“Rigid business organization and sharply delineated functions had no place at Genentech, a company in which flexibility, improvisation, and quick action were essential”(128).
Genentech’s business model and inter-company interaction are consist with innovation and a perfect level of casualness that makes the company so successful. Genentech was obviously not going to be a company forged on the conventional seriousness of the corporate world. Rather, Genentech embodies the facilitation of ideas that Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, would love. The fact of the matter is this: in the realm of science, innovation, and product-based development, it is very important for employees of whatever company to be comfortable, casual, and unconventional. This, in turn, will create an atmosphere that can spread innovation.
Chapter four of “Genentech” discusses the exploration of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is made by beta cells in our pancreas. These beta cells manufacture and release insulin into our bodies and control blood so that it may circulate and allow glucose to enter and fuel the cell. Insulin controls other aspects of our metabolism such as converting fat to glucose and glucose into fat. Interesting enough, animal insulin was the first type of insulin administered to humans to control diabetes. However today animal insulin has been replaced by human insulin. Animal insulin is taken from the pancreas of animals, usually pigs and cows. The sequence of amino acids is slightly different than insulin from a different species. Animal insulin is typically made from highly purified pancreas extracts and is marketed as “animal” insulin.
Chapter 5 describes “an emerging culture” in the Genentech company. Genentech was developing a culture that was unmatched by any other technology company at the time. Hughes wrote that Silicon Valley firms were equally motivated by innovation, research, and protecting intellectual property. However, these companies lacked strong ties with the academic world that biotechnology is built upon. The culture of Genentech’s company combined the financially driven aspect of product development that tech companies thrive on, with the academic collaboration that universities promote.
“Genentech’s culture was in short a hybrid of academic values brought in line with commercial objectives and practices. It was, to turn a phrase, “a recombinant culture” in way that the biotechnology industry of today continues to manifest in one way or another” -Hughes, 132
The culture was not lost on its visitors. As Hughes states, visitors to the company immediately noticed the energy and electricity of the company’s scientists. The company was noticeably informal and was lacking in respect to authority or hierarchy.
“Genentech’s culture of extremes included a strand that observers today would label socially unacceptable. But it was not Genentech’s blemishes that financiers noticed. They saw a company with an impressive line of scientific accomplishments and major corporate alliances.” – Hughes, 135
The environment of Genentech reminded me about Google’s environment from reading Johnson’ Where Good Ideas Come From. Google is notorious for having a laid back, informal work environment, where employees are encouraged to collaborate. Both Genentech and Google provide their employees with work environments that may not fit the norm, but allow their employees to be as innovative as possible. Both companies are able to produce highly marketable, successful products, while still providing their employees with the interactive environment they so desire.
“Political, social, and economic factors and strategic scientific, financial, and business decisions” – Hughes 165
What incentives are there for scientists? Well, that question isn’t too hard to answer. But what is their motivating factor when conducting their work?
Its obvious that scientists usually pursue a field that sparks interest to them. But how can we be sure that money, fame, and recognition aren’t just as significant, if not more significant? The answer is that we don’t, we just have to assume they’re doing it for all the right reasons.
But put yourself in the shoes of a scientist. Clearly you’ve devoted your life to discovery and scientific ingenuity. But, was your motivation science itself, or was it the perks and incentives that came with it? Its a difficult topic to think about, but when digging deeper the options become more apparent.
The fame, recognition, and money that come along with large groundbreaking discoveries in a certain field can skew the minds of scientists. But those truly committed to their work will do it for the right reasons. So given this, what do you think the motivation was at Genetech? I know my answer, but everyone is entitles to their own opinion.
A major component of this chapter was the structure of insulin, and if the Genentech team would be able to synthetically synthesize each aspect of its structure. The different chains are the protein chains encoded by the DNA, the specific gene. The process was complicated by contamination and difficulties with removing the isolated chains from the different bacterial plasmids. The amino acid sequence of each chain is unique, with the A chain having 21 amino acids and the B chain having 30 amino acids. Without a protein chemist, the Genentech team struggled in this part of the project, but were able to succeed in the end. Protein structure is very important when understanding the genetic code that produces it, such as the presence of factors like disulfide bonds, which are not fully detailed in the DNA, but affect the stability of the protein.
In Chapter 6 of Genentech, themedia’s influence on new scientific discoveries is discussed. Hughes calls the media “uncritical” of the scientific discoveries and I believe that the media is uncritical because they don’t truly understand the science they’re reporting on (136). After reading this, I wondered what scientists could do, for their part, to help the public and the media reporting to the public better understand their work. According to Social Research Science Center, scientists should speak to journalists, but there is a list of guidelines they should follow. For example, the scientists should read the papers or watch tv to get an idea of how their field is often portrayed in the media. Does the media question the ethics of their field or do they raise any additional questions to be answered? This website also suggests hiring a press officer to bridge the gap between the science world and the media world. This officer can help state the risks and benefits more meaningfully to the public and can help shape the main ideas into a more understandable thesis. Lastly, scientists should take public interest to heart. They should try to explain the exciting feature of their research rather than the tedious, academic details.
The end of the book talked about the decision Genentech made to go public, even though at that point they had no products and no profit. It was a gamble that Swanson was willing to take, but was it the right decision? Many people working with Swanson thought they should wait to go public, because they could make more money and gain more investors once they had a product out. But, Swanson wanted more funding at the time and wasn’t willing to wait. At first, I thought he should have waited just as many people had advised him to. But after reviewing the Genentech stocks, it is revealed that Genentech made upwards of a billion dollars off going public, compared to only 3 million dollars in expenses. Swanson got the funding he needed to push his company forward, even if he didn’t have products or profits to support his claims. People were interested in the new concept of biotechnology and wanted a piece of the profits.
“By the late 1970’s, anyone following commercial biotechnology was entranced by the new about the interferon, a protein discovered in 1957 and thought to prevent virus infection”-Hughes (pg 141)
After reading the chapter I became very interested in the topic of interferons. However, chapter 6 didn’t really touch on the topic as I would have liked. After completing some research I found out was the interferons are a groups of proteins containing beta and alpha domains that help with immune responses to other cells. They are represent a family of cytokines. Which means these protein molecules act as ligands for the receptors on neighboring cells to boost their immune response to the viral infection. This happens when a virus inserts itself into the cell of an organism. The virus hijacks the cell’s machinery for replication, transcription and translation to create more viral cells. During this time the cell actually makes interferons of its own, naturally, to signal neighboring cells that an infection has occurred and to boost up an immune response. The neighboring cells then respond by activating immune cells (i.e. macrophages) to destroy the unhealthy cells, increasing the amount of antigens secreted. These two contributions alone help the cell coordinate an immune response to a foreign pathogen. Antibodies are able to coat the foreign agents and the activated macrophages will be able to recognize the infected cells and destroy them. This seems very cool on how our own body has to do this whenever we come into contact with a viral agent. Our cell are able to orchestrate a uniform response in order for the organisms survival.
To learn more about interferons click on the underlined words to gain access to journal articles.
Here are some YouTube videos I found on interferons:
Chapter 6 of Genentech sparked my curiosity about Interferons. I wanted to know why they are so important, what the do, and why Genentech wanted to work with them so badly. I did some research about Interferons in an encyclopedia, and found out a lot of useful information. Below is some of that information.
What are interferons:
Interferons are “a group of proteins known primarily for their role in inhibiting viral infections and in stimulating the entire immune system to fight disease.”
What are their medical uses:
Interferons “can inhibit cell division, which is one reason why they hold promise for stopping cancer growth. Recent studies have also found that one interferon may play an important role in the early biological processes of pregnancy.”
Also, “several interferon proteins have been approved as therapies for diseases like chronic hepatitis , genital warts, multiple sclerosis, and several cancers.”
Directly relating to Genentech:
The encyclopedia stated, ” biotechnological advances, making genetic engineering easier and faster, are making protein drugs like interferons more available for study and use. Using recombinant DNA technology, or gene splicing, genes that code for interferons are identified, cloned, and used for experimental studies and in making therapeutic quantities of protein. These modern DNA manipulation techniques have made possible the use of cell-signaling molecules like interferons as medicines.
CRISPR-cas 9 technology allows biologist to edit genes. Cas-9 is an enzyme that works as biological scissors that can cut DNA. A small RNA molecule is required to direct the enzyme to a specific sequence of interest. Once the DNA is cut out, the natural machinery of the bodies DNA repair mechanism takes over and will seal up the cut out DNA ends. This technology can be used to alter protein/gene expression, which could be very helpful when researching ways for curing diseases. This brings up an ethical question of who should be able to alter genes? Should parents be able to alter genes of their unborn child to prevent them from being deaf, having a certain eye color, certain disease etc? If this technology was offered to the public, what would be the price?
Personally, it does not seem ethical to spend this technology editing certain genes that could make a parents ideal child. You shouldn’t be able to choose whether or not you want your child to have certain features. It almost seems as if it would be playing to role of God. It seems as if this technology was offered to the public, it would have to come with many regulations. I think that using this gene editing tool to prevent disease would be awesome though. If science was able to block a certain viral protein from being formed but cutting out the DNA that codes for it, it could prevent multiple fatal diseases. It just becomes the next question of what is the limitations of this technology? How would companies prevent people from going to far with this technology? Below is a picture of the CRISPR-cas-9 system.
“As the founders of the biotechnology industry, our goal is to use the power of genetic engineering and advanced technologies to make medicines that address unmet medical needs, and help millions of people worldwide” – Genentech
After finishing Hughes book, I was very interested at looking at Genentech’s website to see what they are doing today and all that they have accomplished. This quote which was on their “our leadership” page really summed up their mission as a company and answered a lot of questions that I was asking myself throughout the book. I often wondered whether Genentech was too concerned with the money they were going to make when they initially started their company. Especially Swanson, the business end of the partnership, who really pushed the scientists to discover their products very quickly in order to profit as a company. I questioned whether over time they became too concerned with the competitive scientific world, and lost sight of benefiting humanity, but this quote disproves my feelings. Genentech’s website is set up similarly to a blog page. They have links to all their research and ongoing projects, which I thought really represented their mission as a company. It is a very easy site to navigate and it truly shows that Genentech is a company for the people. Another item that I really enjoyed on their website was the “Living 10 years in the Future” page. Here they showed a fantastic video of what it is like to be a Genentech scientist.
“”After considering various locations, Swanson and Perkins met with the mayor of South San Francisco, who encouraged them to locate in “The Industrial City,” as block letters proclaimed on a freeway hillside”” (Hughes 77-78).
Science is has always been about the spreading of ideas. From the dawn of science it has been paramount that the ideas and results of science be shared throughout the world. Therefore it is also important for cities to provide an environment in which ideas can flow smoothly. In the United States that city is San Francisco and Silicon Valley. There is no place on earth that offers the accessibility of capital and the most important companies on earth concentrated in one area. Venture capitalists allow for biotech companies like in the book to prosper. It also allows for ideas and medication to be brought to the free market. Overall the importance of having a city like San Francisco is vital for the progress of science as the ability of capital and the easy ability to spread ideas faster than ever before.
“Boyer and Swanson, holding 925,000 shares apiece, became instant multimillionaires, each reaping a one-day profit of nearly $70 million… The founders’ initial $500 investments in Genentech had vaulted the sons of a railroad man and an airplane mechanic to an inconceivable peak of fame and fortune.” -Hughes, pg 158
This quote reminded me of one of the subjects discussed in Where Good Ideas Come From, the concept of being able to take a single idea (in this case, Swanson’s idea to use recombinant DNA to start a biotech company) and make an enormous profit off of it. It’s a very American idea–intelligence combined with hard work can earn you a great deal of money. The example Johnson used was that of the invention of air conditioning. But looking back in Johnson’s book, I realized there’s a difference between the gold mine that Willis Carrier (inventor of air conditioning) found, and that of Genentech.
Looking back at Johnson’s book, I was reminded of his idea of the four quadrants, combinations of market and non-market innovations, and those created by individuals and those created by networks. The creation of air conditioning was an individual effort.
But the creation of Genentech was far from individual. Even at the company’s very beginning it was a network of business and science; both were needed in order to turn Genentech into a success. Johnson would certainly put Genentech’s manufacturing of insulin and all their other biological products in the second quadrant–market, networked innovations. It was Swanson’s intention from the start to make a profit off of what Boyer and the other scientists could accomplish, so Genentech’s achievements were market innovations. And given the numerous contributions from all kinds of scientific and business-oriented fields, it’s impossible to deny that Genentech’s success was the result of a vast network.
While I was reading chapter 5 about Human Growth Hormone, I could not help but think about the drug’s modern day reputation in sports. It seems all too often stories about legendary sports players come out saying they used this type of performance enhancing drug at one point in their career. The way major sports leagues ban this substance gives it a mostly negative connotation, but can this substance help athletes in more honorable ways than just cheating? This ABC News article breaks down the possibilities of HGH in a deeper context. One of the topics deals with how the drug can be used to help better repair hurt player’s knees. When players tear their ACL, they can lose up to 20% of their power and agility from muscle shrinkage caused by a leakage of synovial fluid. The Michigan doctor’s hypothesis is that HGH will activate a protein called IGF-1, which stands for insulin like growth factor, that will foster muscle growth and deter another protein that stops growth. They are currently testing trials with men the ages 18-35 and should complete this process by 2017. The hope is that the men’s knees will be stronger years after the surgery and that they will be closer to the effectiveness they were at before the injury. If this ends up panning out, major sports leagues should consider the rules against HGH as its use this way could significantly help the careers of injured athletes.
“‘…I decided I would buy a used VW Rabbit. So, [before the IPO] I sold, i think, eight hundred shares for eight thousand dollars…After we went public, the stock price went up and up and up. At some point, those eight hundred shares were worth a million dollars. And I bought a used Rabbit for that, a million dollar Rabbit. Oh god!'”-Axel Ullrich, page 159
In the tumultuous world of Wall Street, anything could happen. Sometimes, the most unlikely companies rise to the top, multiplying in size and net worth over a very short period of time. In Chapter 6 of Genentech, we see Genentech go through such a transformation. Most of us remember this kind of growth happening in companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google as we were growing up. Wall Street continues to be a risky environment today, where budding companies “make it big or die trying”. However, Genentech’s success in this chapter seems unique, in that there was great interest in it before it had a product on the market. The company had no Macintosh or iPhone to sell, no social network making millions off ad revenue and growing exponentially every month. Genentech had nothing to sell, yet it had millions of investors interested in its future because of the innovative biotech the company was researching and the amazing applications that things like man-made insulin and HGH could have.
I think that Genentech’s success as an IPO is a sort of Cinderella story which shows the advantages of speculation and investment in a time when many of us are highly critical of Wall Street and what it does. While many will write off Wall Street investors as sharks looking for a quick buck to take from someone else, they actually have some amazing effects on our economy. They help keep money flowing into smaller businesses and help them grow into massive companies that hopefully do something good for our society. The amazing stimulative power of Wall Street is a major part of the success of almost every tech company. While the success of these companies (and also Genentech) is never guaranteed, I believe that those who invest in their risky excursions ultimately help the world become a better place.
“Genentech and the origins of biotech were far more than the successful industrial application of a novel technology. A concentration of political, social, and economic factors and strategic, scientific, financial, and business decisions molded, shaped, stymied, and encouraged Genentech’s rise to the temporary pinnacle of its stock market debut.”- Hughes, page 164
“the building, christened Genentech hall, stands today at the center of campus, a symbolic reconciliation so both sides pointedly portrayed-of long term protagonists of biopharmaceutical research”(Hughes,153).
Competition is one of the most important thing in life, it what drives us to make the best of our abilities, and to not fall behind, In the book, Genentech and UCSF are competing labs trying to beat each other to to biotech punch. Genentech had hired former UCSF scientists who “borrowed” old work and brought it with them to Genentech and helped create human insulin. This lead to USCF suing Genentech. This is interesting because it seems to be only done because Genentech succeeded at insulin, where if not they would have maybe been left alone. The issue is resolved and Genentech gives money to build a new research building at UCSF, and is interestingly named after them. This seems like the best friend you make after being in a fight, sometimes competition can bring who entities closer together.
