David Cox on Competition in Science
  David Cox     Biography    
Recorded: 02 Jun 2003

Well, I think that it is average in this competition. When you look at the transcription factor work that—and before, you know, the human genome was here at Cold Spring Harbor this was a paradigm with people understanding gene regulation and transcription and promoters. Those guys make the human genome guys look like a bunch of pansies, right, in terms of competition. So that, I think though is that the difference in this is that on an individual basis the human genome workers, you know, they can’t hold a candle in terms of competitiveness to the transcription guys. But the difference is that the public was really enamored of the human genome. And so from the press point of view is that the competition was in fame. So scientists are pretty bad from the point of view of fame. You know, most scientists aren’t that interested in getting rich but they all want to get famous. And so that was the real difference in the human genome project because the public cared much more than about anything else. But in terms of just pure scientific competition, you know, it was lightweight compared to regular science.

Is competition good? I think it’s good. As long as it’s not personal. And so that was different in the human genome project. So it was less competition but it was much more personal because it was much more public. So the personal vendettas on this were pathetic. They have no place in science. But I don’t actually see that—I differentiate that from scientific competition which I always think is good. That the personal attacks though actually they started not being scientifically rigorous. People were attacking people not on the basis of their scientific data, but on non-scientific points which I think was really bad. Is this the first time this has ever happened in science? Absolutely not, you know. When you look at what happened to the English fellow that really developed the chronometer right, and when you look at the non-scientific ways that people tried to destroy his work by basically dropping his clock down the stairs and all sorts of things. That this isn’t new this kind of competition and unfair personal attacks. But I think that again that’s a really low point in the human genome project and it’s something that we don’t need to recapitulate in other types of science.

David Cox received B.A. and M.S. degrees from Brown University and M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington. From 1980 to 1993, Dr. Cox held faculty positions in the Departments of Pediatrics, Biochemistry and Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. In 1993, he became Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as the Co-director of the Stanford Genome Center.

Dr Cox was a co-founder of Perlegen, and has been Chief Scientific Officer of the Company since its formation in 2001. He has served on several international and national councils and commissions including the Council of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC). He presently serves as a member of the Health Sciences Policy Board of the Institute of Medicine. Dr Cox's honors include election to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cox was a member of one of the first groups to begin sequencing the human genome. His relationship with Watson developed from his interest in Cox’s innovative approach to sequencing, called radiation hybrid mapping.

He attended the 68th Cold Spring Harbor symposium to celebrate the completion of the rough draft of the human sequence.