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Evolution News and Views

Why We Call the Myth of Junk DNA a "Myth"

The Myth of Junk DNAJonathan M. does a fine job of putting University of Toronto's Larry Moran in his place on the "junk DNA" theme. I thought, though, that I would try to lift the dispute with Moran -- a biologist whose main contribution to the evolution debate has been introducing his trademark insult term "IDiot"® -- up from the specific to the more general.

It's very simple. Prominent biologists have equated non-protein-coding DNA with functionless "junk," even though we can be confident that if pressed they would admit that it's not all junk. In fact, new functions are being discovered all the time. It's indisputable.

The reason we call the "Myth of Junk DNA" a myth is this. When writing for the public, guys like Dawkins, Miller, Avise and Coyne imply or flatly state such an equation. But if you questioned them, they'd obviously know better than to stick by that. I say obviously because it's obvious to us but it wouldn't be to the general audience these men seek to persuade.

Hence the correct term, used in the title of Jonathan Wells's book: myth. It serves a propagandizing, mythologizing purpose to put it about that our genome is, but for the small portion that codes for proteins, nothing but a mass of functionless vestigial garbage. If true, that would seem to be a signature trace of an unguided evolutionary process.

The usefulness of the myth for Darwinian advocates is not undercut by the fact that a scientist like Dawkins knows full well the scientific reality. Most of his readers, after all, won't know enough to query him on it. If like PZ Myers he were to be challenged, he would likely respond much as PZ did to Jonathan M., that he was "simplifying for a lay audience."

So the myth goes on, propagating misunderstanding, conveniently for Darwin defenders. And when we challenge them on it, they call us dishonest!