After reading the book, the audience can question whether or not scientists are motivated by helping the people, or money. Even when visiting the Genetech website, they stress their dedication to the patients and the good of science. However, like any company the scientists must work in oder to please investors. If a product is not made in a timely manner successfully, the company will fall behind competitors. The website even lists reasons why people should invest in their company, all surrounding money obviously. People can become concerned projects are rushed, or not done to the best of the scientists ability in order to make certain deadlines or requirements. Regardless, Genetech is a multi-billion dollar company and is not lacking in investments.
We believe it’s urgent to deliver medical solutions right now – even as we develop innovations for the future. We are passionate about transforming patients’ lives. We are courageous in both decision and action. And we believe that good business means a better world.-www.gene.com
DNA has been used to tie criminals to their crimes for years now, but how exactly does that process happen? What is DNA? How can it be matched to a suspect? How much DNA is necessary to be a useable sample? Is DNA enough to convict someone in a courtroom? Samantha Weinberg answers these questions and many more in her nonfiction book Pointing From the Grave: A True Story of Murder and DNA. This novel tells the true story about Dr. Helena Greenwood, a thriving marketing director at a biotechnology company. Greenwood worked at the forefront of the biotechnology world, and had her sights set on getting involved in DNA fingerprinting. In 1984, Dr. Greenwood was sexually assaulted at her home in San Francisco. She was set to be the key witness during the trial, but in 1985, she was murdered outside her home in San Diego. With a suspect, but no evidence, the case went cold for 15 years before the technology that Greenwood had been so hopeful about was the exact technology that set her case to rest. Continue reading “The Omnipresence of DNA”→
I was curious as we finished the book about Genentech, what they were doing in modern times. After some quick googling I learned that this year they celebrated thier 40th anniversary. In celebration the state of California created a biotechnology day on April 7th because in 1976 that is when “Biochemists Herb Boyer of the University of California, San Francisco, and Stanford University’s Stanley Cohen had developed the technology to clone genetically engineered DNA molecules in foreign cells” thus founding Genentech. I thought it is really cool that California is honoring Genentech’s accomplishments because they had such an impact on the field. I think this will help increase interest in biotech as well now that it has its own day.
Kleid and Goeddel then signed employment agreements, giving Genentech title to all inventions and protecting the company from unauthorized disclosure proprietary information, a routine practice in industrial research labs. – Hughes page 85
Kleid and Goeddell both gave Genentech their rights for any inventions that they make; this however, does not sound like such a good idea. I am not a scientist, but if I put my time and effort in discovering something then I would love to have my name on it, or take it with me if I resign. This would be a huge draw back for them as scientist but a huge gain for Genentech because they get new inventions no matter if they leave or stay, they will get the credit. The fact of letting a company take credit for your work is not necessarily the best move for a career, unless you become a name independently. They should have tried to get those rights.
Genentech informs a lot about the creation of insulin and briefly mentions the company’s experiences with both human insulin and animal insulin. Up until the 1980s, animal insulin was extracted from the pancreas’ of cows and pigs. As seen in the book, animal insulin eventually lost its usefulness. One major fear of doctors and those who required animal insulin was the possibility of getting bovine spongiform encephalopathy or “mad cow disease.” I was curious to know other reasons why human or genetically modified insulin is better than animal insulin. Live Strong informs that human insulin and animal insulin are not the same. One of the main advantages genetically modified insulin has over animal insulin is that it requires fewer resources to make and can be made quicker. GMO insulin can multiply rapidly, ultimately resulting in large quantities of the product, whereas animal insulin requires development of the animal pancreas, which can take years. Prior to the use of human and genetically modified insulin, researchers were skeptical as to whether or not animal insulin was as consistent. The insulin made by genetic engineering proved to be identical to human insulin produced by the pancreas, giving it yet another advantage over animal insulin. As for function, scientists discovered that animal insulin was ineffective in some patients. After a certain amount of treatment time, some diabetics developed antibodies against animal insulin. In addition, researchers found that animal insulin was transmitting diseases to humans. This is not a worry for GMO insulin users, as the production of the product involves no cross-contamination. On the other hand, there are a few disadvantages to the use of GMO insulin. For example, some patients have experienced severe allergic reactions, a few even resulting in death or severe sickness. Furthermore, GMO insulin is limited, making it difficult or expensive to obtain. Overall, this is interesting to consider as we continue to read Genentech.
At the end of Chapter five, Hughes mentions some very interesting points about the culture of the Genentech company. In particular, this quote from a female scientist that worked at the company sparked interest with me:
“‘The company seemed to operate like a boys’ locker room, and the place reeked of testosterone. No prank was too outrageous, no poker bet too high, and no woman was part of the inner circle.'” -Hughes, 151
I wonder how in particular this environment was both promoted by and affected the workers in the company. First, it is no secret that there is a considerable lack of women in the STEM fields (the attached statistics are taken from twenty-first century surveys, so I would imagine that in the 1980s the numbers were much lower). Therefore I’m sure there was a natural promotion by these employees.
The affects of it, however, are unclear. Evidently it may have been detrimental for women to get ahead and succeed in the biotechnology field if it is mainly male driven, especially if no women were invited into the “inner circle”.
This may point to the reason women are not encouraged to succeed in STEM fields, despite their obvious capabilities.
Chapter 4 of Genentech posed some interesting points as they discussed the discovery and production of human insulin. While most of the chapter did focus on the technical and science aspects of actually synthesizing human insulin, there was a lot of discussion between the development of insulin through the influence of competition. It was stated that both UCSF and Harvard were competing to produce insulin first and when they thought they did, it was really only found to be a precursor to insulin, rather, an inactive form. After this was discovered, Genentech was able to successfully synthesize human insulin. It is interesting to look at the external influences that cause discoveries to be made. Rather than just playing around with compounds or molecules, competition, essentially, drove the creation of insulin. This relates to things that people see in their everyday lives. Under pressure and competing with others allows one to create the best output. In a video, Goeddel, discusses the fierce competition that helped Genentech prosper in the synthesis of human insulin. It is interesting to see the perspectives of scientists and researchers involved as they experienced the pressure and competition first hand. Thus, this chapter gave us readers an interesting look into what it takes for something to be successful – while intellectual faculty and knowledge plays a major role, sometimes the external environment and competition between people produces the best results.
“The incident or “midnight raid”, as Ullrich referred to it, occurred on New Year’s Eve 1978 as he made final preparations to go to Genentech. Seeburg, whom goodman had banned from the premises after a furious dispute in November over his ties to Genentech, asked to accompany Ullrich to remove some biological samples and take them to the company across the bay…Around Midnight, the tow entered the deserted lab and removed various research specimens, including some of Baxter’s human pituitary material and a complementary DNA clone of human growth hormone” (114-115).
This literal robbery of the UCSF lab, at Midnight on New Years Eve, seems to be a very strange act by two respected research scientists. The two men claimed their acts were legal because first, they had completed the research so why shouldn’t they take it with them to the new lab, and secondly they had only taken pieces of each the specimens and pituitary material. At this time, in 1978, most scientists were not working under Assignment-of-Invention agreements. This article explains what Assignment-of-Invention agreements legally mean. Because neither of the two men were legally bound to resign their research materials if they left the University, technically they were not committing a crime when they entered the lab on New Years.
“To maintain our edge . . . we’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars . . . that’s what’s going to maintain our standards of scientific excellence for years to come.”- President Barack Obama
President Obama restated an idea that has kept the United States at the forefront of scientific research and discovery for decades; we must have the most rigorous peer review in the world in order to stay ahead of the world. Grant’s are given by the United States Government by going through a peer review process that grades your work, and considers its impact. There are several criteria that have to be considered in the peer review process for a lab or study, including, but not limited to: overall impact, significance, investigators, innovation, and approach.
A study’s overall impact is very important to peer reviewers because they want to know that a discovery will have a lasting impact on the research field and the world. The significance of a study is similar to overall impact, except that it focuses on overcoming a barrier or problem in the research field. Investigators, are the actual scientists who will be running the study, the peer reviewers want to know that they are accomplished members of the research field, and how the organizational structure and hierarchy of the study is laid out. Peer reviewers also need to know how innovative the study will be, will it shift the current understanding of the field? Finally, the approach of the study’s team is also important, how will it be designed, what are variables that are being controlled, do they have a alternative strategies?
On page 93, Hughes mentions that UCSF and Harvard faced some difficulties because their research used human genetic material. I wanted to know more about using human genetic material in research. I found an article that talked about human genetic research and all that it entails.
This article addresses how genetic research can violate some ethics. This is due to all the information that researches can get from a person’s genetic material. This includes ancestry and cultural background. The question is asked if this is too much to know? Does this violate a person’s privacy? The article brings up a lot of good points about this and really makes you one think about how much should be kept private.
The article also talks about the rights that the individual has when it comes to the researchers sharing the findings of the experiment and who can know the information. I was also surprised to read about genetic material banks where genetic material is collected and stored for future analysis.
This article really opened my eyes to how challenging the world of human genetic research is and how many different factors need to be considered when doing this type of research.
Recombinant DNA is a very significant field within genetics as it allows for numerous opportunities into molecular research. Recombinant DNA is a type of nucleic acid that is created by combining different segments of DNA together synthetically. At the time of Swanson’s and Boyer’s research, this was an important event because with the technology, different genes could be cloned extremely easily, and in very high quantities. The beginnings of Genetech show that recombinant DNA would sky rocket in the near future, as synthetically engineering human genes and replicating them with ease would eventually lead to the mass production of human insulin, an example of recombinant DNA. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) , as mentioned in the Genetech, had an active presence in the initial research into recombinant DNA, still is very involved, as this article details the government regulations on DNA research as a whole.
Weinberg’s decision to visit Frediani in prison was not something that surprised me. However, what did surprise me was that she decided to visit him multiple times. Trying to gather all the information she could regarding the case, it makes sense to talk to the central figure of her future book. Being in an environment for an extended period of time with a convicted sexual offender and murderer takes a tremendous amount of courage, yet Weinberg does not flinch. Frediani’s typical response would be to avoid Weinberg, but he slips back into his natural state of being a cool, calm, and collected individual who can lie his way out of a difficult situation.
“Modern biotechnology originates in 1973 with the invention of recombinant DNA technology, a now universal form of genetic engineering. It entails recombining (joining) pieces of DNA in a test tube, cloning (creating identical copies of DNA) in a bacterium or other organism, and expressing the DNA code as a protein or RNA molecule.”- Hughes (pg.1)
The discovery and use of recombinant has paved the way into finding new ways to treat patients with protein (nucleotide) based medications such as RNA. This form of treatment does not grow old with time and still is prevalent in our society today. In my health communication class we discussed that there have been many new innovations in the health and pharmaceutical industry. New technologies in wearable technologies, tools for diagnosis, and portable gaming are becoming more apparent.
An online computer game, called EteRNA, has the user puzzled in making single strands of RNA molecule fold and in certain shapes. My first impression of the game was how fun and easily addicting this game can become. However, the importance of this game is critical for the development of new drugs. The RNA in our cells are involved in many important biological functions. Including whether or not certain genes, within our DNA, gets expressed. Scientists want to use the RNA for customized treatments for viral infections (i.e. the Zika virus) or inherited disorders (i.e. cystic fibrosis) by targeting genes and other parts of our cells. But first, the scientists have to figure out how does RNA fold when it interacts with those structures. So some researchers from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon University, who were inspired by the success of Foldit (another mHealth game), developed EterRNA. What the community of gamers noticed from the game were traits that made some RNA structures harder to design. In the “Principles for Predicting RNA Secondary Structure Design Difficulty” published in the Journal of Molecular Biology explained that gamers had difficulty in designing folded RNA molecules that are symmetrical (containing similar RNA bases) were also difficult to synthesize in the laboratory. What these gamers learned can help scientists to save time and money when designing RNA structures in the lab. EteRNA is a gaming technology has led to more positive health outcome in the medical research field that can help benefit society.
“He knew the necessary necessary molecular and biochemical techniques, and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance was an appropriate topic for a physician” (pg.7)
The beginning of Chapter one introduces Cohen and his journey with medicine. It talks about how he is smart and could help with the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. After reading what I quoted above, I began to question what antibiotic resistance was. After some research I found out that antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic. When antibiotic resistance occurs the effectiveness of the drug is reduced and the bacteria survives causing more harm. Bacteria survives and ends up multiplying. Serious illnesses that can be treated with antibiotics could now not be treated since antibiotics are slowly becoming resistant.Today more than ever, antibiotics are prescribed to people for colds, acne, the flu and more. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics increases the chance of a resistance to antibiotics. It is important to know the facts when you are sick with before a doctor prescribes an antibiotic. If something can be treated on its own with proper sleep, water, etc then that is a better option. Science is always evolving and scientists are looking for ways to reverse the cycle of antibiotic resistance.
Like most technological break throughs, recombinant DNA at first wasn’t completely welcomed to the science world and many people were skeptical about it’s role and benefits in real world. Although now we know about its purpose and significance of it, there are still some concerns about it. First, lets start with the “pros” of recombinant DNA. Used in plants, plant breeders and farmers use it to create stronger, more durable, plants that could survive better and give humans better results in health. Furthermore, scientists have been able to construct plant DNA to withstand harmful bug invaders and pests that usually disrupt plant growth. They also can be altered to provide humans with more amino acids, fatty acids, and essential vitamins. However, along with benefits come concerns. Lately, with the growing funding for coming from the private sector, which allows companies to expand their research and obtain patents on discovered technology, which can hamper the progress that other companies are working towards in the field of biotechnology. Even more concerning is the thought that tough plants with genes able to survive and fight off disease and viruses, could mutate and create other diseases and viruses that are able to withstand other drugs.
The idea for Genetech originally came from Bob Swanson, a capital venturist with a love for chemistry and science in general. But, did the motivation behind starting the company come from his love of science and determination to make advancements in the field of biotechnology? Or did he just see a market that could be exploited to make himself a ton of money? Genetech was trying to replicate insulin genes and market it to people in need, such as those with diabetes. That sounds like a noble thing to do, but did Swanson really care about the advancements his team was making in the field? I doubt he would have continually looked for funding for his company if he did not see a huge payday at the end of the tunnel. I believe scientists, such as Cohen, genuinely want to help people and want to develop cures or treatments for different diseases. But venture capitalists, such as Swanson, are mainly along for the ride because they believe there will be a lot of money at the end of the road, and maybe even some fame to go with it.
“Swanson’s experience as a venture capitalist had centered on young Silicone Vally companies, each with products that had been prototyped and were nearing or on the market. Genetech presented a very different situation.” – Hughes (49)
The unfortunate reality, is that in order to conduct experiments and discover new things, you need resources, and resources are funded by money. Thus, in order to conduct experiments and move forward with your endeavor, you have to have funding; money.
The way in which most scientists go is that they search for investors that would be willing to sponsor and fund the project. the scientist(s) will then show this investor what they are working on and their current progress. However, earning the funds from venture capitalists has become increasingly difficult as the years have gone on. The competition is higher and there are simply more people looking for investors. It helps promote a higher level of discovery, but many groups projects get out on fault until they find someway to pay for their projects.
An alternative is to apply for a government grant. The government grant is something that scientists don’t necessarily drool over, but its something to get the wheels off the ground. Since its a government grant, it isn’t as efficient or lenient as a venture capitalist but again, its money that these groups of scientists need to move forward.
But go into the mind of a scientist, how would you like to be funded? Most people would answer venture capitalist. But whats the significance? Well, the significance is that Genetech had no prototype or model.In todays society it would be impossible to receive funding this way, however the guys at Genetech managed to earn money for their incredible work without having a tangible model to show what they were trying to accomplish. Its remarkable really. But, the important thing is that were able to somewhat avoid this difficult process of putting their project on hold to receive funds. They were still at the first stage of discovery so they were able to just hit the ground running with money, and go from there. Very unique situation.
Chapter 2 in Genentech talked heavily on the applications of Recombinant DNA. The main application discussed was an easier way to produce the hormone insulin for people suffering from diabetes. In molecular genetics, the course offered here at loyola, one of the experiments done within the semester is making our own recombinant DNA. We actually did Boyer’s experiment and tested whether or not it was successful by running the samples on a gel and on petri dishes. When we used the petri dishes we streaked the plates with our recombinant DNA and did a blue/white screening to test the colonies that contained our plasmid. The colonies that remained white were and indication of our recombinant DNA due to the inactivation of a-galactosidase. While reading Genentech reminded me of this experiment and also another involving RNA interference.
