When Genome Technology began soliciting nominations for our “Generation G” issue, we got a few responses from people who thought it was a bad idea. “It might raise expectations on them too high,” and “Don’t let it go to their heads,” warned an industry chief scientist.
Peruse the profiles starting on p. 22 and you’ll find that this is a bunch of people not likely to collapse under pressure. And some, with books in print, inventions to their names, and profitable startups under their belts, have already seen enough success that, were they prone to inflated egos, surely they’d have succumbed by now.
Still, it’s easy to see why some veterans of genomics would worry about making monsters out of their promising young protégés. The egomaniac label seems to stick in this field as easily as in Hollywood. An LA Times headline last summer cast Human Genome Sciences CEO William Haseltine as an “Ego in a Lab Coat,” and someone dished much worse on Craig Venter in a New Yorker profile.
Clashes of egos have been blamed for aborted mergers and failed partnerships in genomics, and, of course, for the current state of genome-sequence affairs. After negotiations between the public and private genome projects broke down in what bioethicist Arthur Caplan called “a massive ego dispute” last year, it was The Scientist that pointed out that an anagram for genome is “ego men.”
To be sure, the media loves ego men. Folks such as Venter, Haseltine, and Francis Collins show up on television and in newspapers and magazines as often as some pop icons. Eric Lander can attract a roomful of press as the guest speaker at an art show opening in New York City, and names like Sydney Brenner, Leroy Hood, and George Rathmann also have star appeal beyond the biotech sector. Venter and Collins even beat out Tiger Woods, J.K. Rowling, Elian Gonzales, and “Survivor’s” Richard Hatch when they were named A&E’s biography of the year in 2000.
Scientists as celebrities? We’re actually quite pleased with the prospect. Last decade’s high-tech media darlings — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Lou Gerstner — are overdone. And the genome gang is far more deserving of media attention than the typical A&E character. For the most part, scientists make better role models, contribute more to the planet, and are a hell of a lot more interesting to read and write about.
To look at our rundown of rising stars this month, you might agree that some are just as glamorous. We’re placing our bets that among the group featured here are the Jobs, Gerstner, and Gates of the next decade. Let’s just hope they can keep their egos in check long enough to avoid the label “Brat Pack.”
— Adrienne J. Burke, Editor in Chief