Can a Proposal Lack 'Intellectual Merit', but Fly on its 'Broader Impact'?

Can a Proposal Lack 'Intellectual Merit', but Fly on its 'Broader Impact'?

NSF website says (emphasized by them) -

There are two general merit review criteria approved by the National Science Board (NSB) and listed in the Grant Proposal Guide: the intellectual merit of the proposed activity, and the broader impacts resulting from the proposed activity. All proposals must separately address both of the merit review criteria in the Project Summary and should describe the broader impacts as an integral part of the narrative in the Project Description. Generally, even the most fundamental research has educational and/or potential long-range impact on another field, on technology, or on society in some wayThe Division of Physics emphasizes the importance of thinking about and communicating these connections. Please note that this is not a shift in the priorities or strategic vision of the Division. It is rather a call for greater effort in expressing the broader context of our work.

ENCODE is funded by NIH, not NSF, nut the other government agencies have similar requirements.

We know where ENCODE sits on intellectual merit, but on broader impact it managed to achieve something that very few science research projects did in recent years. Check how far ENCODE’s junk results have reached.

Junk DNA Reigns Supreme at the Supreme Court

Justice Scalia, writing for the minority, does not mention junk DNA directly, rather it relies on the DNA expertise of Barry Steinhardt, formerly Director of the Program on Technology and Liberty at the American Civil Liberty Union, the organization that submitted a friend-of-court brief. And, so declared Steinhardt in a 2004 article entitled Privacy and Forensic DNA Data Banks

Drawing of a DNA sample is simply not the same thing as taking a fingerprint. Fingerprints are two-dimensional representations of the physical attributes of our fingertips. They are useful only as a form of identification. DNA profiling may be used for identification purposes, but the DNA itself represents far more than a fingerprint. Indeed, it trivializes DNA data banking to call it a genetic fingerprint.

I am certainly aware that the primary purpose of forensic DNA databases like CODIS is identification and that the profiles are from thirteen loci that currently provide no other information. However, I reject the term junk DNA, because as the Human Genome Project and other studies continue, those loci may well turn out to contain other useful genetic information.

Wow! The majority decided that junk DNA exists, while the minority (or the loosing side) accepted ENCODE.

ENCODE results also reached Ann Coulter’s forum, where the participants have lively discussions on the merits and significance of ENCODE. Look what we found on page 6 of the discussion !!

Apparently, they got stuck with some scientific questions (in 2009) and contacted National Center for Science Education.

I wrote the following in an e-mail to the National Center for Science Education when this thread first began.

I appreciate your previous answer to my question, included below in case it might jog your memory.

Well, I have another one for you, if you and/or your collegues have the time.

Anyway, since genetics is mostly way over my head, I was hoping that you and your friends at the NCSE might be able to look at the following and help me to dissect/refute it, point by point. I also hope to contact the personel at the ENCODE Project for their input as to what Mr Williams had correct, and what he set up as a straw man.


Williams also mentions how DNA is “read” both forward and backward, not unidirectional “like the words on this page.” Darwin was unaware of genes and how they work, so I don’t know how he could make the one directional reading of DNA a premise of Neo-Darwinism. Neither am I aware of any prediction made by the MSE that this cannot and should not be so.

Williams mentions how new genetic code must be produced to produce new species from old, but if he adequately explains how this is impossible for evolution, I missed it. There are several identified ways for new genetic material to be created through certain types of mutations. There are likely other ways for this new information to be created that are yet undiscovered. One of those methods might even be the intrusion of the process by a deity. However, without evidence of such methods, it is fruitless to discuss them. Also, that the presently known mechanisms aren’t adequate by themselves (which is a complete assumption by Williams, based on an Argument from Incredulity, and not from findings by the ENCODE Project) does not mean that they don’t happen, and it doesn’t mean that common descent is now disproven.

Williams states that “Junk DNA” is actually essential to the cell, etc, and are far more active than previously thought, but this is nothing new. It still doesn’t explain how humans still have a gene that makes a tail, and why we would have such a gene if we didn’t evolve from animals that had tails. I suspect that this is the same straw man which creationists use to deny vestiges that still have functions. Williams, IMO, fails again to make the case that this all implies literal creationism and disproves evolution, nevermind Neo-Darwinism.


Here was the response that came from NCSE.


When Williams says that DNA can be read both backwards and forwards, he’s wrong. All DNA is read (transcribed) in one direction, from the 3’ to the 5’ end (these numbers refer to particular carbon atom positions in each nucleotide ring.). Transcriptase enzymes occasionally backtrack a bit, causing transcription to pause or “rewind,” but they never actually transcribe in the other direction.

I would say that he’s confusing forward/backward transcription with sense/antisense transcription, but since he also separately discusses the latter, I really don’t know where he’s coming from. And as you say, this has nothing to do with the core claims of evolutionary theoryeven if DNA was read backwards and forwards and sideways, that would simply add to our understanding of how hereditary information is stored. It wouldn’t be evidence against the idea that organisms evolve through mutation, selection, drift and so forth.

On “Junk DNA”it’s certainly nothing new that **some** of it has a use, as you say. It remains the case that most does not. John Mattick, of ENCODE, thinks “at least 20% of possible functional elements in our genome will eventually be proven useful.,” Ewan Birney, also of ENCODE, thinks “fewer are functional.” Nobodyexcept the creationistsseems to be arguing that almost all of the genome is essential to the cell. In fact, we have hard evidence that it isn’t; see below.**

Williams argues that because most of the genome is apparently transcribed, “Because much energy and coordination is required for transcription this means that probably the whole genome is used by the cell and there is no such thing as junk DNA.” But the ENCODE researchers themselves, and other geneticists working on this issue, disagree. They think that a great deal of the transcribed elements don’t actually have any function: “As with other ENCODE- detected elements, it is difficult to identify clear biological roles for the majority of these transcripts; such experiments are challenging to perform on a large scale and, furthermore, it seems likely that many of the corresponding biochemical events may be evolutionarily neutral.We believe there is a considerable proportion of neutral biochemically active elements that do not confer a selective advantage or disadvantage to the organism.”

In other words, just because it’s transcribed doesn’t mean it’s not “junk.”


That was 2009. In 2013, the same John Mattick wrote a rebuttal of Dan Graur’s paper arguing exactly the opposite thing about junk DNA and functionality. What changed?

Mike White takes John Mattick’s arguments to the woodshed, and you can enjoy his writing in the following link -

Having your cake and eating it: more arguments over human genome function

Written by M. //