As rRNA is used to produce a certain protein as RNA interference is used to stop the production of a certain protein. The two types that we studied were microRNA (miRNA) and small interfering RNA (siRNA). They both have different properties as to what type of sequences they bind to. Basically, they are small sequences that are able to bind to other sequences to prevent the translation of their amino acids, aka protein. This is super cool! It makes me wonder if this technology could possibly be used in the future to fight disease. For example, cancer therapy. Hypothetically, if scientist were able to program a specific miRNA to target the protein production of a cancer cell, it may be able to stop the proliferation of the cell. Without vital protein production then the cell will die, possibly killing off the cancer. It seems like something that should be researched.
“But the folks at home were stymied. ‘What are you doing?’ his father would ask. ‘Restriction endonuclease modification,’ he would glibly answer, using the technical term for his research area. He would then pause for his father’s inevitable retort. ‘Well, what good is it? What are you going to do with that?'”
I found this particular section of the origin story of Boyer to be hilarious and relatable. It is first hilarious because clearly it is important scientific research that Boyer is performing, but his father simply wants to know how he plans on supporting himself. With older generations I think it is very common to be more concerned with the immediate job opportunities one can get so that one can support oneself. Younger generations, though, think on a much more global scale, where they wonder what they can do in the world or what difference they can make, hence Boyer’s response to his father: “I don’t know–cure the common cold” (Hughes, 6)
The argument of which is more important (accomplishing short-term and long-term goals) continues even after Boyer and his father had this discussion; many parents today have that same argument with their college age children. What is extraordinary about this is that while Boyer was studying his restriction endonuclease modification and ultimately striving for a long-term goal, he was able to create the business, the short-term goal of having a job and an income to support himself.
In Chapter 3 of Genentech, Hughes discusses the company’s work with somatostatin. Immediately after reading, I was curious about somatostatin. I wanted to know what it was, what it was used for, and what would happen if our bodies didn’t produce it. I did some research, and found a pretty cool site called: http://www.yourhormones.info. This site breaks down each of the hormones that our body produces, and gives the basic information about what the hormone is, how and where in the body it’s made, and what happens if there is a surplus or deficiency of that hormone in the body. So, let’s get back to somatostatin! If you check out the site, you will find the following information:
What is it:
It is a hormone that regulates secretion of other hormones, regulates the activity of the gastrointestinal tract, and regulates the production of tumor cells.
Where is it produced in the body:
Somatostatin is produced in the pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, and in the hypothalamus. In the pancreas it controls the production of glucagon and insulin. In the gastrointestinal tract it controls production of gastrin and secretin. In the hypothalamus it controls the secretion of growth hormone from the pituitary gland.
Although rare, there could be too much secretion of growth hormone.
There would be an extreme reduction in secretion of other endocrine hormones. This could lead to ailments like diabetes or gallstones.
This photo of Somatostatin above was taken from Wikipedia.
In Chapter 2 of Sally Smith Hughes’ Genetech, the third part of the Genetech trio is introduced. Arthur Swanson was a young venture capitalist who had a special interest in recombinant DNA. He decided that there was a financial future in this new biotechnology field, and it could possibly be lucrative. It happens that Swanson was right, but not only in the case of Genetech. Biotechnology as a field has become wildly successful, and in massive need of huge amounts of venture capital. This article summarizes the amounts of capital invested in the state of Maryland, during the last quarter of 2015. In second place was biotech. Maryland companies such as “Precision for Medicine INC” pulled upwards of $75 million in venture capital. This local company that focuses on ways to personalize healthcare, was the second largest consumer of capital in the last quarter of 2015, in the state of Maryland. This revolutionary sector has proven to be a high consumer of venture capital, like Swanson predicted. It has become even larger than he could have ever predicted, and even more influential.
“We were young, and when you are successful, it helps enormously with your whole state of mind. It helps with your confidence; it helps with the publications you write; it helps with your future, with your career” – Hughes page 51
Being successful at a young age is something that we all definitely would like. In this book, these young scientists are making discoveries and working hard to achieve their goals. However, being young and successful also came with many fights. Since they were young and this was new stuff being tried, a lot of stress was added to their plates. So how much of this success was a blessing for them? Is it better to have a rough start and be secure about your decision making in the future? It does help in the confidence area, but it seems that the scientists in the group are being taken away from the point of their research.
In Samantha Weinberg’s book, Pointing From the Grave: A True Story of Murder and DNA, readers get the first inside look to how the innovation of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) technology evolved to become a key aspect within forensic criminology. Following the story of young scientist, Helena Greenwood, Weinberg places the reader into a courtroom drama while giving accurate details about this cutting-edge technology. This was the first novel Weinberg had ever published with the topic of DNA. After publishing this novel in 2003, she went on to fully establish herself as a novelist by creating a trilogy known as the Moneypenny Diaries. Although Pointing From the Grave was the first criminology novel for this British novelist, she was able to successfully take complex scientific terminology and break it down to where her readers can fully understand it in a more simplistic manner; the need for a scientific background is not necessary. Weinberg is able to show the true story of Helena Greenwood’s sexual assault and murder by providing accurate forensic evidence and integrating different perspectives from those who knew the victim and suspect best. Continue reading “POINTING FROM THE GRAVE: THE INVISIBLE HELIX THAT TRACKS YOUR EVERY MOVE”→
“The heart of [Boyer’s] problem, as they saw it, was that as a full-time, tenured professor he was simultaneously and inappropriately cofounder, vice president, board member, advisor, and major stockholder of a private company–Boyer’s company… As his severest critics put it, he was ‘selling out to industry.'” -Hughes, pg 71
I thought it was interesting that so many people were adamantly against the idea of Boyer working with Genentech. The idea that he was “selling out to industry” makes me wonder if many researchers at the time wanted science and industry to remain separate; maybe they thought scientific research should be motivated by curiosity and a need to understand how things work rather than attempting to turn a discovery into a product.
If that is the case, then I would certainly disagree with those types of researchers. Commercializing the product of an experiment can bring in money for the laboratory or university, providing funds that would allow them to do even more research. I’m not sure I see the logic behind these criticisms of Herb Boyer–an ideological disagreement, that I can see. Maybe these critics aren’t fond of the idea of a scientist being so involved in business. But calling it in appropriate?
The only concern I might have had regarding Boyer’s work with Genentech is simply the question of whether or not he has enough time to devote to both, and if not, then which would be his first priority? Teaching or business?
“Commercialization of biological discoveries was far from novel at the birth of Genentech: Big Pharma had been doing it for a long time. But for a member of the academic community to be so intimately involved, that was a sea change. No one had thought much about the rules for how this might be done. So there were repercussions, particularly among the faculty of UCSF- a hue and cry over potential conflicts of interest. It was a harrowing time for Herb Boyer”- (Hughes 72)
Firstly, even though Hughes here makes a distinction between using academic discoveries for profit and academics using academic resources for profit, I do not see a difference. If Big Pharma was using discoveries found in research labs for profit, that is essentially the same thing as using research labs to make profit. In the end, the work of the research labs is being used for money-making purposes.
Secondly, Boyer himself was not motivated by profit, saying he “thought I was doing something that was valuable to society” (Hughes 73). Just the fact that he went through depression after experiencing all the criticism from academia shows that his motives were sincere. He was still performing his duties as professor, so why was his using university labs a problem? I guess it is the equivalent to someone doing their own project at work, and not their company’s assignments, and so losing their company money, but I feel like the point of research universities is not to make money off research, but to contribute to the knowledge pool of that field. Furthermore, if the point of research universities is to better society, was’t Boyer doing that? Finally, I feel as though the fact that the criticism came mainly from other UCSF professors says a lot.
“Plasmid research seemed a perfect fit: he [Cohen] knew the necessary molecular and biochemical techniques, and the growing medical problem of antibiotic resistance was an appropriate topic for a physician” – Hughes, p7
This topic of antibiotic resistance really interested me because as a speech-language-hearing sciences major, we discuss the topic of overprescribed antibiotics and the possibility of antibiotic resistance specifically in regards to ear infections in children. Antibiotic resistance is natural phenomenon where the bacteria resists an antibiotic and has a greater chance of surviving because it grows stronger than the antibiotic itself. According to Claire McCarthy, M.D., from Parents Magazine, as bacteria becomes more and more exposed to antibiotics, potentially because of the overprescription, the bacteria actually changes over time so that the antibiotics becomes less effective. The antibiotics are still able to cure the weaker strands of bacteria, but the stronger strands that are capable of defying the antibiotics treatment grow and multiply. When Hughes mentioned antibiotic resistance it prompted me to question why antibiotic resistance occurs, and why antibiotics are overprescribed even when some illnesses, such as certain ear infections, can cure themselves. The conclusion I came to as to why antibiotics are overprescribed is that it is based on a mix between parental pressures on doctors, and doctors serving as businesspeople. When a parent takes their child to the pediatrician, and their child is in pain or discomfort, obviously the parent is going to want their child to get better as soon as possible. The recent generation of parents seem to rely on antibiotics as the only way to cure illnesses, and I can see how a parent may pressure a physician to prescribe an antibiotic so that their child gets better immediately. On the other hand, the doctor may be practicing unethically if he or she prescribes antibiotics in order to benefit the business side of medicine.
This case is mentioned by Hughes in relation to Kiley’s filing of patents in 1977, the four of which were not reviewed until 1980, when this case was decided. The case is about whether the creation of a live, man made organism is patentable. The court said yes, it is patentable, and this opened the door for biotech companies to file for patents involving such organisms, such as, in this case, human genes and essential bacteria. Once these organisms are patented, they become property to the owner, free to do what they wish with that life. This is a hard concept to grasp, a legal ownership of life, and it brings many ethical implications into play in regards to patent law.
In these final weeks of the semester, our class is beginning the final book of our curriculum: Genentech by Sally Smith Hughes. It covers the rise of the biotech industry through the company Genentech and the groundbreaking work they did in order to create the biotech industry. Before going into the book, I decided to do a little research about the company. I found it funny that when I Googled their name, I was taken to www.gene.com, which is Genentech’s official web site. This simple web address kind of shows that the company has been around a long time. On their web site, they have tabs for scientists, job-seekers, media, and medical professionals, but I am led to a link lower down the page to a timeline celebrating Genentech’s 40th anniversary. An article about cloning insulin catches my eye, and reading it I see familiar names from Chapter 2, like Bob Swanson, Arthur Riggs, and Keiichi Itakura. It seems that Genentech is as proud of its history as Hughes is, and more than willing to share it! Either way, these “Genentech moments” on their web site seem like a great resource to use while reading the book, and I can’t wait to use them to supplement my reading!
“The plan was to exploit the rich opportunities for risk investment in the Bay Area. Arriving in 1970, Swanson encountered a thriving center of the microelectronics and computer industries in a region thirty miles south of San Francisco, soon to become known as Silicon Valley. It was without doubt the most entrepreneurial region in the world, boasting a refreshingly boundless, risk-tolerant, success-breeds-success culture in which an aspiring young person could spread his wings and try new things” (31).
In the 2 question forum, I asked questions into why and how California developed such a hot-bed for technological and other advancements in different fields. Silicon Valley, the most famous of any locations in Cali. in regard to technology. Clearly risk-tolerance, entrepreneurial culture, and relatively young people are the reasons for the success of the region. Also, the weather in California is probably a strong attraction for people to migrate to, especially from the colder weather of the east coast. “There’s something in the air here” may not be such an off phrase for “the most entrepreneurial region in the world” because of how people interact and network with one another. This area breeds innovation that has made it very successful, impacting people all over the world when you think about it. A 21st century, manifest destiny-type of migration will continue to attract young innovative people out to California, looking for ways to contribute to a region of success and influence.
“Reimers administered a patenting and licensing program that actively solicited faculty inventions for patenting in a manner new to academia. He read the Times article and immediately called Cohen to discuss a possible patent application. The suggestion caught Cohen by surprise. Despite his recognition of the invention’s potential practicality, his reaction was to question whether one could or should patent basic research findings. At the time, biomedical scientists in American universities were seldom preoccupied with patenting and intellectual property protection, even at a university as entrepreneurial as Stanford” (21).
In this quote, Cohen questions whether one could or should patent basic research findings, especially those that involve useful and general health information. Insulin and growth hormone are both crucial to development and survival, more so insulin, so why should there be any monopoly on this research. Cohen clearly was not motivated or incentivized by patent or intellectual property protection to conduct and follow through on his research. Moreover, his effort put into the field does not come from a selfish place of profit-seeking legal protection. After all this is academia where research is one of the main reasons for one’s craft, so one does have to enjoy this line of work in the first place. Granted, this was in the 1970s where particular pharmaceutical patents, notable ones born from academia, were not seen as outlets for patent-based incentives. Has this culture changed? When in the realm of crucial health research, are patents the first step to legitimizing research? Obviously this is the case because patents are seen as more necessary in this industry. Patents are not as much incentives as they are confirmations, or so it seems.
Samantha Weinberg’s “Pointing From the Grave” is a suspenseful story that illustrates the brilliant use of science in the world of police work. Ms. Weinberg has become a very successful writer as she has written many books from the light hearted Moneypenny Diaries which focuses on the life of the secretary of James Bond, Miss Moneypenny, to the riveting drama “Last of the Pirates: The Search for Bob Denard” which also focuses on a woman in this case a French mercenary. However, her crowning achievement is “Pointing from the Grave” as she won the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-fiction. In each of Weinberg’s books she focuses the story on a female throughout the story and in “Pointing From the Grave” it is no different. In this book Weinberg focuses on the mysterious murder of Helena Greenwood, a head of a biotech marketing team. Throughout the story the audience is taught the importance of science in particular DNA in its use of solving high profile murder cases. Continue reading “Biotech is on the Case”→
“We were young, and when you are successful, it helps enormously with your whole state of mind. It helps with your confidence; it helps with the publications you write; it helps with your future, with your career” (Hughes 51).
This quote is taken from Heyneker as he recalled the thrill he felt when he learned that synthetic DNA could be immortalized. After reading this, I was curious to know the psychology behind success and failure and how it affects the brain and the body. I looked to the article, Psychology Today, for more information, and found some interesting facts. For example, psychologists study something referred to as the Cycle of Failure. This is the time period when failure sets in, resulting in various mental effects. The cycle progresses as follows: Unconscious fear, Wish Fulfilment or Desire to Fail, Overconfidence or Lack of Confidence, Perception of Failure, Anger with oneself and others, Sorrow and grief, Loss of Confidence/Motivation, Unconscious Fear. Clearly, this is a cycle filled with pain and general unhappy feelings, creating continuous domino-effect results in the brain. Another interesting concept I came across was that failure weakens our ability to think creatively due to the fact that once we fail once, we fear failing again. According to the article, failure we start to perceive failure as being too risky, thus we limit our ability to create new ideas. On the other hand, happiness obviously bears a more positive weight psychologically and ultimately gives us an advantage in life and work. According to Forbes, success results in increased motivation, self-confidence, improved leadership skills, and overall happiness. These ideas are interesting to consider as Genentech continues.
