Scientific Anthology: Serendipity

Introduction

Serendipity is defined as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.” (1)

This anthology provides examples of scientific serendipity. This will introduce a number of scientists, inventions, and theories that all came about because of serendipity. This theme was clear throughout the books that we read during the semester and we wanted to prove that serendipity really exists in the scientific community as well as the world around us.

  1. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/serendipity
Scientific Anthology: Serendipity

Genentech: History of Biotechnology

Sally Smith Hughes writes, Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, a historical account about the rise of Genentech Inc. Hughes takes the reader from the beginnings of biotech in 1973, to Genentech’s creation by Robert A. Swanson and Herbert Boyer, to its Wall Street debut in 1980. Hughes is a science historian at the University of California, Berkeley contributing over 150 oral histories[1] to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley; additionally Hughes also wrote The Virus: A History of the Concept[2]. Genentech tells the story of how a multiplicity of perspectives and personalities can affect the growth of science; and how outside sources of control and regulation, by government and private sector, can help or hamper progress in commercial and university scientific research. Continue reading “Genentech: History of Biotechnology”

Genentech: History of Biotechnology

Public or Private

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.

Link

The Motivation Behind Genetech

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.

The Motivation Behind Genetech

The Impact of DNA

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.

The Impact of DNA

Bartick’s Interesting Argument

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.

Bartick’s Interesting Argument

Betting on DNA

“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.

Quote

Mullis and Erlich

In chapter 10, the controversy between Kary Mullis and Henry Erlich over the concept of PCR was described.  Kary Mullis apparently came up with the idea behind it all on his own but teamed up with Erlich to develop the concept.  However, they envisioned totally different futures for the new DNA testing.  Mullis worked tirelessly to develop what he knew would become a revolutionary system of testing DNA while Erlich and Cetus hardly paid him any mind.  But, once they saw the monetary potential of Mullis’ ideas, they jumped right aboard.  They rushed to publish the article on PCR before Mullis wanted it to be released, because they wanted to be the first ones to discover it and ultimately the first to make money off of it.  But, was Mullis really treated unfairly?  He eventually got the fame he wanted when he received a Nobel Prize for his work.  Cetus ended up making all the money off the technology, which was almost 300 million dollars, compared to the 10,000 dollar bonus they paid Mullis.  I think that when Mullis won the Nobel Prize, it was ultimately the scientific community confirming that he was the one who invented the concept of PCR and after that point he should have been compensated for all the money that Cetus made off of him.

Mullis and Erlich

Platforms in Criminal Justice

In chapter 8, the Pitchfork case is discussed as an example of a criminal being brought to justice by a “marriage of science and police work.”  DNA played a huge role in not only bringing a killer to justice, but also saving an innocent man from spending the rest of his life in prison.  Using blood samples, the police were able to match Pitchfork’s DNA to the blood at the crime scene and confirm him as the killer and sex offender.  But, this case is a prime example of the platforms that the criminal justice system is built on all coming to together and working in unison.  Research and development of DNA testing, fingerprinting, and behavioral analysis all came together to catch a killer.  Science was now being successfully implemented in the field of criminal justice

Platforms in Criminal Justice

Spouse Suspects

“Statistically, their are a large number of spouses in the demise of their mate, so spouses have to be interviewed early on.” (Decker 73)

Often in murder cases like Mrs. Greenwood’s, spouses are  statistically leading suspects. But, why do they feel the need to kill their loved one? Do they want money?  Or can they really not stand living with someone anymore so they feel compelled to kill them?  Is a divorce really too much trouble and money that you’re better off just becoming a murderer?  In this specific case, it was proven early on that Helena’s husband, Roger, was not a suspect because he was at work while Helena was still on the phone at home.  When the spouse is not actually the one that committed the crime, isn’t is insensitive to accuse them so early on, especially if they are not the killer?  If I was trying to grieve over the death of a loved one, I would not want to be interrogated as a suspect in the murder of my wife.  Even if the spouse could be the murderer, I think they should at least be given time to themselves to recover from such a traumatic experience before having to deal with all the legal issues that come with it.

