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.
Continue reading “Scientific Anthology: Failure as a Stepping Stone”
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”
“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.
Current CEO Ian Clark embodies this mantra because he knows the importance of innovation facilitation in relation to the biotechnology industry. “The truth is that the best ideas don’t always come from the top. I want every person at Genentech to feel comfortable both contributing ideas and challenging them. If dressing up in a pink ruffled tuxedo or like Han Solo once in awhile helps keep that culture alive, I’m up for it.” Ian Clark could not have said it any better: it is equally important that all members of a company are able to voice their opinions and ideas, so that this company can be running at the highest level of efficiency and potential.
“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.
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”
“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.
“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 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.
“By the beginning of April 2002, that number stood at 104—104 people who had spent an average of a decade in prison for a crime they did not commit” (Weinberg 201).
The Innocence Project is potentially one of the most admiral entities in the entire criminal justice system because of its reformatory nature. We see prisons as a way of putting away society’s worst people, but we often do not think that completely innocent individuals can end up there. Moreover, the commonality in hearing a convict saying “Oh, well I didn’t do it” may blind us from the reality and actuality of those who are in fact wrongfully accused and convicted. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be convicted of a crime that I so desperately knew I did not commit.
Justice should always be served, but we must realize that our legal system is very vulnerable to arbitrary tendencies that can discriminate and fault our society. This is not to say that the criminal justice system is not aimed at pledging and giving justice for all, but it is far from a perfect system. The Innocence Project is just one part of a greater reform movement for criminal justice that is duly needed in our modern era. Our overall prison population is too high; too many people are discriminated against from bottom to the top, arrest to conviction. Stigmatization of criminal history bars too many people from obtaining jobs, housing, educations, and supportive families. The 21st century is a new dawn of redefining our freedoms and liberties; we must redraw the line of how we define crime and more importantly how we treat it, for our reactions are our greatest predictors of results.
“Let me just tell you that if you didn’t do this crime, a terrible injustice has been done here. And only you know in your heart whether you did it. Nobody else in this room really knows whether you did it, except you” (109).
I found this statement from the judge as deeply concerning. Yes, of course if Frediani did not do this crime than it would be a “terrible injustice” to him. However, by saying that “nobody else in this room really knows whether you did it, except you,” is a problematic statement for a judge to end a confirmatory sentencing hearing on. The judge could have been wiser with his words. This last statement is a ploy to make Frediani reflect and assess the gravity of his innocence or lack-thereof, as judges commonly do as they sentence convicted defendants. I believe that the judge may have inadvertently revealed that a reasonable doubt still remains in the air of this case. Granted, both legal teams made strategic maneuvers to prove the innocence or guilt of Frediani, but the prosecution did come out slightly stronger by the typically stronger rhetoric that prosecution teams use to sway jurors. The evidence was compelling against Frediani, but it was only superficially convincing. A deeper analysis should reason, in my opinion, that Frediani should have been ruled innocent on the basis of feeble circumstantial evidence that only really strengths were on an outdoor teapot and a conflicting account of his confession. Now there is a difference between being 100% innocent and not guilty enough beyond a reasonable doubt. Only Frediani knows the truth, but the presentation of his “guilt” should not have been enough to convict him.
It is inconceivable to think the historical, political, cultural, economic, societal, ideological, and many other powers that would have changed if 9/11 did not happen. Granted, the Phoenix Memo in this chapter was considered to have been not enough to prevent 9/11. Sure, there is logical reasoning to believe that this memo in of itself was still not enough, but what if it was enough? What if it had uncovered the plot a mere two months and a day in advance on that July 10th? The implications are so grand that it, in a morbid perspective, may have brewed another, stronger terrorist plot. 9/11 was a wake up call (now I am not condoning the tragedy of that event, just hypothetically for the sake of arguing) , but if that 9/11 was prematurely stopped, would terrorists have created an even more secretive and deadlier plot? Food for thought.
Neurons in the brain are incredibly reminiscent in a visual sense of what the Internet is portrayed as in this picture. Johnson speaks of brains as networks. These networks are no coincidence to the fact that neurons, networks, and brains all share fundamental parallels that create entities that convey and transfer information. A neuron in of itself is incredible complex, for there are billions of neurons that make up the electric-like function of the brain. The Internet was originally made up of HTML’s, URL’s, text pages, and other neuron-like forces that power the brain-like function of the internet.
The adjacent possible, as Johnson eloquently describes, is a fruitful manner in which information can be passed along to generate new and unexpected information. When you hear the sayings, “I am opening a new chapter or door to my life,” or “maybe our paths will cross again,” they illicit this same concept that the adjacent possible illustrates. Although the adjacent possible is geared more toward the spread of ideas, I also see it as a way that new people can meet each other. Through social media, we have become so interconnected, and we do not even realize it. All it takes is a couple clicks of a mouse and you can be speaking to a complete stranger. Now this may sound creepy,but our society is becoming more and more adjacent to one another. In this, we connect to people, and then those people lead us to new and different people who we would never have met otherwise. In career building, it is most important to network yourself to as many contacts as possible; to know as many people as possible you must adjacent yourself to more people. It may seem simplistic, but Johnson’s adjacent possible is as much a narrative for meeting new people as it is for ideas to renew themselves in different ways.
“I can hardly explain the reason, but there is to my mind much grandeur in the view of the outer shores of these lagoon-islands.” (- Charles Darwin) (Johnson: 7)
Sometimes it takes a long walk on the beach, a walk in the park, a good run, and sometimes even a long sleep for people to come to terms with sought after information. In Darwin’s case, he is contemplating and calculating theories, hypothesis’s , and ideas that will shake the world of its then more faith-based belief of origin. If it took a man like Darwin, traveling all over the world, probably taking many long walks on many different beaches, imagine what we could all accomplish if we pumped the breaks a bit on our lives. Meaning, if we all just took the time to take a break and go to a serene place, where ever it may be, and just sit there and ponder on moments or thoughts that we normally don’t get the chance to reflect on, we’d all be much calmer, possibly solving many mysteries in our own lives.
Ethical debates surrounding the usage and encouragement of biotechnology will only increase as time goes by. My prediction is this: the U.S. government will eventually become consumed by biotechnology in all facets of society, not just agriculture. Our patenting laws will have to comprise of more and more protections for the intellectual rights of innovators. Moreover, the legal playing field will soon begin to judge new ethical dilemmas in biotechnology that have never been conceived of in legal history.
Book Review: Where 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”