Unlike many narratives that are focused on the technical world of DNA and genetics, Pointing From The Grave by Samantha Weinberg introduces and incorporates the language and function of DNA into a murder mystery. The novel-like nature of the book encourages the inclusivity of all readers. Weinberg achieves this by describing and defining genetics at a level that allows the reader to learn and follow a court case effectively. Like jury members, readers learn about DNA during the sexual abuse and murder trials of Helena Greenwood. Weinberg keeps us wrapped up in her slightly, graphic account of the prime suspect, Paul Frediani, by relating the factual evidence of DNA to civics, the criminal justice system, and psychology. It makes for a chilling tale. A large emphasis is placed on DNA so the readers have enough background and information to partake in the journey with Weinberg to figure out “whodunit”. The roles of numerous detectives in the story are in locating and trying the perpetrators of cromes committed against Helena. Weinberg as the author places herself in between the detectives with an intentional lack of the third person as omniscient. Opposed to texts like Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson, the knowledge from Weinberg does not focus on inventions, but she rather applies the use of DNA in modern day cases, and explores how DNA has helped in past court cases. It is effectively noted as “both the history of a science, overlaid with human drama, and a human tragedy inextricably entwined with science” (xi). Weinberg’s crime narrative is one that can be followed by any reader familiar with the work of DNA and interested in seeing how it is woven into the legal system and identifying criminal suspects. Weinberg has previously written other books such as A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth, The Moneypenny Diaries, and Last of the Pirates: In search of Bob Denard. Weinberg is definitely an experienced and qualified writer; her motivation for this book may be her similarities with Helena Greenwood in age and both being from England. Continue reading “Past and Present: How DNA Intertwines with Crime”→
Samantha Weinberg, a writer, reporter, and politician, wrote Pointing from the Grave: A True Story of Murder and DNA. This book tells the story of Paul Frediani, a sex offender, and murderer. In a thrilling manner, Weinberg explains how DNA was discovered, and eventually used to convict Frediani of the murder of Helena Greenwood, a prominent research scientist. Helena was a visionary who “knew the power of this twisted molecule: she could see its potential” (xiii). In the prologue Weinberg writes “this is a story about a murder and a molecule. It is both the history of a science, overlaid with human drama, and a human tragedy inextricably entwined with science” (xi). This book lays the perfect amount of foundation, scientific knowledge, along with an engaging story of a man who got away with murder for 15 years until technology finally caught up with his crime. Without being a dry summary of DNA, Weinberg explains everything from Mendel’s study of peas to Mullis’ discovery of PCR. Without the knowledge of these scientists, each discovery was a step towards the conviction of Paul Frediani. The two stories, one about the discovery of DNA analysis, and another about Helena’s sufferings at the hands of Frediani, are perfectly intertwined, almost like the double helix of DNA. Weinberg has certainly done her research. The entire history of DNA is laid out within this book with expert input from the scientists who participated in the research. This book is perfect for any reader who isn’t afraid of light academic writing, but also keeps it interesting with engaging drama. Continue reading “DNA: The Smallest Clue”→
“Pointing from the Grave” by Samantha Weinberg is a captivating murder-mystery novel. Weinberg received her degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and went on to become a journalist, novelist, and travel writer. In this book, she focuses on the journey of a man who had been prosecuted for several years. She talks about the scientific evidence and the evolution science has played to solve crimes. She touches the themes of fingerprints, DNA evidence, and psychopath characteristics. Her book is aimed to people with curiosity about criminal investigations. In 1985 Helena Greenwood was attacked and sexually assaulted at her home in Southern California. Ironically, Helena Greenwood was in the biotechnology realm where DNA evidence was on its way to being discovered. This was the start of an investigation that lasted over a decade, and involved the use of innovative technology. Continue reading “Opportune Timing of Discovery”→
In Samantha Weinberg’s book, Pointing from the Grave, readers are told the true story about a man named Paul Frediani and his conflict with the law. The British novelist, journalist, and travel writer tells us about how she became fascinated by the story of Helena Greenwood, a woman who was sexual assaulted and then murdered by her alleged assaulter in the 1980’s. Although Pointing from the Grave is a nonfiction book, Weinberg writes about both Frediani and Helena as if they were characters in a story, giving a fiction feel to her book. Weinberg tells the story of Helena and David Paul Frediani, her alleged assailant, as though it is unfolding before our eyes, intertwining scientific knowledge and human emotions in order to grab and hold her reader’s attention. The scientific knowledge Weinberg uses in her book stems from the biotechnology field (specifically forensics) and although she uses a lot of scientific terms that many people would be unfamiliar with, she presents the material in a clear and concise way that is easy for the average reader to understand. Continue reading “Modern DNA: The Prosecution’s Greatest Ally”→
Do you ever find yourself watching Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) and wonder: How do they trace a killer in 45 minutes? Samantha Weinberg’s book, Pointing from the Grave, answers this question as she follows the court case involving the sexual assault and murder of Helena Greenwood. Weinberg has established herself as a scientific author through her other books like A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth where she explores the process of scientific discovery to explain the evolutionary history and ecological importance of this organism. While Weinberg expresses interest in evolutionary science, in an astonishing crime and science thriller, Pointing from the Grave, she pieces together genetic technology, forensic science, and courtroom laws to formulate an exciting tale of a crime solving. Weinberg presents readers unfamiliar with the field of science with reliable scientific explanations, an in-depth understanding of the trial, and an inside look into the perspectives of various individuals involved to effectively tell the story of the murder of Helena Greenwood and the tracing of her killer, Paul Frediani, fifteen years later.Continue reading “It Isn’t Just CSI: Piecing Together DNA, the Courtroom, and Perspectives”→
Chapter 3 of Genentech mentions how Riggs applied for a grant from the National Institute of Health to conduct his research on somatostatin. I was curious how someone, or some company, would apply for a scientific grant today from the NIH and how the process worked. The following webpage from the NIH’s site explains how the full process is conducted. After determining a careful plan and deadlines, much like Riggs did with his three years of research estimation, the NIH provides a broad range of federal grant-making agencies that can provide one with funding opportunities. Once a company applies for a grant, the NIH’s Division of Receipt and Referral, within the Center for Scientific Review, will determine the area of research the application falls in and review it based on its how relevant it is. During months 4-8 of this process, the proposal will be peer reviewed and rightfully awarded thereafter. Progress reports must be made during the research and all results generating by the funded experiments must be made available to the public. I feel like the 9-10 months it takes to be awarded a grant is a long time, especially for scientists eager to test their theories, however having the process set up over this time period allows the CSR to fully review the applications. Overall, the process is rightfully tedious for the amount of money that can be awarded for research to discover new scientific things that can benefit the public.
In a field such as biotechnology, many expenses must go into research and experimentation. Obviously, most scientists do not have millions of dollars to fund their own work. Money can come from either government grants, or private sources. The book talks about venture capitalists, or people who invest in startup companies with the hope of making a large profit.
An article about jobs in biotechnology, describes venture capitalism and what such a job would entail. Venture capitalists have a key role in the translation of scientific innovation from idea to commercial reality. Investments are typically designed to fund through one or more important milestones, such as a clinical trial or product launch, that will drive value in either the public markets or the eyes of acquirers. Financial market conditions may make it difficult to get a good return on investments in some of the most promising, but very early-stage technologies.
“Swanson, bringing his business training to bear, found insulin economics impressive. The hormone was an immense and reliable moneymaker for a number of American and European pharmaceutical houses, wuth world sales greater than $100 million and growing” – Hughes, 38
In chapter 2 of Genentech, Hughes refers to insulin as a moneymaker. Though insulin was primarily created as a means of helping diabetics, it also found a booming market with thousands of customers willing to pay for what they need. These diabetics are forced to pay for the insulin to help their condition, no matter what the price is. This notion had reminded me of our earlier discussions of Martin Shkreli, the man who hiked up the price for Daraprim, a life-saving AIDs medicine, by over 5000% and led me to the question: is the hiking of drug prices a common occurrence? According to Bloomberg LP, a financial software company, the prices of several drugs get hiked every year with no changes to the actual drug. Apparently, a survey of about 3K brand-name prescription drugs found that prices more than doubled for 60 of these drugs and more than quadrupled for 20 of them. For reference, the chart below, also taken from Bloomberg’s website, shows a list of drugs whose prices had been hiked and by what percentage this hike was.
Though Martin Shkreli’s drug, Daraprim, is the highest hiked drug, there are several other drugs which were hiked over 500%. Some drugs even continue to rise by 10% every year. I personally believe that this is an unethical practice and this belief me to the question: are there any legal stances that could be made against this? How high do drug prices have to get for attention to be called to this issue?
Pointing from the Grave: a True Story of Murder and DNA is a scientific, crime novel about the murder of Helena Greenwood, a young DNA scientist who was sexually assaulted and then murdered a year later, and the main suspect in both of these cases, David Paul Frediani. It is written by Samantha Weinberg, a British author, journalist, and politician. She has written both scientific books such as A Fish Caught in Time, the story of J. L. B. Smith who was tasked with identifying a prehistoric fish, the coelacanth, and fictional novels such as The Moneypenny Chronicles which detail the life of James Bond’s secretary, Ms. Moneypenny. She combines both of these styles of writing in Pointing from the Grave, which is written as a novel but is filled with detailed scientific processes which Weinberg explained very well. In addition to detailing the story of both Helena Greenwood and Paul Frediani’s lives, she also describes the birth of many essential modern forensic DNA techniques with chapters focused on key figures such as Kary Mullis, a Nobel Prize winning biochemist. Continue reading “Frediani: Murderer or Victim?”→
Chapter 3 focuses on a new idea instead of insulin which is the polypeptide somatostatin. I was curious what it is used for in the body because they appear to be connecting it to insulin and the pancreas. I googled it and found that Somatostatin, is a “polypeptide that inhibits the activity of certain pancreatic and gastrointestinal hormones.” (Encyclopedia Britannica) Additionally I learned that somatostatin is produced “In the pancreas, somatostatin is produced by the delta cells of the islets of Langerhans, where it serves to block the secretion of both insulin and glucagon from adjacent cells.” (Encyclopedia Britannica). I found it interesting that Alzheimers disease is found to decrease levels of the polypeptide and I wasn’t sure why. I am glad I googled what it was because I have a much clearer idea of what they are trying to accomplish and how it relates to making insulin.
Samantha Weinberg writes, Pointing from the Grave: a True Story of Murder and DNA, a non-fiction book chronicling the sexual assault and murder of Helena Greenwood in 1985, and the eventual conviction of her killer using emerging DNA technology 15 years later. Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, Weinberg as authored books like A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth and the Moneypenny Diaries, a James Bond inspired trilogy. Additionally, Weinberg is also a member/politician of the British Green Party. Pointing From the Grave uses real events about Helen’s assault and murder; background in the defendant’s past and state of mind; and the progression of DNA profiling from its discovery as a tool for evidence to it becoming the dominant tool for convictions around the world. Continue reading “Pointing From The Grave: DNA’s Fingerprint”→
“The biomedical research community, Cohen and Boyer prominently included, mounted an intense lobbying effort to persuade Congress not to impose legislative controls on scientifically significant research” (Hughes 66)
Throughout the course we have learned there are many obstacles in the way of scientific progress from money, police enforcement, and even trade. However, it appears that the biggest roadblock in the way of science might be the government. Throughout this book it seems that there are bureaucratic measures taken by the government that in turn results in the lack of progress in the world of science. However, it should be the case that science and government work hand in hand. The government should go out of the way to provide more opportunities to scientists rather than limit them. In today’s day and age scientists are looking for funding from venture capitalists rather grants or government subsidies. Therefore it appears to me the government should increase its involvement with science in order to provide improvement in the industry.
The issue was brought up in the book on page 66 about congress restricting genetic engineering experiment. This was an interesting topic for me and made me wonder what exactly these restrictions entailed, especially dealing with genetically modified organisms. I have some previous knowledge on GMOs and how they are engineered in order to make life easier for humans. For example healthier vegetables, and crops that are designed to resist pests and bad weather. So I found an article that details all the restrictions on GMOs, opinions on them, legislation, and even how different organizations are involved with this process.
The article acknowledges that people do have mixed feelings towards GMOs. Some are very positive towards them and recognizes the benefits of them, but then there are some who say they would not eat genetically modified food because of unknown or modified ingredients. It then goes on to explain that GMOs are dealt with by environmental, health, and safety laws. The FDA wants to have a consultation procedure with GMO growers in order to make sure that the food is safe. The EPA makes sure that the environment is still safe when pesticides and microorganisms are introduced through genetic engineering. Although the state does not have much of a role in regulating GMOs in the United States.
This article was very surprising to me because I had no idea the process that legislation went to to define what is allowed to do and what is not.
Over the course of this semester, we have been discussing patents, the difficulties with patent laws, and ethical controversies over patents. I noticed this recurring theme in Chapter 1, when Reimers suggested the Cohen and Boyer patent their invention of recombinant DNA.
“Patenting in academic biomedicine was controversial on ethical grounds. . .a common belief dating to the early years of the century was that discoveries in biomedicine, especially those related to human health, should be publicly available and not restricted by patents.” ( Hughes, 21).
The Hastings Center, a “nonpartisan research institution dedicated to bioethics and the public interest” published an article written by Josephine Johnston, titled “Intellectual Property and Biomedicine.” In this article, Johnston dives into the history and concern around biomedical patents. In this article, she touches on some of the most important ethical questions around biomedical patents:
“Is it acceptable to assert ownership over material derived from the human body? Do all these patents meet the legal criteria for patenting? What are the consequences for research—could patents slow the pace of innovation by restricting access to biological materials and processes? What are the consequences for lifesaving tests and treatments—could patents limit access to them?” (Johnston)
Johnston touches on most of the important areas surrounding biomedical patents. She explains the history, advantages and disadvantage of patenting, and some of the current legal policies surrounding biomedical patents. Its easy to throw a patent on a novel, physical invention and claim ownership. The lines become blurred when the novel item in question is not physically tangible, but still beneficial and profitable. The controversy over whether or not intellectual material can or should be patented is deeper than many may suspect. This short article is a great resource for learning about some of the implications about intellectual patents and how it relates to the biomedical and biotechnology fields specifically.
“Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long.” (Psychology Today)
We talked a lot about Frediani possibly having some sort of personality disorder but we never really came to any conclusions. I believe Frediani is a sociopath because of many of his personality qualities and actions point to that fact. According to Psychology Today, Frediani has many sociopathic qualities such as being easily agitated, volatile, prone to emotional outbursts, fits of rage, and unable to hold down jobs or stay in one place for very long. Additionally, “any crimes committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be haphazard, disorganized and spontaneous rather than planned” (Psychology Today) which is similar not only to Frediani’s first sexual assault, but, the murder of Helena Greenwood; both of these were spontaneous events and were not carefully planned or thought out. Interestingly enough, sociopaths also have difficulty forming attachments and relationships with other people, this could point further to Frediani’s illness because throughout the book he had difficulty staying in relationships with women.
Sally Smith Hughes’ book, Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, discusses the importance of biotechnology in the modern world of science. Specifically, she delves into the creation of Genentech as a biotechnology company, but first talks how recombinant DNA played a large role in the biotechnology community. She refers to recombinant DNA as a form of genetic engineering that is widely used. What is the most interesting about this chapter is the experiments conducted by Boyer and Cohen in which recombinant DNA was further investigated. Specifically, research was done on plasmids to understand if these forms of circular DNA would pick up different pieces of DNA and then be expressed in an organism different from the type of organism in which the original DNA came from. The great thing about science, is experiments can go wrong but allow for new discoveries to come about. This is exactly what happened with Boyer and Cohen. Hughes states,
“Boyer and Hellig examined the electrophoresis gels displaying the various DNA fragments. There in plain sight was telltale band composed of two types of plasmid DNA standing out in fluorescent orange . To their inestimable joy, they had not only recombined DNA – they cloned it! The engineered plasmids with their ability to reproduce themselves in the bacterial cells had also faithfully cloned the foreign DNA inserted into them” (p15).
This was interesting because it related directly back to Steven Johnson’s ideas of “happy accidents.” Boyer, Hellig, and Cohen were working to recombine DNA and to their surprise another result occurred. This now opened opportunities to investigate the cloning process and how DNA of many different organisms can be cloned and reproduced. Overall, this first chapter offers insight into the power of biotechnology and understanding how genes work.
By the ending chapters, Frediani’s mental state was questioned. We had discussed multiple times in class about a personality disorder Frediani could have but it was never mentioned this in the book until the last few chapters. Something that I have previously seen on an episode of Law & Order was a man who was a retired professional football player that was very famous. There was a young girl by the age of 14 who was forcibly being pimped out men willing to pay money for her services. This man was caught paying her for this. In the eyes of the law, he was said to of raped her because of her age. However, the next day he was unaware of his actions. The insanity plea is extremely hard to come across due to people pretending to be insane to get away with murder. Many psychological reviews must be performed to be diagnosed. Obviously, the jury did not believe that he was ill. He himself was too proud to admit he was sick as well. It was not until the end of the trial where his defense lawyer had him on the stand at a late night court arrangement where he exhibited the defendants sundowning affect.What really stuck out to me in this episode was the defense lawyer saying a latin phrase that meant, the body can only be guilty if the mind is as well”. The poor judgement displayed by this man was not of his choosing but rather by his diseased brain. This made me relook at Frediani’s case and wondered if they had had a psychological review of him, would they have diagnosed him with an illness. The causes for these diseases truly vary but should a person be held accountable for their actions when their ability to choose from right and wrong is compromised? I’m not sure.
