The publication of the ENCODE data is a big deal, make no doubt about it. But it has been overhyped and misreported in the popular press. Interestingly, this is not the fault of science journalists, but rather a consequence of the lead scientists in charge of publicity for this project. UC Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen has a couple blog posts addressing this issue, as does University of Guelph biologist T. Ryan Gregory.
Two of the main criticisms directed at the publicity surrounding ENCODE are:
(1) The fact that noncoding DNA is functional does not count as "news." Far from it. Biologists have known for many, many years that functional elements make up a significant portion of the genome.
(2) The 80% figure, which is being widely reported as the proportion of the genome that is functional, is inaccurate and misleading. A more truthful statement is that 80% of the genome is biochemically active, but this is decidedly not the same thing (a point addressed by Eisen in the second post linked above). The headline on the Slashdot article is completely wrong.
The data produced by ENCODE is extremely important and will lay the groundwork for many future studies. But it should be lauded for that, and not for the hyperbole currently surrounding it.