Spouse Suspects

Book Review- Helen, Mike, Matt

Steven Johnson writes, Where Good Ideas Come From, a book dedicated to the history of innovation and how good ideas come to be. Author of many bestsellers including; The Invention Map, The Ghost Map, Everything Bad Is Good For You and more. Johnson is an avid contributor to Time, The Economist, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Written for the curious scientist, Where Good Ideas Come From attracts a wide range of readers to partake in its in-depth investigation of the mind, including human innovation and natural curiosity. A page-turner without much need for context, Johnson is able to spark curiosity in the readers’ minds with thought provoking claims and revelatory answers. Continue reading “Book Review- Helen, Mike, Matt”

Book Review- Helen, Mike, Matt

DNA or Product of Environment

In chapter 5 of the book, a good amount of time was spent discussing the childhood and teenage years of Paul Frediani.  He had a lot of health problems as a kid and also did not get along with his father especially well.  He didn’t have a great child but that in no way means that he would end up on the wrong end of a sexual assault case as an adult.  Is a person’s personality and character traits more a product of DNA, engrained in them since birth?  Or is it more about the environment you are raised in, which shapes who you are through experiences and interactions with the people surrounding you?

DNA or Product of Environment

Development of Forensics

In Chapter 4, I think it was really interesting how they talked about the development of finger printing and DNA testing in general.  Forensic science is an enormous part of everyday life in every country now, especially in law enforcement.  Before forensic science, “justice” was pretty much a huge blame game, with the defendant claiming one thing and the plaintiff claiming another.  Finger printing and DNA testing has eliminated the guessing game in the justice system, providing concrete evidence to back any claim made in court.  But, the development of this science did not happen over night.  Finger printing came first, the blood tests, and so on.  Scientists all over the world were working simultaneously to transform the science in to what it is today.  However, did any of these scientists work together or examine each other’s works?  Could they have split up the work and developed it more quickly, or was the gradual increase of technology and knowledge necessary in making forensic science what it is today?

Development of Forensics

Ahead of His Time

In Chapter three of the book, it discusses how Brother Gregor Johann Mendel was the first person to crossbreed species to see how they would turn out.  While breeding different types of peas, he discovered dominate genes and ultimately figured out how they worked, with peas at least.  But, he never got credit for his ideas until after his death.  But, what was the reason for that?  Was the scientific community just not ready for that big a leap into the field of DNA and genes?  Did it seem rather unimportant to scientists at the time?  In 1909, over 20 years after his death, Mendel was finally recognized for his work and his field of study was named genetics.  It’s actually quite sad that Mendel would never know how truly revolutionary his experiments would become in the scientific world today.

Ahead of His Time

Location and Careers

In the second chapter of Pointing From the Grave it talks about how settling in the Bay area was a simple choice for both Helena and her husband, based on their career paths.  In most cases, is this really how people choose where they live?  If you really think about it, would you be living where you are today if work wasn’t involved?  My parents lived in Baltimore for a long time before eventually moving to New York because of my dad’s job.  But, I also now live in one of the most expensive counties in the country, Westchester, New York.  If it weren’t for my dad’s job wouldn’t my parents have wanted to live in a cheaper place, conserving money for the future?  At the same time, it is my dad’s job that allows our family to live comfortably in such an expensive place.  So I believe there is a huge correlation between your career and where you choose to live, regardless of if we associate the two when we make decisions.

Location and Careers

The Future

“If we wanted to, we could predict our life expectancy before birth, our intellectual capacity, hair color, or even our ability to run a marathon.” (Weinberg xi)

Clearly, we have the technology to decipher our own complex DNA, but yet in most cases we don’t.  Is this because we are afraid of what the results may hold?  I feel like most people wouldn’t want to know what the future has in store for them.  But, shouldn’t we at least have a say in the matter?  Most people’s parents make that decision for them before they are even born.  But after that, some people probably would want to know the breakdown of their genes and see what that actually means in terms of how it effects the course of their lives.  Wouldn’t people want to know if they were more susceptible to some diseases and immune to others?  This could potentially influence the way they live their lives both negatively and positively.