The next connection to Frediani’s case I made was a another episode of Law & Order. I love this show. Anyways, there was a young child that was an outcast of his school because his family was considered gypsies. He was found murdered one day when he walked home from school but all the clues were pointing to the wrong person. Once her friends gave up her secret, this young girl, most likely 15 years old, admitted to murdering the young boy by strangulation with his scarf. The most stunning thing was at the end when the investigator asked her why she did it. Her response was “why not”? This is a very clear indication of no remorse and it is deviance and crime at the age of 15 which is a necessary requirement for the disorder, Antisocial personality disorder.
The idea that a child so young can commit such a heinous crime is unthinkable. I was very curious how a court room will handle such a case because the murderer is not an adult. The story of Jordan Brown was shocking to the world. How does a child that shows no signs of aggression murder a woman and her unborn baby? According to this video, a child’s brain is not fully developed at this age, especially the part about decision making and impulse. For this reason, the death penalty will no longer be an option for an child under the age of 18. Below is a Picture of him at the age of his conviction.
“Frediani has the personality of a sociopath, charismatic..and ultimately remorseless”(Weinberg, 339).
Samantha Weinberg visited Frediani while he was in prison, and while learnng about him, talked to a psychiatrist who was on the defense case, She described Frediani as “Charismatic, impulsive, hedonistic, smart, manipulative, faithless in sexual relationships, and utterly remorseless”(Weinberg, 339). We have learned so much about Frediani, And I do believe that he is a sociopath, wether he did it or not. For not showing emotion during the trial, relationships ending in failure, but always able to start a relationship, and convince many people that he was a good guy and was innocent. He was even convincing to Samantha, as she wrote the book in a way that we wanted him to be innocent. What doesn’t show that he is maybe not one?
“Frediani has the personality of a sociopath: Charismatic, impulsive, hedonistic, smart, manipulative, faithless in sexual relationships, and ultimately remorseless” (Weinberg Chapter 21, pg. 339)”
Chapter 21 of Pointing from the Grave explores how Frediani has personality traits of a sociopath. The quote above mentions how Frediani is faithless in relationships and that trait attributes to a sociopath. Throughout the story we learn that Frediani falls for women very fast and he sees himself together with his women for a long period of time. In his relationships everything is all good until suddenly something happens and Frediani begins to have aggressive behavior. His partners find it very hard to trust him because of his sudden behavior changes. I found an article discussing sociopaths in relationships that explore personality patterns.
Essentially sociopaths in relationships are confusing. They are confusing because their emotions are completely different from their partners. They lack empathy which is “the ability to understand or share feelings with another person” (Oxford English Dictionary). Sociopaths tend to be extreme with their emotions, one minute they are caring and the next they are angry. With this type of behavior, sociopaths are able to manipulate their partner. Their partner may not feel comfortable speaking about the harsh times of the relationship because the sociopaths can easily switch back to being sweet and kind. The relationships are a whirlwind of emotions that generally affect the person dating the sociopath. I was shocked learning about this type of relationship and truly hope anyone involved in a situation like this can find a way out of it.
Seeing as this is the last opportunity to discuss Pointing From The Grave in the commonplace book, I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions on the book. Overall, I thought this was a really intriguing book, not only because of the plot and storyline, but also because Samantha Weinberg does an excellent job of describing and educating readers about scientific information we read during the book. For example, before this book I didn’t even know a PCR machine existed, and after chapter 9 I was pretty much all filled in about how and why this machine is vital for investigators analyzing DNA. I also thought the way she covered events in the court room was stellar and she painted a perfect picture in my head about Frediani and his behavior. This book is not only just a true crime novel, but also a historical timeline of events that cover the progression of court cases and the revolution of biotechnology in the justice system.
“Paul is the kind of guy who sends Christmas cards and thank you cards on time. I keep thinking, did I miss something? Did I see any anger brewing up where it might have become uncontrollable? And the answer is no.”-Weinberg (p.341)
Frediani is described many times throughout the book as having multiple personalities. Many tried to link him to someone with multiple personality disorder and Kathy testifies to this idea. As she states, its apparent that Frediani had, or at least created the illusion that, he was two-faced. We’ve known thus all along so why is this significant? Well, if someone is unable to comprehend Frediani as committing these crimes than he must’ve had to have been a very genuine person. If someone states a fact and you still have trouble understanding, your counterargument must be very strong. We may not be able to comprehend it to the extent of Kathy because we are viewing the situation from an external point of view. But, if we put ourselves in her shoes and try imagining this in our own lives, Im sure it wouldn’t seem so crazy. If someone you knew very well and you admired was accused of the same crimes as Frediani, I’m sure we would all have our doubts. But, that is what separates us from felons. We don’t wear guiles to cover who we truly are. Frediani was a murderer and he was crazy enough to hide it. He was two people in one, and the worse half got the better of him. Our perception on the whole case is skewed because we cannot truly understand the emotions that run high during a time like this. But, Frediani was tow faced as we know, but it placed the most significant part in his life, and was ultimately the reason for his demise.
After reading this book, I have realized the extent to which testing or analyzing DNA can affect someone’s life. While reading the end of the book, and interesting thought came up for me: Is it better to live in a world where DNA use is very prominent or one where DNA use is virtually nonexistent? This book advocated for the use of DNA testing, especially in cases where it will help bring a killer to justice. In that instance it seems very beneficial to society, no question. But, with DNA tests becoming more and more advanced and it being applied in different ways, there is definitely a moral conflict. DNA can now be analyzed to identify defects and mutations in humans before they are even born. You could even rearrange DNA to eliminate these things, or to essentially “customize” a human to have the traits to want it to. Also, cloning is another example where DNA tampering might be crossing the line. In my opinion, DNA is starting to reach a point where any advancements can lead to controversy. Use of DNA is fine when you are using it in a criminal setting and trying to catch a murderer or rapist. But, when it is applied in order for a government to control its people or to clone humans, it is just going too far. Especially after interviewing a biologist yesterday, DNA can be a scary thing and that some of its uses may be immoral when applied to everyday life.
“3-4% of the American male population can be characterized as sociopathic” – Weinberg p. 339
In chapter 21 of Pointing from the Grave, Weinberg discusses her belief that Frediani is a sociopath. After reading this quote, I read into traits of sociopaths online . A common trait is superficial charm, something Frediani definitely possessed. Frediani was able to even charm Weinberg into feeling empathetic for him; she said that it was though he could put people under a spell. Another trait of sociopaths is an exaggerated sense of entitlement. They feel as though they have rights to things simply because of who they are. In this chapter, Weinberg states that if Frediani had killed Helena, he might not even feel that he is in the wrong. Rather, he might feel that his act was justified. Sociopaths also have somewhat of an incapability to love. Throughout this entire book, Weinberg ruins his relationship with women one after another due to his violent nature with them. Another trait of sociopaths is a need for stimulation and the inability to deny impulses. Frediani sexually assaults and murders Helena and there seems to be no true motive behind the acts. It’s suggested that perhaps he committed both of these crimes due to his own impulses that he just couldn’t deny. After reading all of these traits of sociopaths, I am convinced that Frediani is indeed a sociopath.
Chapter 19 once again discusses the idea that Frediani re-positioned Helena’s body at the crime scene, and I was intrigued to learn more about this course of action, which happens to be utilized by many murderers. After some searching on Google, I came across an informative website. It turns out that crime scene staging and positioning of the body play a huge part in the ultimate success of the investigation process. It makes sense that the manipulation of the body or any other elements of the crime scene makes it difficult to evaluate. Researchers have discovered that some murders stage the body for a few different reasons. First, some do it to mislead investigators. Often, this can be done with the purpose of making the homicide look like a suicide. Furthermore, some stage crime scenes in order to meet psychological needs. Positioning the body in a certain way so that it looks like an object, symbol, etc. almost always has some kind of significance. In this case, the position of the body could account for a message the murderer is trying to make. Lastly, the murderer may position the body in such a way as to leave a personal “trademark.” A lot of the time this is what is portrayed on television shows such as “Criminal Minds.” Overall, there is almost always a purpose for the re-positioning of the body, and this is an interesting point to consider given the state that Helena was left in.
While reading and learning about the serious case described in this book, I often thought about the task the jury had. Any jury that deals with a murder case has an immense amount of responsibility and based off the fact that I have yet to be selected to be part of a jury, I was wondering how one is properly selected. The following article does a great job explaining the process. After 12 people are selected from the jury list, the judge in the case asks them if they have any personal experiences that may cause them to be biased about the case. I was particularly interested in the voir dire, or interview process, that is conducted because I did not know it is often done by both of the lawyers. The article explains how the lawyers have the option of dismissing jurors based off a cause, such as a certain relative or job that connects them to the case. A peremptory challenge will allow a lawyer to dismiss a potential juror without any particular reason, but they are limited based on the case details and should not be biased based off of race or sex. Overall, the jury process involves mainly lawyers and the judge agreeing on 12 people who could properly and seriously come to conclusion on a court case.
Chapter 21 of Pointing from the Grave presents a quote which states that:
“3-4 percent of the American male population can be characterized as sociopathic; in prisons, this percentage rises to 20” (Weinberg p. 339).
This quote allowed me to realize that I have watched a lot of crime shows and movies, and heard the word sociopath thrown around a lot, but I never really knew the actual definition of it. I wanted to know what characteristics made up a sociopath, and from there be able to determine if I considered Frediani to be one or not. In my research of sociopaths, I found out that the ten characteristics that make them up are: charm, intelligence, lack of remorse, spontaneity, hatred of losing, incapability of love (real love), intense lying, poetical speech, lack of apology, and thinking that the things they say are truth even if they are not. By these characteristics, I would definitely classify Frediani as a sociopath, what do you guys think? Read a little more about sociopaths here, and let me know!
“I spoke to someone who had been involved in the case on the defense side, a psychologist. She said that, in her view, Frediani has the personality of a sociopath: charismatic, impulsive, hedonistic, smart, manipulative, faithless in sexual relationships, and ultimately remorseless.” -Weinberg, pg 339
I thought it was interesting that, following a discussion in class regarding possible personality disorders Frediani may have had, the book closes by addressing this idea.
But I’m also intrigued by the fact that a psychologist had been involved in Frediani’s case and had never testified. It seems she was able to create a relatively strong profile of Frediani as a sociopath–her description fits Frediani very well. Although the jury isn’t supposed to let themselves be swayed by emotion, building on the suspect’s character seems to be a key part of both the prosecution’s and the defense’s arguments. If the prosecution could suggest to the jury that the suspect is a sociopath, I’m sure they’d think it much more likely that such a person could commit murder.
Of course, it looks like this psychologist was working with the defense, and Bartick certainly would not have wanted the jury thinking his client was a sociopath. We don’t even know if the psychologist in question shared her view with anyone apart from Weinberg.
It certainly makes me wonder about the role of psychology in the courts.
“‘Does he look like he belongs in prison?’ he asks me. ‘She’s dead now, she has no family–so why does our family have to suffer, even if he is guilty?'” – Weinberg, p346
As I was reading the end of Weinberg’s book, this quote struck me as interesting and truly made me think about each word the Mr. Frediani was saying. It made me question whether what he was saying was right, or whether it was selfish considering Helena lost her life in an abrupt and cruel way, and her family had to suffer from the pain her loss caused them, and then ended up dying themselves after battling cancer. Some people may comment that the Frediani family lost a son, like the Greenwood family lost a daughter and wife, but I believe that they are much different types of losses. The Frediani family can still visit Paul in prison and write to him, whereas the Greenwood’s were suddenly stripped of all communication with Helena. That being said, it is evident that Paul is not living the free life he once was, and the Frediani family now feels that they have to hide this event from their community so that they are not judged for Paul’s actions. I do see Mr. Frediani’s point about how his family has had to suffer because of Paul’s actions because I could imagine how hard it would be for a normal family to be struck with this unfortunate series of events. However, I believe that Helena’s family suffered a much greater loss and therefore the Frediani family must accept that the product of their combined DNA broke the law, and that as a consequence their family has to suffer with him.
” Paul is the kind of guy who sends Christmas cards and thank you cards on time. I keep thinking, did I miss something? Did I see any anger brewing up where it might have become uncontrollable? And the answer is no.”-Weinberg (p.341)
In Pointing From the Grave, many people who knew Mr. Frediani describe him very differently. Some people, like Andrea, would describe him as very hostile, aggressive, and angry. However people from Frediani’s workplace and Kathy describe him as amiable, kind, and passionate. It can be baffling for readers to think Frediani as a normal person if he behaves very differently at times. However, what if Frediani wanted to portray himself in one way and a different way to others?
In life, human beings show many different attitudes depending who they are with. This touches the sociological concept of face. According to David Yau-fai Ho, the concept of face is clarified and distinguished from other closely related constructs: authority, standards of behavior, personality, status, dignity, honor and prestige. The claim to face may rest on the basis of status but may also vary according to the group with which a person is interacting. The idea of keeping face and portraying yourself to whomever you may be interacting with is a very interesting topic. It speaks to something that all us do. As social human being we desire to keep shown as certain person whenever we may be interacting with a certain group. For example, students in a classroom setting would interact in classmates and professors in a very professional matter. Students would refer to professors, a higher authority, with respect and call on them by their doctoral name. However, when that same student will act differently when he/she is outside the classroom and socializing with their friends. This change in face serves to provide that person with ability to socialize with certain groups depending who he/she is with. These social interactions can vary in considering different cultures. Depending on the culture we live in different social norms are acceptable while other behavior may be considered taboo.
“Hamer noticed a correlation: the people with more copies of the mini satellite- more stutters- exhibited a greater desire for novelty… It was one of the first studies linking a personality trait to a specified genetic state….In the coming decades, there will be a monumental leap in our knowledge of the genetic location of inherited diseases. And more and more genes will be discovered that link behavior to the chemicals in our brains, and genes tied to our urges and emotions” -Weinberg p 349-350
I think that if Weinberg were to comment on her speculation today, almost 15 years after the publication of her book, she would say genetic disease typing is moving a lot slower than she thought. I myself might just be out of the loop, but I feel like there have not been any major leaps forward in the field that studies genetic links to our personalities.
On the other hand, a 2012 article describing a study done by British researchers asserts that nature (genes) play more of a role in our personalities than nurture does, supposedly providing an answer to the nature vs. nurture debate. The study showed that identical twins were twice more likely to share personality traits than non-identical twins, who do not have identical DNA. The researchers focused on personality traits such as perseverance and self-control, and showed that there was the biggest genetic difference in these types of traits, i.e. the ability to keep going when things got hard. The researchers were less focused on individual talent, and more about what drove that talent.
I think that this is a very interesting and diverse field, with plenty of room for several applications and a great potential to make people’s lives better by understanding and diagnosing their conditions efficiently. But I also think it leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, particularly where what doctors diagnose as psychological conditions intermingle with what would now be known to be genetic predisposition. I also think that people might have more excuses for their behavior, now that they could blame their actions on DNA, or almost like instinct, as if they were forced to do something. But I think the biggest issue comes from what Weinberg was afraid of, completely knowing what every trait and gene in our body do and having a map of them. I think this is a ethical dilemma, and further research in this area would be open to ethical scrutiny of not done carefully.
“”The knowledge that this science will give cannot be unlearned once it is discovered” (Weinberg 350).
Weinberg states that in coming decades, more and more information will be found that explains the relationship between chemicals in the brain and behavior. Although genes have been studied and many advances have been made in the study of mental health, there is a lot to be learned in disorders which cannot be specifically defined.
In the case of Frediani, he had a personality disorder that could be very hard to identify. When diagnosing and treating mental disorders, some are very hard to categorize based on symptoms and behavior. Once more research is done on genes and specific disorders can be pinpointed, it will be very beneficial to anyone suffering with such a disorder. Even when brought up in court there could be solid evidence to prove someone is mentally unstable vs just the word of a doctor who examined the suspect.
