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Dilbert’s Boss Syndrome

Stephen A. Batzer

In its June 1 issue, The Scientist profiled geneticist Laurence Hurst, who has been a wunderkind of evolution, achieving the status of full professor at the University of Bath, UK, at age 31. He discusses the marvels of life and of learning, and compares the genome to a watch.
Is it an exquisitely engineered Swiss watch, in which carefully crafted parts fit together perfectly and every feature is optimized to function flawlessly? Or, as Hurst puts it,

Is it just some cheap Mickey Mouse watch that’ll tell you the time, but its components are poor-quality and it includes lots of crap that’s frankly unnecessary?

Hurst doesn’t answer the question directly, but he does observe,

Looking at the genome, the question comes up again and again. And the reason I get very excited about it is, we really don’t know the answer. But now, for the first time, we’re drowning in the data we can use to address the issue. We just have to be clever about it.

That Hurst maintains an open mind is a credit to him. Such a measured response is scientific, rather than philosophical. The conventional militant Darwinist interpretation of the genome is that it probably isn’t even as good as the cheap knockoff Mickey Mouse watch. In fact, it’s surprising that DNA doesn’t leak oil and catch fire when left momentarily unattended.
As Jerry Coyne wrote of non-coding DNA, “Imperfect design is the mark of evolution; in fact, it’s precisely what we expect from evolution” (Why Evolution Is True, p. 81). The attitude that the genome is a bunch of jerry-rigged, junk-laden wreckage is not only harmful, it is counter-productive.
I call it “Dilbert’s Boss Syndrome.” That is, anything that I don’t have to do personally must be trivially easy. Geneticists, in spite of their job title, never have to design genes. Actively doing nothing except critiquing is pretty easy. In this case, they’re like the amateur golfer who could outplay Tiger, if he didn’t have a day job to attend to. He would never have missed that putt.
Here’s another example. I just had a large amount of work done on my century-old farm house. It took the two carpenters four weeks to do it all. After I spelled out all the needed repairs I wanted, I told the head carpenter, theatrically, “That should take you at least ’til Wednesday afternoon!”
He laughed because he knew what I was getting at; too many folks who hire him think that everything that he does is trivially easy. Of course, if it were so easy, they would simply do it themselves. That craftsman has job security because they don’t do it themselves.
Darwin “planted his flag” on the gradual change of species. That didn’t work out so well. Modern geneticists (James Shapiro and others excluded, of course) have planted their flag on the idea that the genome is almost exclusively crap, through and through. That’s not working out so well, either.