation will be quoted out of proportion and does not represent many, perhaps the majority of researchers in or outside of the project.
2) People will argue that the funding should have gone to smaller groups. That they are one of these smaller groups is utterly irrelevant.
3) People will be bothered by any discussion about renewing the project. Because the researchers are just supposed to walk away from years of their lives and a massive infrastructure that has been built specifically for this purpose.
4) There will be arguments that data should have been released sooner before publications. It’s interesting to see if the critics do the same with their own federally-funded research (for the record, many of my data are required to be released shortly after generation).
5) The project will be criticized for not being open enough, never mind the realities of coordinating the pandimensional clusterfuck of what is probably already too many groups and scientists.
I think this is a case where the misleading publicity campaign, aided and abetted by Nature and science journalists, has backfired. It has caused many people like Michael Eisen to question the value of ENCODE. Such questions might not have arisen if the consortium hadn’t tried to put an improper spin on their results.
This is making everything needlessly shouty.