“These are good people. They are victims as much as Sydney Greenwood was. What has happened to their son has taken over their life and they are wading through it every day, terrified to think about his future—or theirs” (Weinberg: 347).
You skip a rock across the surface of a lake, and barely any of the water moves or ripples. You throw a massive boulder in that very same lake, and not only do you get a giant splash but a rippling effect that can go on and on. This visual representation can provide a simple yet drastically indicative example of how crime can reverberate to different people; possibly those who had nothing to do with a crime in the first place.
Murder, rape, arson, and other horrific crimes tend to do this. Victims themselves and their families can and will experience the tragic ramifications that result from these kinds of crimes. The quote mentioned above though sheds light onto a different, more sympathetic perspective: that is, the perpetrator’s family. The perpetrator may be so far removed for his or her family that a crime he or she might commit may not have any initial effect; however, this perpetrator is still somebody’s daughter or son. This perpetrator was once a child, teenager, adult, senior, or someone along that process. The fact of the matter is that crime will erode the fabrics of our society from top to bottom. It’s not a matter of how big the boulder is that is dropped in a lake, but the reach of the rippling waves that are produced. The catch is that the even the smallest pebble will have a rippling effect that will reach the shore line, getting everybody wet.
“In an ideal world, there would be no imponderables in the judicial arena: the facts, the witnesses, the evidence would be laid out before the deciding panel. And money would play no part–in the choice of the lawyers the defendant could afford, or in the number and ability of expert witnesses the defense could hire. Justice would be perfect, transparent” (Weinberg: 336).
“Justice would be perfect.” Is this truly possibly? Can we really define justice anyway? Philosophically, justice is an opinion. ‘Right or wrong’ will always have its limitations, particularities, and redemptive qualities. Today’s justice may be tomorrow’s injustice. Do we define justice as a prison term, or by using the phrase ‘an eye for an eye.’ This famous phrase can often be split, disallowing the more ominous MLK Jr. alternative: ‘an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.’
Granted, Weinberg has some wishful ideas, but it in all realistic practices, we are all human who are subject to our error. In this error, we will never be allowed to properly “deal” with our problems. Justice can never be properly given because, simply put, we all have different conceptions into what should constitute appropriate justice. Victims or their families may want someone locked in a cage forever, subjected to the perpetrator’s own crime, or even be executed. These are just three broad paths that justice can fall under, but there will always be other forms and ideas as to how justice should be administered.
Weinberg is taking the more legalistic approach; however, her approach still touches upon similar shortcomings of justice itself. Leveling the playing field can though, in fact, bring about more equal outcomes which I feel is one common goal behind justice.
“They were still forbidden from discussing the case with each other or their families” (Weinberg 322).
During a case the jury is not allowed to talk to or discuss any of the legal proceedings in the case besides with the jurors themselves. This law or standard put in place is very similar to how patents and other laws that protect the ability from two different labs or research firms having the ability to talk about experiment and findings. In both cases the argument can stated that this stalls progress rather than improves upon it. In both cases the jury and the scientists can discuss and learn more about their findings rather than just having the opinions of their colleagues. It enhances both science and law as more people are aware and attentive to what is going on in the world and in turn solve the problem at hand. There must be some way that jurors and scientists are able to freely talk about their ideas and findings in order to progress both science and the law.
“‘You have about as much choice in some aspects of your personality as you do in the shape of your nose or the size of your feet.’ ” -Weinberg, 349-50
After reviewing the existences of the “gay gene” and the genetic mutation that makes people predisposed to aggressive and impulsive tendencies, Weinberg includes this quote from Dean Hamer, the scientist who found these genes.
This in particular is very interesting to me because it technically takes some responsibility for his crimes away from Frediani. The untreated genetic mutation that failed from discouraging Frediani the same way someone without the mutation might be discouraged is a rather compelling argument supporting Frediani’s innocence. Ultimately, the mutated genes did not force Frediani to do anything, nor do they absolve him from his actions as a “temporary insanity plea” would.
I wonder that if the jury had known about this gene mutation, and if it was explained to them in a similar way that the temporary insanity plea would be, would they have been more merciful. I don’t believe so, especially considering the more conservative area of Del Mar that Weinberg had described, because I’d imagine that the jury would feel his actions outweigh any genetic mutations that he has.
The final chapter and epilogue of pointing from the grave talk about the possibility of Frediani being a sociopath and how his childhood could have influenced his actions. However that reminded me of the warrior gene which we saw in a video a few weeks ago. I did some more research into the warrior gene and found that now it is also linked to anti social behavior. That surprised me and if it is true I do not think Frediani has the Warrior gene becasue in the book Pointing from the Grave he is portrayed as very outgoing, but had I not know that I had pretty much assumed that because Frediani was so aggressive he had the gene.
“She said that, in her view, Frediani has the personality of a sociopath: charismatic, impulsive, hedonistic, smart, manipulative, faithless in sexual relationships, and ultimately remorseless” – Weinberg, 339
Fifteen years later, Frediani is convicted of a murder that he did not commit. This psychologist that was on the trial has studied Frediani and has come to the conclusion that Frediani is a sociopath. These types of people, as mentioned in the quote, do not show remorse. However, later in the book he mentions that it was antidepressants that is what has made him continue on, and he would cry for no reason. In my opinion, him crying is showing emotions and it was when the feeling that he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison. He did show charisma, was impulsive with his exes, very smart, and sometimes it seemed he was manipulative, but is he really a sociopath?
At the end of the book, Frediani is repeatedly referred to a Sociopath. How can he be diagnosed as one without a formal psycho-analysis? Can you diagnose a Sociopath purely based on behavior and surface characteristics, or is it something hidden deep within the mind? Sociopaths have several key surface characteristics. Frediani is charming, during his young days with his roommates, he seduced several women a week and many people found him pleasant company. He clearly is very spontaneous and showed very little planning behind his sexual assaults of which he never showed any guilt or shame of committing. Paul also is capable of forming intense lies, like his alibis he created in court, and will do anything to win. He proved he was willing to kill Helena just to avoid prison time for his assault. Frediani, in my opinion was also incapable of love, he abused any person he was ever in a relationship with. And last but not lease, in this novel at least, we never hear an apology from Paul for either the assault or the murder. In my opinion an obvious sociopath.
“We are peering over the brink of an abyss. In the coming decades, there will be a monumental leap in our knowledge of the genetic locations of inherited diseases. And more and more genes will be discovered that link behavior to the chemicals in our brains, and genes tied to our urges and emotions.”- Weinberg, page 350 (Epilogue)
In her closing statements, Weinberg talks about inherited genes and infers that Frediani might have inherited sociopathic traits from his ancestors. On first glance, this statement seems kind of preposterous. Our genes determine our physical traits, but our mental ones, our attitudes and opinions, seem to come from other places. I have been raised to believe that our mental state results from our choices, beliefs and experiences. In other words, I would not act the same way I do today if I grew up in Amsterdam or if I was born into Donald Trump’s family. I always thought that someone goes thrill-seeking because they have a boring life, or someone is a sociopath because of traumatic experiences which cut them off from their emotions and morals.
However, this may not be exactly the case. Weinberg brings up Dean Hamer, who claimed to have identified genetic reasons for homosexuality as well as a gene that makes one seek out thrills. Here is an interview between him and Time magazine, for more information. His research suggests that many aspects of our personality come from our genes rather than our minds. This would not be an unprecedented idea; everyone knows someone who “acts just like their mother/father” or has heard of a family where a certain trait like aggressiveness or ignorance “runs in their blood”. In fact, Adolf Hitler’s descendants agreed never to have kids in order to end his bloodline, possibly out of the fear that being a ruthless dictator was an inheritable trait. Obviously it is still preposterous to think that a human mind is only a product of one’s genetics and not a myriad of factors, but Hamer’s information seems to show that we likely inherit many mental traits in addition to physical ones.
In Chapter 21, I found the statement from the Psychologist about Frediani’s personality to be intriguing:
“Frediani has the personality of a sociopath: charismatic, impulsive, hedonistic, smart, manipulative, faithless in sexual relationships, and ultimately remorseless” (Weinberg, 339).
This was not the first time the possibility that Frediani had a sociopathic personality has been brought up in the novel. However, following the end of the trial I was inclined to believe that Frediani was indeed sociopathic. I looked up information about connections between sociopathic personalities and violent or murderous behavior. I found an article titled, “The Sociopath-Serial Killer Connection.” This article stated that many of the qualities that are common in serial killers are also common characteristics of sociopaths. Frediani was not a serial killer, but I was interested in seeing how many of these qualities were similar between Frediani and serial killers. The article listed some of the same qualities of a sociopath as the psychologist Weinberg quoted: “a disregard for laws and social mores, a disregard for the rights of others, a failure to feel remorse or guilt, and a tendency to display violent behavior.” These are all qualities that Frediani displayed over and over again. The article also stated that sociopaths are “easily agitated” and “prone to emotional fits of rage.” This is consistent with Frediani’s behavior around his girlfriends. He showed a pattern of getting easily agitated and ended up physically enraged with them.
However, there were also a few statements made in this article about sociopathic behaviors and killers that do not resemble Frediani’s behavior throughout the novel. The article states that sociopaths “often live on the fringes of society . . . are unable to hold down a steady job, and are unable to stay in one place for very long.” This is not descriptive of Frediani’s typical behavior. He lived in a highly populated city. He was usually able to hold down a job and even managed to get promotions. He lived in San Francisco for years, moving only when his circumstances changed. The article stated that sociopaths often appear to be disturbed. However, whenever any of his close friends or coworkers were asked about Frediani’s behavior prior to his crimes, no one saw anything unusual in his behavior. In fact, they often wondered, “was there something that I missed?” And finally, the article states that sociopathy is often thought to be the result of a person’s environment, such as childhood trauma or abuse, rather than an “in-born characteristic.” Frediani, however, was raised with a relatively normal childhood. He found his parents to be quite strict, but we weren’t informed of any life-changing trauma or abuse in his past. The reader is left unaware of any event(s) in Frediani’s past that would likely be the underlying cause of this antisocial personality disorder.
I am left wondering, was Frediani a sociopath and therefore his actions are less surprising, or does he simply display some sociopathic tendencies and in truth he is just a murderer?
Some unwanted qualities can come with the job of being a defense attorney– especially if the attorney believes his/her client is in fact guilty of the crime they are charged with. However, like we have seen so far in Pointing From The Grave, the difference between what the defendant did, and what the prosecutor can prove is the ultimate decider in criminal cases. Throughout the history of our justice system many high profile cases that have made their way to national television have solidified the notion that sometimes guilty people can get away with murder if their attorney proves beyond a reasonable doubt that his/her client didn’t do as they are charged. For example, in the O.J. Simpson case, his “dream team” of Lawyers at some point in the case probably realized that they were representing a man who probably committed the double murder he was being charged with. However, even though their defense wasn’t that strong, they found ways to make the prosecution’s attack on Simpson seem less credible than it was. How hard do you think it is for a lawyer to successfully draft up a defense for a client that for the most part actually committed the crime? Do you think there are an ethical boundaries that he/she must face if they chose to accept an example of such a case? At the end of the day, being a lawyer is still a job. People earn a living representing people and I think that if defense attorneys keep this “ethical dilemma” in their minds then they will not be able to do their job correctly.
In the book a psychologist stated that Frediani has the characteristics of a sociopath and describes him as “charismatic, impulsive, hedonistic, smart, manipulative, faithless in sexual relationships, and ultimately remorseless.” (339) This got me wondering if Frediani had shown these characteristics the whole time throughout the book and what clues the author had given to this possibility.
I found an article that is title “The Six Hallmarks of a Sociopath.” This addressed the different ways to identify if someone is actually a sociopath. Many of the hallmarks fit Frediani perfectly. Especially number 5 which was “Externalizes blame. The sociopath does not take ownership or blame for his mistakes or misdeeds.” Throughout Frediani’s assault trial he did not show any signs of guilt or recognition that he had sexually assaulted Helena and he didn’t not admit that it was wrong until his trial for Helena’s murder many years later. Another one that fit Frediani was number 2 which said “Manipulates others, either from the sidelines or directly.” Frediani got many people to lie or cover for him when he felt that the police were closing in on him. He made sure to get an alibi to cover his tracks. http://blogs.psychcentral.com/childhood-neglect/2015/09/the-six-hallmarks-of-a-sociopath/
This article opened up my eyes to the way that Frediani acted and even offered some explanation to why he committed such horrible acts against the many women he came into contact with.
The close of the novel was a very interesting one. Frediani was found guilty and brought to prison; however, his time in prison was what stood out most. Weinberg stated that Frediani was part of a psychological case study that dealt with parenting styles and behavior, very similar to the nature vs. nurture debate that states that either it’s your genes that make up your behaviors or its the external forces and influences of the environment that shape behavior. During this case study Frediani suggests that his parents were very strict, his dad had a macho attitude, and his mother rarely stood up to him. During his adolescent years Frediani stated that he had built up an enormous resentment towards his parents and started acting out. This idea was very interesting because it was also brought up but quickly overlooked at the very beginning of the novel. It is interesting to think about whether it was Frediani’s life and the influences of his parents that made him have mood swings and exhibit irregular behavior at times. While genes make up the traits of an individual, there is a heavy influence of external environment and parenting styles that shape the behavior of an individual. It was also interesting because Frediani was referred to as possessing the characteristics of a sociopath early in Chapter 21. This makes an interesting connection between the way in which Frediani described his young life and the behaviors exhibited in his new self. Below is a link that explains the nature vs. nurture debate in more depth and it is interesting to see the connections between Frediani’s external influences and how that shaped his behavior with the debate below.
“He directed her to her testimony at the preliminary hearing. She had described then how she had collected the fingernail cuttings and scrapings and put them in paper bindles. Now they were in clear boxes. When had they been transferred? Mary Pierson said had no independent recollection. It was a phrase that was becoming more familiar with the trial.” -Weinberg (p. 287)
During the time of the investigation of a crime scene it is pertinent to keep a chain a custody of any physical evidence collected. This provides a means of monitoring where and when the evidence is being stored. If the chain of custody is improperly managed then the evidence collected at the crime scene could be thought that it it could have been potentially tampered with. In cases where DNA, a piece of physical evidence, is the only evidence that links the defendant to the crime scene it is crucial that this evidence is held under the proper protocol and management. Because if it isn’t properly cares then evidence used court can be dismissed. Taking a forensic entomology class at Loyola, I learned that when investigating a crime scene it is critical to annotate everything done in and out of the crime scene. So that there are no inconsistencies and have the forensic eyewitness report allowed in court.
The chain of custody described by the SART Toolkit says, “To maintain chain of custody, you must preserve evidence from the time it is collected to the time it is presented in court. To prove the chain of custody, and ultimately show that the evidence has remained intact, prosecutors generally need service providers who can testify.” These service providers are typically the forensic scientists or trained policemen that can explain:
That the evidence offered in court is the same evidence they collected or received.
the time and date the evidence was received or transferred to another provider.
That there was no tampering with the item while it was in custody
All these components are critical for a service provider to have. Not only will they explain that the procedures done in the crime were up to protocol standards under oath but also convince the jury that the evidence is reliable. This requires a lot of understanding of the scientific methods used as well as have ability to be well spoken. The art of testifying is can be difficult and daunting for most people. Withstanding the badgering by defense lawyers, and surviving shots made towards your credibility as a scientist are some qualities that not all service providers have. That is why its important when dealing with trials, like the Frediani case, to have service providers that hold their own against sharks of defense lawyers.
In most every case we see in our court system, if the defendant can afford a lawyer, they do so because they feel as if they have no chance in winning unless they pay for the service. However, in the case of murder, the questions of whether the lawyer knows if his client is guilty or not questions the moral compass of the lawyer. Should it bother the lawyer that they are defending a person guilty or rape, murder, embezzlement etc. ? In my opinion, it takes a certain mindset to do this job. The person in law schooling interested in becoming a defense lawyer has to be aware of the moral decisions he must make in his profession. I am not implying that these decisions are going to ever be easy or morally correct but this is what the profession brings. If a person can handle these situations than it might make them an excellent defense lawyer.
