Scientific Anthology: Failure as a Stepping Stone

Introduction

Failure is often seen as a negative part of scientific discovery. Failure is inherently bad. But failure is not completely bad. When it is not a completely indomitable failure, it provides an opportunity for growth, and quite often is a stepping stone towards success, or brings you one step closer from achieving your goal.

This anthology is a collection of 15 carefully curated pieces which reflect the importance and the nuances around failure and its role in the scientific world. As you will find, failure is not only an irremovable component of science and progress, but a driving force into scientific discovery and advancement.
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Scientific Anthology: Failure as a Stepping Stone

Genentech: When Science Stumbles into Business

Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, by Sally Smith Hughes, is an incredibly informative book about the unorthodox creation and ingenuity of the company Genentech, Inc. This book, albeit slow and clunky to read at times, reveals to its readers the minutiaes, controversies, and successes of business, biotechnology, genetics, biology, corporations, patenting, politics, and academia when they are all mixed together. Hughes’ book is aimed at the scientific community, and anyone else who may be interested in science: notably genetics and biotechnology. The single commanding genre of this book would definitely be associated with genetic innovation in the field of biotechnology. Hughes does an adequate job at bringing to light the revolutionary breakthrough and aftermath of recombinant DNA discovery and research in the mid-1970s. Continue reading “Genentech: When Science Stumbles into Business”

Genentech: When Science Stumbles into Business

A symbiotic relationship

“One of the mistakes [Cetus] made was not to realize the enormous leverage you get from using a university laboratory…It is enormously cost effective. You’re  using labs and other goodies that are already there; you don’t have to raise money and spend money to establish them'(50)” (Hughes, 64)”

 

It seems to me that the relationship between business and universities is partly symbiotic. The businesses need to invest less money that if they were to start their own labs, and the professors maintain their professorship as well as provide funding for their project. This is a huge benefit to private companies. It offers substantially lower costs which maximize their profits. From a business standpoint, it is a dynamic that is definitely capable to being abused. Schools, who could have already received government grants for certain equipment could then be used as facilities for private organizations. Thus resulting in the startup costs being accepted by the government. Does this lead to an increase in productivity or a loss?

To secure these funds, they also talked about patents. Patents are important in securing investment: it give legitimacy to your product and secures that it won’t be copied. But patents were put in place so one person wouldn’t be able to profit off your idea. While this protects intellectual property, the securing of this intellectual property would not be a problem if there was more public funding. Without the idea or goal of making money within the scientific field, it would mean more universally shared ideas, without the influence of money.

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Money is Power

“As a condition of the investment, Perkins joined Swanson and Boyer on the board of directors and was elected chairman. Little did Perkins know at the outset  how heavily instrumental he would continue to be in the company’s constant fund raising. “What was so different about Genentech,’ he later observed, ‘ was the astonishing amout of capital required to do all this. I know, on day one one, if anyone had wispered into my ear that, ‘For the next 20 years, you will be involved in raising litereally billions of dollars for this thing,’ I might not have done it ‘(47)”(Hughes, pg. 42)

 

Funding is an essential part of big business. Similarly in politics, to continue you need massive amounts of funding. I believe that this was partially important in medical programs being federally funded. This brings into question federal funding and how much they are allocating towards these medical programs. It is obvious that the government does not have unlimited amounts of money but does the industrial interest in biotech mean that the government isn’t doing enough. Or should their be laws put in place to protect the world from the largest industry in the world? If there are companies who are making greater technological advancement than the government, is that a problem for society? It would seem that governments need to do something as far as structural safety measures to entice more scientists towards the publicly funded sector. Whether this means re-evaluating the application process for grants and the bureaucratic requirements to receiving those grants.

To protect the medical research field, I think that this amount of economic influence today is unacceptable. It taints the waters of research but more than that tips the balance of power and ethics. A clear disadvantage of private funding is less control and input in the decision making process that the scientist has. With government oversight the goals were kept clear, profits kept low, and business was a side thought, all while maintaining a standard of ethics. But as discussed, this leads to outside influences effecting a field that is crucial to the health of the human race.

Money is Power

Breaking Tradition

” Yet despite this utitiarian strand in American Sscience, biomedical structure  into the late 1970s was notably inhospitable to professors forming consuming relationships with business, let alone taking the almost unheard of step of founding a company without giving up a professorship. Academic cultural tradition, the precarious political context of recombinant DNS research, and the fact that Cohen and Boyer had no desire to leave academia argues against either scientist giving serous consideration to forming a company”( Hughes, pg. 24).


I find it interesting that there were these notions about the science community and the mood towards relationships between business and academic research. It seems that these attitudes towards partnering business with universities stemmed from a notion that biomedical research was deemed more of a publicly funded affair, which was in turn ethically sound. Or at least the publicly funded science that was going on had a direct goal at aiding the public, whereas private funding could lead to an impurity in the research. The academic community needed to protect its sanctity. With one goal, the scientists could pursue their research without any outside factors that would affect them. Obviously economics has a an affect on science today, and I worry that it has lost it’s sense of purpose. With two different factors manipulating science we find ourselves having to question science.