Quote

Coral Reefs

At the very end of the book, Johnson says that we cannot turn our governments into coral reefs, but we can create comparable environments on the scale of everyday life.  In my opinion the government is a reflection of the general population, so if people are able to create “coral reefs” in everyday life, then wouldn’t the government ultimately take that form as well?  Or is there a reason why we don’t want the government to take the form of a “coral reef?”  Would it function better if it was continuously trying to innovate?  Or should it be focusing more on creating a stable structure for it’s constantly innovating society?

Coral Reefs

The GPS Platform

The platform for the GPS system that is commonly found in cars nowadays and most definitely on everyones cellphone was set up over fifty years ago.  It all started with the use of satellites to track the Sputnik in outer space, but Guier and Weiffenbach probably never imagined what would result from it.  This development of satellites for GPS purposes and even other types of timing and tracking is a great example of exaptation.  The general idea for the satellite was to serve one purpose, but its uses now reach in many different fields.  It is used for the times on your phone, geotagging pictures on social media, and even certain apps that children play with on computers or phones.

The GPS Platform

The Apple Approach

Towards the end of Chapter 6, Johnson discusses what Apple does differently to ensure innovation in their products.  They use a “coffee house” approach, with continuous meetings between designers, engineers, and manufacturers.  This differs from the traditional assembly line approach where ideas are passed from one department to the next with no real interaction.  But, Apple has proven that their method is effective.  So, why don’t more businesses attempt this approach at developing new products.  I think the automobile industry could seriously benefit from an approach like this.  They are always releasing new models and “cars of the future,” but by the time they actually make it to the market, many of the innovations are no longer a part of their product.  Taking an approach similar to Apple could hurt efficiency, but innovation would greatly increase and I think the technology in cars would take a huge step forward.  Once they make that leap they can get back to worrying about efficiency and mass production.

The Apple Approach

Pangenesis

The idea of pangenesis relates back to the chapter on slow hunches.  Darwin’s original theory was groundbreaking in the scientific world but was not as perfect as one may think. Darwin continued to develop his theory, resulting in this new theory of pangenesis.  Even the greatest minds have to think their ideas through again and again, developing them into more and more accurate theories just as Darwin did.

Pangenesis

Faith

“You don’t reach Serendip by plotting a course for it.  You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously.” – John Barth quoted in Johnson (p108)

This quote is a very simple description of how serendipity works.  John Barth confirms that sometimes it is better not to seek answers to your problems and instead let the answers come to you.  Come of the world’s best ideas have been accidentally stumbled upon after years of searching for an answer that happened to in plain sight the whole time.

Quote

How Buildings Learn

“Not assigned to any one school, department, or center, it seems to always have had space for beginning project, the graduate student’s experiment, the interdisciplinary research center.” (MIT 63)

I think the concept of a research center is really good way to come up with original ideas.  Students and professors from different departments can collaborate and think about concepts in a much broader spectrum than just focusing on an idea from their own perspective.

How Buildings Learn

Good ideas

At the end of Chapter 1, Johnson poses the question, “What kind of environment creates good ideas?”  I think that the best environment for good ideas is a “needy” one.  The best ideas and innovations come from need.  If you cannot complete a task to your satisfaction using the tools available to you then you are going to be more inclined to find another solution to your problem.  Therefore, if you have a need for a new invention then you will be more urgent in trying to actually invent it.

Good ideas

Measuring innovation

“All other things being equal, a breakthrough that lets you execute two jobs that were impossible before is twice as innovative as a breakthrough that lets you do only one new thing.”(Johnson 16)

I don’t believe that innovation should be determined by the amount of tasks you are able to complete but rather by the amount of time and effort it takes to complete the task.  If a new invention allows you to complete a difficult task significantly faster, it should be considered more innovative then an invention that allows you to complete multiple tasks at a slower pace.

Quote