However, a hired defense lawyer’s obviously have a choice to let go of the client but if its a public defender they have no choice. Public defenders are assigned to a case and usually have to stay. It is part of a lawyers duty as a job to do what is best for their client, so they cannot try to give up the case. It is like gambling, the lawyer has to take the best shot at the case and it is for his own reputation as well as the well being of his client.
Another interesting suggestion I thought of was what if they client admits they are guilty but could be lying to the lawyer. There have been many cases where people try and take the rap for a loved ones bad doings so that they do not spend the rest of their life in jail. For example, a parents who knows his child committed homicide. In this case, it also doesn’t seem beneficial for the defense lawyer to know whether they are guilty or innocent. Even if they get an answer, it could be a lie in either direction. Over all, it is the side that makes the strongest case for the conviction. The way evidence is presented to the jury is a huge aspect of how the verdict comes out. Stronger evidence such as DNA, has become extremely useful in our court systems today. They knowledge of DNA has also broadened due to it being taught during primary schooling and the fact that it is all over crime shows. The awareness of it has grown which makes it more difficult for a murder/ rapist to get away with their crime.
In chapter 18, Frediani’s lawyer David Bartick takes an interesting approach regarding the DNA evidence being used in the case. He specifically states, “DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, but in this case, what the DNA is going to stand for is, DOES NOT APPLY.” I think it is very interesting that Bartick takes such a negative stance regarding the new technology and science that could prove his clients innocence. One would think that Frediani would be an extreme advocate of the use of DNA in hopes that it would finally set the truth state regarding his criminal activity. If Frediani had really not committed the murder, I think he would be much supportive of using DNA tests to prove that. All he would need is to prove that his DNA did not match any of that found at the crime scene. However, Bartick with his theatrical opening statement and negative view of DNA, seems almost desperate. Anyone who so blatantly claims their innocence would want to prove their case in the most accurate and efficient way possible, which for Frediani would be the use of DNA. DNA testing has not always been kind to Frediani, but he understand the weight it holds in court and if he could use that to his advantage, I don’t see why he wouldn’t.
Chapter 18 of Pointing from the Grave continues with Frediani’s trail. Bartick begins questioning the DNA samples that were collected at the scene of the crime. He brings up the hair sample that was picked up by hand, and placed into an old dirty cigarette box. Clearly this is no proper way to handle DNA that can put somebody in prison for the rest of their life. So that got me thinking, “What is the proper way to handle a hair sample?” I went online and found the article that I attached below. It’s pretty interesting check it out. It discusses the ins and outs of collecting DNA samples at a crime scene, particularly hair. Go to the web link below an click on the section titled hair.
“They sit as far away from away from everyone else they can, and make sure their lines of sight cannot be intercepted” (pg.269)
Chapter 18 of “Pointing From the Grave” introduces the jury and the jury’s place in the Ferdiani trial. The jury consists of the body of people that give a verdict in legal cases on the basis of the evidence submitted to them in court. In many court cases especially high profile cases the media is heavily involved. The media has a big influence on society and spreads information to many people. When crimes receive lots of media the defendant, prosecutors and defense attorneys deal with the challenge of having the public know everything that is going on with the case. Essentially, the media can be a big distraction. The jurors are hidden from the media but still have to deal with press and their cameras in the courtroom. Media is a good thing because it keeps the public informed however it is stressful to have media involved in high profile trials.When I was reading this chapter I kept on thinking on how everyone felt in the courtroom with so many people surrounding them. Everyone works hard to present their case and nobody wants to be biased. Ferdiani’s jurors had to keep straight faces in the courtroom to stay unbiased and focused on the facts of the case. I look forward to observing how the media is like on the next high profile court case in the news.
Detective Decker took the stand to report what he has observed from Helena’s murder scene. While mentioning that he checked to make sure the gate latch shape matched the mark on Helena’s head, he was told to be more professional about addressing the deceased:
“The judge admonished him for calling her Helena, as if he knew her–asked him to be more formal.” -Weinberg, 282
I wonder, first of all, why the Detective used “Helena” in the first place. An established and successful Detective, Decker would have been to hundreds of trials, all where the proceedings and level of formality remains the same. He knew that he shouldn’t have called her “Helena”, but rather “Dr. Greenwood.”
Maybe, after searching of for her murderer for fifteen years, Detective Decker is haunted by Helena’s cold case. Maybe, just like Laura Heilig (who had been studying the case since 1998 and knew Helena’s face, job, interests, and family better than any other investigator) he became attached to the story.
Such expressions of emotion are predictable from other, less professional witnesses, like Roberta Loiterton, who cried on the stands (Weinberg, 279). A detective should not be as obviously affected and emotional by the case.
“It gave Valerie an opportunity to put the photograph of Helena, crumpled behind the gate, back on the easel. For the rest of day two, the jury was confronted with this constant reminder of the pathos of violent death.” Weinberg, pg 280
Reading this chapter, the word ‘pathos’ jumped out at me. I’m currently taking a class in rhetoric, or the art of persuasion. And we learned about the three main types of arguments a person can make: logical arguments, based in the issue itself (logos), ethical arguments, based in the speaker’s reputation (ethos), and pathetic arguments, based in emotion (pathos). Based on this quote, it appears obvious that the prosecuting attorney is trying to get an emotional reaction out of the jury by leaving the picture of Helena’s body on display. She wants the jury to feel pity for the victim, which would lead to the jury feeling anger towards Frediani, which would in turn lead to his conviction. Pathos can be used to create very compelling arguments, especially in a case such as this one, a case so focused on people.
But the above quote isn’t the only mention of emotional appeals in this chapter.
“Solemn-faced, the twelve file into their seats on the first morning of their duties and listen as the judge instructs them of their powers, that they must apply the law without being influenced by pity or passion, and based on the facts and the evidence presented to them.” -Weinberg, pg 270
This explanation of the jury’s responsibilities makes it clear that they’re expected to ignore any emotional appeals made throughout the trial. Frediani should be convicted or exonerated based on evidence alone.
And yet the prosecution and defense will inevitably use pathos in their arguments, trying to stir up pity for the victim or the suspect, passion against the accused or the prosecution. Because they know that facts can be ignored and witnesses can be discredited. But it’s very hard to forget how something or someone made you feel.
“you are not an expert in… molecular biology…biochemistry…Population studies…demography?” “No” (Weinberg, 289)
one of the biggest things that stood out to me in this case about Frediani getting the death penalty or not was when Bartick called Harmor to the stand, who made the DNA analysis and said that it was Frediani, but the man does not have an expertise in the fields mentioned that are major factors for finding answers in the DNA for the case to prove innocence or guilt. With anything that takes the most accuracy and for it to be done right, you have to have someone who is the most capable doing it. This case might end alot different because of this, and people don’t realize it.
“Taylor’s laboratory had spent the last year running all sorts of tests on the Profiler Plus system and the 310 Genetic Analyzer, he told Bartick. On numerous occasions, the results had been, at best, ambiguous.” -Weinberg 259
I find it very astounding to think that DNA tests that were being used to test people’s innocence or guilt in certain situations were not giving clear results. I think that when people’s lives are at stake, everything should be as blatantly clear as possible. This obviously ties in to the Innocence Project and its purpose of freeing wrongly convicted people, but it was from the other side: using DNA evidence to show that people were innocent. I think that it is a hard line to walk, especially because DNA evidence has the power to be so influential, so it is important that it be used ethically and carefully.
This also brings into question the nature of the court system and prosecution. Why were they so quick to accept the lab results given to them? I think it was because they were amazed by the infallibility of DNA. But as infallible as science is, it can be fallible when handled or interpreted incorrectly, either on purpose or unknowingly. I think that the best solution for this is to do all testing blind, but most importantly, make sure the technology is 100 percent accurate before it is used to convict someone of a crime. I think the end goal of the courts should be to find the person who committed the crime, not just a person.
“At this point, Frediani is not a real person to me; just a man accused of murder, approaching his day of judgement. My thoughts and sympathies are with Helena Greenwood, the victim, the person I am already relating to” – Weinberg, p238
I found this quote from chapter 16 very interesting for two reasons. Firstly, I wondered whether Weinberg was putting into words what all the jurors who were gathered for this case were already thinking. It prompted me to question whether people can have an unbiased view when they are involved in the trial of a murder case. Personally, I think it would be hard for me to go into a murder trial with an open mind about hearing the suspected murderer’s side of the story. Although the person is not convicted yet, the word “murderer” resonates badly, and even though it is coupled with the word suspected, murderer overshadows this word and consequently, I believe it blurs the vision of the jurors. Secondly, Weinberg statement that “Frediani is not a real person” to her anymore is a very strong and opinionated statement. Throughout her book, Weinberg seems to contradict this statement since she makes Frediani into a very real person for her readers by writing about what his family thinks about him, and how he has redeemed himself and made a better life for himself after the sexual assault trial. It is interesting to me that although Weinberg says that Frediani is not a real person to her anymore, she creates him to be a person in order for her readers to build their own opinions about him.
“The independent labs have an economic motivation to come up with a result, and most of the time,they’re being paid by the prosecution”- Weinberg 263
In Chapter 17, Kary Mullis says the above quote when talking about how DNA evidence can be faked or changed. His argument is that the independant labs that do the DNA testing are paid by the prosecution, meaning it’s in their interest to come up with incriminating results. Every journalist, lawyer, and news reporter knows this kind of motivation as bias. When you will gain something from supporting a certain side, it greatly impacts your decisions and statements. If a political candidate is threatening to tax educators, than they probably wouldn’t get a lot of support from professors and teachers. However, forensic labs may not be as biased as Mullis states; in one of the videos we watched in class on Tuesday, we saw many examples of forensic experts who truly strive to keep our justice system working correctly. One of these experts did DNA testing on evidence from crime scenes, and we saw that they often were not told if their evidence convicted someone or not. Either way, this is an important flaw in our justice system that we must be aware of in the future.
“A television camera is being set up, a press photographer leans against the barrier between the court and the spectators. Four reporters take their seats across the aisle from the family…” – Weinberg p. 270
Often times, high-profile cases, such as death penalty cases, attract a swarm of media attention, leaving up to question: how much does the media actually influence these cases? According to Capital Punishment in Context, jurors who are qualified for such death penalty cases are statistically likely to watch daily news programs and are, overall, well educated. Therefore, these jurors tend to be more biased against defendants by nature. These jurors are able to recognize the facts of a high-profile case and statistically are more likely to believe the defendant to be guilty. Likewise, in cases that are highly publicized, judges are more likely to give more serious punishments than in cases with little publicity. They feel the responsibility to punish someone for a crime that has received a lot of fame and buzz. Lastly, the potential for fame and profit can affect the way some lawyers act. They can develop motives aside from defending or prosecuting someone. For example, it’s been discovered that famed female serial killer Aileen Wuornos’ lawyer lacked prior crime law experience but rather took the case for her own potential benefit. Overall, media plays a large role in high-profile cases. The unfathomable attention that these cases draw bring about a new sense of pressure for the jurors, judges, and lawyers to do their jobs properly.
Chapter 16 begins to get to the ladder part of the case with Frediani and brings up the possibility of him facing the death penalty. Executions from the death penalty have occurred in thirty-four states since its coming back in the year 1976, but I was curious if the death penalty will ever be banned again. This article does a great job providing 5 reasons why the death penalty is slowly fading away . I will detail two of these reasons as talking about all five will be too long of a post. Reason 1 details the fact that despite the many methods of execution that were preformed over the years, the deaths do not always go smoothly and effectively. The older ways such as burning and electrocution clearly caused problems of slow deaths that can even take hours for the person to die, but lethal injection was not the effective way that some people thought it would be. Pharmaceutical companies will not always supply their drug for the purpose of execution and cases of botched injections have occurred. When there is no certain way to make these deaths quick these executions are only becoming a hassle. Another reason listed in the article is the constant burden that the U.S. Supreme Court faces. There is never a fine line about who should live and who should die in cases and the talks of this controversial topic will never cease to end with it still being an option. The Time article even goes on to say that the Justices know that the modern day death penalty is set up in a failed way, and this would lead us to believe that eventually they will just get tired of trying to “prop up this broken system”.
The death penalty is kept for the most heinous crimes committed by people, but, the vast majority of crimes that result in the death penalty are from trials for murder. But for even the most evil and twisted of crimes such as the rape of a child or torture, federal government has outlawed the practice. The case that went to the Supreme Court to decide this was a 2003 case, Kennedy v. Louisiana; it was a case involving Patrick Kennedy, who raped his step-daughter and was given the death penalty in Louisiana for his crimes. However, after his lawyers appealed this ruling with the circuit court of appeals, the case ended up in the supreme court where the majority ruled that “as it relates to crimes against individuals, though, the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.” (1) Although, murder is not the only crime that can result in a death sentence, “espionage, treason, trafficking large quantities of drugs, and attempting to kill any officer, juror,or witness in cases involving Continuing Criminal Enterprise” (1) (“large-scale drug traffickers who are responsible for long-term and elaborate drug conspiracies” (2)).
“In the United States, Governor George Ryan of Illinois, a pro-death-penalty Republican, imposed a moratorium on capital punishment after thirteenth wrongly convicted man was released from death row in his state following DNA confirmation of his innocence”-(Weinberg 249-250)
The general consensus for DNA is that it is the best form of evidence when dealing with high profile cases. Often it has been used to put away the right people however, there have been cases to which the DNA was tampered with leaving innocent people in jail or worse dead. The death penalty is something very unique to this country as most developed nations have gone away from using capital punishment. There have been instances in which the prosecution or defense tampers with the DNA results leaving the jury to make an imperfect decision. Therefore what is the best solution to this very serious problem. I for one believe there should be more government intervention in order to avoid this problem of killing innocent people. Yet, in this case DNA here spared a man’s life as it proved his innocence.
“I thought then that a person who was innocent, as he had proclaimed through two trials, would certainly want to see the results of DNA testing before going to trial…the fact that he avoided the DNA testing by pleading spoke volumes” (Weinberg: 180).
“And he got away with it; got away with it until now. Thank you” (Weinberg: 321).
These quotes, both from persecutors in the sexual assault case and murder respectively, really show the guilt behind Frediani. But what was his motive? Well, there are multiple reasons why he may have committed the sexual assault, but it seems that DNA was the answer behind a no contest plea in the first case, indicating something deeper about this case that truly makes you believe that he had motive to kill.
That’s what crime is all about, isn’t it? Motive. It is the inspiration to do your crime. Why commit something if you have no motive. Motive truly is the most important aspect of a criminal case, for without any motive, it seems to be quite difficult to demonstrate that a defendant has a reason to do whatever the crime may be. It’s not hard to illustrate circumstantial evidence that is coincidental and superficial; however, once there is a concrete reason as to why the circumstantial lines up with other details, motive can be established, consisting of reason and logic for the particular act.
In Chapter 18 it the prosecution discusses that they were given the clues to look for trace DNA evidence on Helena’s body by using blood stain analysis to determine where she was attacked. This lead them to discover areas on her body where an attacker might have left DNA such as the blood around her ankles and under her fingernails. After watching the video last week which included a segment about blood stain analysis I wanted to do a little more research on it. I learned that “Bloodstains are classified into three basic types: passive stains, transfer stains and projected or impact stains”. (Source Article) Usually most Blood Pattern Analysis happens after they have categorized the stain because certain stains are more common with certain crimes. Also often footprints and other markings can be identified and used as evidence which I thought was very neat. Overall the article has a lot of good information about blood pattern analysis and I recommend you check it out.
Lawyers are faced with the critical task of choosing individuals to make up their jury. In civil cases, a jury can be made up of anywhere from six to twelve people, while most federal cases consist of a twelve-person jury. One of the main responsibilities that these lawyers are obligated to carry out not only involves gathering a group of 6-12, but finding the right group, made up of people who can be trusted to tell the truth at all times. As I have limited knowledge when it comes to lawyers and jurors, I looked to Mental Flossto better my understanding of how the selection process works, and I learned that many different components are taken into consideration — some even slightly surprising. The first factor listed as part of the selection process is relationships. Lawyers look to make sure that one’s relationships do not affect their opinions. For example, any linkage to someone in law enforcement (police officers, jailers, probation officers) can create too much of a bias. Going off of this, lawyers are also going to look at one’s previous experience with the law. Even if there is no direct relationship to the people listed above, bias can still exist about these people based upon personal experience. Unwanted experience with the law, for example, may impact a juror’s handling of the case. The ideal candidate is someone who is accepting, open-minded, and trusting of the law. Another way to pick out bias is to do a background check of the potential jurors on the internet, as it is helpful in revealing information about a juror that the juror themselves may not directly state.