The sciences are the basis for the intellectual world. The mere mention of the word brings a sense of legitimacy. It is shrouded in the idea that science is solid: the basis of pure research for the sake of helping others and advancing the scientific world. Science used to be so pure in it’s desire, but has now been lost in the world of industry.  In this day and age when money is integrated into science at such a base level, I find a lack of legitimacy on topics. There are still scientists who deny and debate climate change, there are still people making way to much money off disease, and the fact that business has a negative effects on medical research is indisputable. I can’t help but read this passage and wonder if it was here that medical research lost it’s path.

Breaking Tradition

Past and Present: How DNA Intertwines with Crime

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”

Past and Present: How DNA Intertwines with Crime

Failing vs. Perfecting

“This is why it is just as useful to look at the sparks that failed, the ideas that found their way to a promising region of the adjacent possible but somehow collapsed there” (Johnson, 72).

I can see this as true because most of the time the people who failed were the first ones that acted upon their ideas. This in turn made others try the idea, which helped produce someone who actually succeeded on the idea. It is because the people that succeeded on a specific idea were only able to do it because they knew which path was already a failure, and which path was never tried yet. This had people creating so many ideas just to see if one of their ideas actually was the better one. Ultimately, all these people, failures and perfecters, actually helped produce ideas from generation to generation. That is something that is so important because if these people never acted on their ideas, who knows if we would be able to make helpful advances for our everyday life.

Failing vs. Perfecting

Ideas Come In Swarms

“If we’re going to try to explain the mystery of where ideas come from, we’ll have to start by shaking ourselves free of this common misconception: an idea is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm” (Johnson, 45-46).

This sentence is important for us to understand. We as society tend to overlook the smaller details in the bigger picture. That is how we miss those moments where the smaller details actually mean the most. However, this is still a hard thing to do because we have so many things on our mind, I feel as if it is hard to interpret with all those ideas in our heads are actually ideas or just random thoughts. Although this may be the case, I’m kind of steering towards thinking that maybe all our thoughts in our head are all ideas, it just depends how you use those ideas in your life. You can choose to use it to benefit people, or just not use it at all and put it in the back of your mind. All and all, we must understand that an idea is not a single thing and that it is more like a swarm because everyday we are learning and seeing new things, which makes us produce many ideas everyday.

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The Ever Changing World

“What the adjacent possible tells us is that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen.” (Johnson 31)

I find this to be a very powerful statement that provides some real inspiration. To me, this is the idea that anything can happen at any moment but no matter what it was, good or bad, it happened for a reason. It is the idea that change is natural and must be embraced rather than fought because if you fight it you will lose. This idea gives hope to those who are going through a rough time because it lets them know that things change and will continue to change so they may be down now but they know that it won’t always be that way. The world is always changing but these changes can only be certain things that can happen. Therefore, these changes must make sense according to the laws of nature and cannot possibly happen under the circumstances. The idea that the world is ever changing is a beautiful perception of reality and how we live our lives.

The Ever Changing World

Strategic Studying

“Science long ago realized that we can understand something better by studying its behavior in different contexts” (Johnson, 19).

This sentence is so very true just by looking at all the advances we have had in technology, medicine, and other helpful innovations. When we study things in different contexts, we can learn more about the thing we are studying about. This can help us produce ideas just from studying other ideas. That is why it is so important to understand that something or someone’s behavior can tell a lot about it. By studying their behavior in different situations, we can try to get a good sense on why the things act the way they act or think the way they think. I feel this strategy helps us as a country become healthier and stronger with every year that came. Furthermore, this can also help the world as a whole and strengthen us to spawn new ideas for generations to come.

Strategic Studying

The Art of Ideas: How Innovation and Ingenuity Take Their Form

Book ReviewWhere Good Ideas Come From

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson is not just a book on how an idea comes to be, but rather it is a book on the seemingly gear-like movements that make up the origin, flow, and future of an idea. Johnson brilliantly crafts the conception of an idea as a far more complex formula than it is superficially seen to be as. To define and position this book in one particular genre would be an injustice to Johnson’s intentions; this novel purposely transcends the realms of science, economics, history, politics, technology, culture, and other societal aspects. Moreover, Johnson is a master at his storytelling, pulling together information that one would never expect to be used in conjunction with another. To some, this book may appear predominantly related to the whole domain of science, but Johnson only uses science as one of his platforms to exhibit the fabrication of ideas. Johnson even uses Charles Darwin as his symbolic character for the creation of an idea—Darwin’s epic idea of natural selection and evolution. This book comes as no surprise, for Steven Johnson’s writing career has been bred from books “about world-changing ideas and the environments that made them possible” (247). The intended audience of this book can reach out to  anyone who is keen to see a perspective into how our world works from a humanistic approach; meaning, one who is curious and seeking a conceptualization of how people think of an idea that is incredibly transcendent—like air conditioning or the Internet. The greater beauty is that this book is not just narrow to curious people, but it can be read by anyone who is yearning to learn something new every page. Overall, Where Good Ideas Come From is a book that is able intellectualize the greater meaning and provocation of an idea. Continue reading “The Art of Ideas: How Innovation and Ingenuity Take Their Form”

The Art of Ideas: How Innovation and Ingenuity Take Their Form