The following components of the selection process came as no surprise to me: body language, attitude, leadership skills, and religion. Little did I know that lawyers will even consider hair and clothing. These factors seem appropriate from the stakeholder of an employer conducting a job interview, but the fact that lawyers pay attention to them struck me as surprising. The website informed me that “open and receptive jurors will have hair that is casual and naturally flowing, rather than highly styled or gelled or plastered to the head.” Same for clothes; open and accepting jurors will dress casual. A rather superficial point to consider, but I suppose it makes sense in a courtroom setting.
In Chapter 17 of Pointing From The Grave by Samantha Weinberg, David Bartick, the defense lawyer hired by the Frediani’s considers using the defense of planted evidence to get Paul acquitted of his charges. In tv shows on a regular basis cops plant evidence on criminals to get convictions. But how often does this happen in real life? how many times do the police get caught doing it? This article sheds some light on cops planting evidence. It would have been completely possible for police to plant Frediani’s dna since it had already been collected by law enforcement, so is there a federal agency watching over this case like in the ones mentioned in the article? Perhaps the lab did in fact plant the dna to get a conviction since Frediani was the only suspect.
“In April 2002, a national landmark was reached when the one hundredth person was freed from death row, after DNA had proved him innocent” (Weinberg: 250).
This quote reveals two core issues: the death penalty itself, and then innocent people in prison. Put the two together, and you get a nasty combination that highlights one of or the greatest fault in the criminal justice system: innocent people have more likely than not been executed in our country.
Firstly, the death penalty, in my opinion, should not exist, but my reasoning has actually nothing to do with executions themselves. Death row incarcerates such a small minority of the overall prison population that it seems to me that it does not have any deterring effect on crime. Death row inmates will spend an average of 7 years awaiting appeals and other delays that prevent a speedier process. Granted, there are safeguards in place that are supposed to ensure that someone who is put to death is guilty as guilty gets, but these safeguards are expensive, costing sometimes millions of dollars per case. Furthermore, the criminal justice system, namely court rooms mistakes and misconducts, land an unknown percentage of people in jail or prison who are innocent. With innocent people being exonerated from death row, it makes you realize that even with safeguards in place there will still be error that executes innocent people: the greatest miscarriage of justice.
If only there was a better way one may ask. I for one think that “rotting” in prison for the rest of your life is quite inhumane, so it might be better to just remove this particular person from society fatally if they deserved it. However, and as cited above, there a number of problems with having a system that does execute people. More innocent people would end up on death row if there wasn’t enough litigation behind it. Overall, the death penalty is an ineffective means of preventing crime, and there are just too many nuisances that do not make it a good system. The death penalty is a lose-lose no matter how you critique it. Our judicial system is intentionally cumbersome so people do not get unjustly punished, but there is an irony in this that creates a multitude of its own issues as well.
In chapter 16 the book discussed people’s differing opinions on the death penalty. It was decided that the death penalty would have been too harsh and that the jury would not have been able to sentence Frediani to death simply based on the evidence presented. Although Heilig did not agree and she thought that yes Frediani deserved to die because of what he did to Helena. I wanted to know more about the death penalty in the United States and if most people agreed with Heilig’s mentality of an eye for an eye.
I found this article that put the death penalty into a different perspective for me. Lincoln Caplan talks about how there have been “more than fourteen hundred executions in the United States”. This really puts into perspective how much the death penalty has been used throughout the years. Is this acceptable? He also goes into talking about the different ways that these people are killed and how many of these drugs have not been approved by the FDA. Also he says that 152 times people have been exonerated. Mistakes have been made and this has cost innocent people their lives.
I know that Frediani is guilty but what if he wasn’t? Is killing him because he killed Helena really a good punishment? Should the punishment always fit the crime? Before I read this article I completely agreed with Heilig, but after reading the article I have begun to rethink my stance on the death penalty.
In this chapter, we are now clear that Frediani is guilty. Some have their doubts about this reality, but the probability of his guilt is much higher than that of his innocence. This makes me wonder, if the defense attorney knows his or her client is guilty, do you think they lack morality in a sense that they are defending a guilty man. It is vague to me of what a defense lawyer really wants. Is it money or justice. It is likely that Frediani’s lawyer knew he was guilty via the evidence the prosecution presented. Does this make the lawyer any less of a person. Socially, would it be normal for people to assume that one trying to defend a convict is just as guilty. With this thought in mind, I feel hate and anger would be present toward that defense attorney.
Towards the end of this chapter it is said that there is difficulty in placing a burden on a jury and giving them the power to decided if a man lives or not. Obviously, this is true to some extent, but on the contrary it does sound extremely terrifying. If a mans life is placed inside the grasp of random people that are likely to have no knowledge on the defendant, this can be extremely controversial. I think that this should be the case on crimes where the prosecution is able to describe and analyze the crime so throughly that the jurors can almost paint the picture in their heads, but cases like Frediani, there was a good amount of vagueness in the obtained evidence, most of which the jury had no knowledge of. I think that placing someones life inside the hands of the uninformed results in an undeserved fate for the defendant
on page 230, this conversation takes place between Laura, Vic and Frediani: “Then how come we have your DNA?” “As far as DNA evidence, oh, I’m sure you’ve got some DNA evidence that probably points to me. Where you got it, how you got it, that’s a whole different matter. I’ve been in your custody for a long time.” “Why would we want to plant evidence?” Clearly these prosecutors are trying to get a confession out of him in a tactic that seems to be duress. Frediani remains calm and shows no evidence of fear or nervousness. He claims that the obtained DNA at the scene was not directly pointing to him for the crime. I feel that sometimes, if the prosecution is biased against the defendant, they may try and squeeze out a vague and false confession just to put him away. Is this type of aggression during interrogations fair.
On Page 216 it say “lt was good for us that Frediani knew nothing about our investigations,” said Laura Heilig. This makes me wonder, why is it good that Frediani does not know anything about the investigations, given his current mental state and his plea, what would him having knowledge on every step the prosecution took to convict him have to do with the chance of conviction. This makes me think that if she had said that then there is a possibility that some strings were pulled illegally. In one of my posts I had elaborated on the fact that Frediani was guilty before proven innocent. Do you think that it is fair for the police or prosecution members to obtain evidence in a snake like way, just to see a man that hasn’t been proven guilty yet put away for life.
When Frediani was first questioned and trialed for the sexual assault of Helena Greenwood, he was described as having these intense change of emotions. He would go from looking frantic to bored to nervous. It causes me to wonder how Frediani uses his emotions against the jury, does he manipulate them? Another instance of his changing demeanor:
“Laura and Vic were trying every tactic the could; cajoling, riling, persuading, threatening. But Frediani did not break… Frediani barely raised an eyebrow” (Weinberg 230)
In this point in time, I see why it would be convenient for Frediani to keep his cool without a presence of a lawyer, especially as an established white-collar worker. But why did he make no move to defend himself? Why does he possess so much confidence when the odds are stacked against him? His actions tie into our class discussion on anti-social personality disorder and bipolar personality disorder.
In Chapter 16, Weinberg takes a trip to visit Helena’s father, Sydney Greenwood. During her visit, Sydney recounts many memories of his life as a young man, and of Helena’s life. He prided on her accomplishments, and when speaking on her life and murder said:
“Her killer took her life, but he did not silence her. It has taken fifteen years, but I know Helena has spoken from the grave to indict her killer” (244)
This passage gave me chills because it acknowledges the irony of Helena’s career and its connection to her death. Helena had studied the versatility of DNA, and it is ironic to see what a large part it plays in her murder case. Would she be proud of the advancements of her field even though she was a clear sacrifice for its progression? It is grim subject, but I cannot help but wonder.
While Chapter 16 discussed issues involving the verdict of the case, there was heavy discussion on the importance and advancements of DNA. Particularly involving the Human Genome Project and the ability to genetically identify individuals characteristics, traits, and diseases based on their genome and genetic sequence. In regard to these ideas, there was talk of inappropriate reasons for genetic testing such as genetic engineering if children, and aborting fetuses due to unhappiness with traits that are expressed by fetuses. I thought this was very interesting however, with such a new advancement Weinberg never touched upon the risks of genetic testing. She stated that individuals terminate pregnancies due to unwanted characteristics in the fetus however, can genetic testing also cause that unwanted characteristic? Are there risks? Below is a link from the NIH listing the risks of genetic testing. While it suggests that risks are low due to only using blood samples or cheek swabs, there is severe risk of harming the baby and causing disabilities when doing prenatal testing such as amniocentesis. Thus, it is also important to look at the risks of doing such procedures before looking at the strengths immediately for such a new advancement.
One of the main topics in our discussions this week has been about Frediani’s mental health. The question of whether Frediani has a personality disorder or if he simply enjoyed the thrill of molesting women and murder has been a conversation covered in class. I am currently taking psychopathology and we have learned about many disorders people suffer from. Shockingly enough, a large percentage of americans suffer from at least one disorder throughout their life time. The most prevalent ones are depression and substance abuse. For Frediani’s case, as a class we hypothesized that he may have borderline personality disorder or antisocial disorder. However, the book never discusses this possibility. The DMS-5 classifies borderline personality disorder to have multiple checklist criteria that must be present in order for someone to be diagnosed. However, a person does not have to exhibit all the behaviors to be diagnosed. Based on the criteria for borderline personality disorder, I believe Frediani may suffer from this disorder rather than antisocial disorder.
a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
Frediani is constantly in and out of romantic relationships through out the book. I swear every chapter he has a new woman. He is always sweet and generous in the beginning of each relationship but than somehow turns into a very aggressive man later in the relationship. He always devalues the women hes with by calling them ugly names and pining them down to scream that them. It always ends unhealthy.
“That in the event of guilty verdict, a jury would not pursue the death penalty (for Frediani). In the California courts death penalty cases are treated almost as twin trials; only after a guilty verdict in the central murder case would the jury then consider the death penalty, and this would be almost like a trial in itself.” – Weinberg (p. 236)
This quote incited curiosity into the history of capital punishment and how it is regulated in the United States. Capital punishment is a sentence carried out which finds anyway guilty in the process to be executed. Crime museum state that, “in the United States, the death penalty is primarily reserved for people who have been convicted of murder or other capital offenses. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that capital punishment is neither unconstitutional nor “cruel and unusual punishment,” and exists within the boundaries of the 8th and 14th amendments. There are some instances in which capital punishment has been approved for individuals who have raped or sexually assaulted minors in some way. “.Since the United States still implement the death penalty on criminal offenders, it is pertinent to ensure that no innocent persons are wrongfully sentenced to death.
An organization of team member called the Innocence Project work towards protecting those who are wrongfully convicted of crimes and sentenced to death row. Through the use of biotechnology in the form of DNA testing, the Innocence Project has successfully exonerated eighteen people. These exonerated individuals were eventually found not guilt and set free by the judicial system. What helped the organization to do this is through DNA testing. By taking samples of the convicted individuals and the DNA samples from the crime scene, scientist were able to conclude inconsistencies in the DNA match. This is found by analyzing the DNA banding patterns apparent when running these DNA samples against each other. With the addition of eye witness testimony, alibis, and this crucial DNA analysis the Innocence Project were able to overturn the sentence of capital punishment and free innocent people from jail.
Capital punishment has become a huge issue in today’s world. The moral issue of taking another person’s life for the crimes they have committed is something that is heavily debated. And even though it is carried out throughout the world today, there needs to be assurance that innocent individuals do not suffer because their justice system has failed them.
“…Now the whole world knows the power of DNA. The trouble is that in the courtroom, there’s always going to be some people saying one thing and some people saying another. The jury’s job is to look at the people and figure out who is lying. Now these molecules have made their job much easier, because they don’t have the capability to lie. – Weinberg, pg 263
It is not a secret that crimes are more easily solved when there is DNA evidence supporting the case. If no DNA is found, then the crime can become a much slower process. Nevertheless, even if DNA is found, the person’s whose DNA was found will still try to defend themselves (unless in the case that they give up). So, there will always two groups saying something different things. DNA cannot lie, it is there and it has an owner. People however can still get away with murder if there DNA is found. How is that so? There has been rare cases where the DNA is there, and we all know it doesn’t lie and people get away with it. Of course, the lawyer must have done a great job. However, if people’s words can win over DNA, how powerful is it actually? In my opinion it insanely powerful, but people should not be confident they will win a case if the DNA is found, because the jury can still be convinced with the other team’s words.
Chapter 14 references the movement of DNA samples from police to genetic crime labs, highlighting the process by which DNA can be identified in limited amounts for probably suspects. However, this process of DNA analysis is very time consuming, and does not immediately produce results. The main issue with this is backlog, where DNA crime labs have an enormous amount of DNA samples from a multitude of cases, forcing some cases to be stalled as the experiments for the analysis are delayed, or not even started. This can be a very serious issue, as most of these samples are involved in sexual assault cases, but may not be analyzed due to the expanding list of samples to go through the protocols. This website gives a quick look at how police use DNA and how backlogs are a major issue at the present time. DNA Backlog
Lately in class we have been talking police cover-ups and planted DNA at crime scenes to convict certain individuals, which poses the question, how would someone manage to do this? Moreover, if authorities are in control of all of the evidence present in a case, what are the chances that the police decide “speed up” a case progression by planting evidence, or convicting the wrong person? I recently read an article about tactics police sometimes use called “coaxing”, which is a tactic that tries to force a confession out of person, guilty or not. This method was brought to the public’s eyes after Stephen Avery (Netflix series Making A Murderer) was wrongfully convicted of a crime he never commit. Aside from disregarding some potentially case changing evidence that would have cleared Avery’s name, they forced his cousin into a confession without the presence of council. Unlike something like a murder, planting evidence usually doesn’t leave behind any traces of and is probably most unexpected thing a prosecutor/detective would be looking for. With our sophisticated methods of analyzing DNA and matching it to people, it would be extremely hard for a jury to believe something that the DNA evidence doesn’t directly point to, especially in a case like Helena’s where DNA evidence and 1 measly fingerprint were the only tangible evidence against Frediani. In this decade we have seen hundreds of overturned cases and people exonerated of their crimes because of the incredible technology we have at our disposal. However, sometimes I believe that too much faith is put into our justice system, and certain unfortunate individuals are caught in “wrong place, wrong time” moments and find themselves staring at life in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
“Only a one in 37 million chance of having caught the wrong guy seemed to the police a safe bet. The problem is that Raymond Easton’s chance of being innocent was not one in 37 million – but only one in thirty-seven.” (Weinberg, 219)
I think this quote displays how the results of DNA can differ greatly depending on what you are looking for. In the burglary case involving Raymond Easton that was briefly mentioned, police believed they had a solid match for the DNA found at the crime scene. The tests they ran matched Easton completely, giving them a 1 in 37 million chance that they had the wrong guy. But, Easton would not admit to the crime. He was an old man, living much too far away from the crime scene and suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He could barely get out of his wheelchair, much less drive hundreds of miles to commit a robbery. The odds the police had the wrong man were actually much, much smaller than they had originally anticipated. The six loci that were tested did not give the police a 1 in 37 million chance like they had believed, but a 1 in 37 chance. The original DNA tested had led them to the wrong man, leading me to believe that DNA might not be as concrete a form of evidence as people are led to believe.
In Chapter 15 of Pointing From the Grave, Frediani is arrested for the murder of Helena. They bring him in for questioning, and that is when he is told that they found his DNA on Helena’s body. Regarding the DNA evidence, Frediani says,
“As for the DNA evidence, oh, I’m sure you’ve got some DNA evidence that probably points to me. Where you got it, how you got it, that’s a whole different matter” (Weinberg p.230).
Frediani is trying to imply that the DNA evidence that was found at the scene of the crime on Helena’s body was planted. I started to brainstorm and I wanted to know a little bit more about planted evidence. I found an article in the New York Times that I thought was interesting. It takes planting DNA to a whole new level, and describes how DNA can be fabricated, and a crime scene can practically “be built”. Check it out its pretty cool and the link is below.