Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration

Introduction

As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” What they don’t tell you is that it also makes Jack less likely to succeed at work. In the next fifteen examples, you will see the value of play–hobbies–in addition to work, specifically scientific exploration. In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson reports how hobbies have benefited the scientific community through many generations.

 

“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities—a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity—but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies” (Johnson, 172).

The innovative power that comes from balancing work and play–career and hobbies–has always been present in scientific exploration. This anthology will describe how that power is still at work today.

Continue reading “Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration”

Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration

Genentech: A Visionary Company

Sally Smith Hughes lays out the history of one of biotechnologies most important and influential companies, Genentech. From the founders early days through their most important discoveries the self explaining title Genentech, the Beginnings of Biotech, tells of how Genentech was founded in South San Francisco. According to Hughes “Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech is the story of a pioneering genetic-engineering company that inspired a new industrial sector, transforming the biomedical and commercial landscapes ever after”(VIII). By becoming the first in the industry to synthesize insulin and Human Growth Hormone, Genentech placed themselves in history. Hughes writing tells of a new creation,  “the entrepreneurial biologist” and the “intimate and people centered history traces the seminal early years of a company that devised new models for biomedical research”(xi). The importance of Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen in the field of biotechnology is repeatedly emphasized in Hughes’s words. This non-fiction history of Genentech is laid out for you by a leading historian of science and the University of California at Berkeley. Often, the existence of insulin for diabetics, or HGH for those who suffer from other disabilities, is taken for granted. Genentech tells the story of the struggle to recreate such complicated bio-medications. Continue reading “Genentech: A Visionary Company”

Genentech: A Visionary Company

Who Owns What?

“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.

Who Owns What?

High Costs of Biotechnology

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.

High Costs of Biotechnology

DNA: The Smallest Clue

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”

DNA: The Smallest Clue

Frediani, 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.

Frediani, a Sociopath?

Planted or Not?

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.

Planted or Not?

STRs

“I was 99 percent sure it was him,” says Laura Helig…But I had heard about this new technology, STRs…I knew they could give us results on really tiny samples (Weinberg 216).

This new form of analyzing DNA emerged in 1999 and was exactly what Helig needed to catch Helena Greenwood’s killer. Short Tandem Repeats could not only be used on small amounts of DNA but could also give specificity. This article goes into detail about STR testing. Essentially the labs like SERI that worked on Fredini’s DNA analyzed the 6-loci tandem repeats and they matched the DNA found under Helena’s fingernails, which had been stored in evidence since the attack, almost a decade earlier. STR analysis was able to use the small amount of very old DNA found under Helena’s fingernails and match it to Frediani’s DNA which was kept in a DOJ freezer because he was a sex offender. This was the beginning of databases like CODIS that emerged in 1998 to catch criminals even easier then with just STR.

STRs

Appeals

 It was the end of a  sultry San Francisco July, but when Paul Frediani took his seat in the Redwood City courtroom on the first day of the second trial, he looked less of the summer beach bum of two years before, and more like a seasoned old lag (weinberg 161).

So how did Frediani receive a second trial? What processes of the US court system allow for this appeal? This article covers how appeals work in the justice system. The article states that you cannot just request an appeal. Most cases require proof that the process of a fair trial were violated and there was a mistake during the trial. For Frediani, we can assume that this evidence was that the detectives statement was not shared. But more interestingly it states that appeal courts will not hear new evidence. And yet in this court case the new evidence of the eye surgery was brought up. This is qualified as neither a mistrial or a second trial but is simply an appeal of the first verdict by a higher court.

Appeals

Reasonable Doubt

Reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, because everything relating to human affairs and depending on moral evidence is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence leaves the mind of the jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding condition to a moral certainty of the truth of the charge. (weinberg 107)

In the case of Mr. Frediani, the jury was never presented with precise evidence that he in fact had committed the crime. In fact, the defense proved that 14% of all men have the same characteristics that came from the analysis of his fluids, and the fluids left on the crime scene. In my mind I had assumed he would be found innocent because it would be possible for so many others to have committed the crime, and he had an alibi for the fingerprint on the teapot. But in this case, the jury found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt because the prosecution convinced them that not only was Mr. Frediani on of the men in the 14% but he was also the one who committed the crime. Even without solid proof that he was guilty, the jury can legally rule him guilty of the crime.

Reasonable Doubt

Who did it?

strangulation is a very physical crime, and requires great strength. It is also an intensely personal way to kill, hand on neck, flesh to flesh: there are few strangulations between strangers. (76)

There was a deep gash in the back of Helena’s head, caked with dried blood. (75)

The first quote essentially excludes any random stranger as a suspect for Helena’s murder. Also any stranger would only kill her for money and things like that, but her wallet and other possessions were not removed from the scene. This means that the crime had another motive. Because strangulation is so personal it suggests to me that perhaps Mr. Frediani committed the murder to get himself out of the sexual assault case. The fact that he had traveled to the region only weeks before also suggests a recon mission before the crime. Because Helena had a deep gash in the back of her head, which was later shown by the detective to be from having her head slammed against the gate, it shows me that the killer had a deep anger. A deep anger that drove him to not just strangle Helena but also bash her head in. All this evidence points to Mr. Frediani as the killer. What other evidence do police need to arrest him?

Who did it?

Where Good Books Come From

Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From will walk you through how the greatest thinkers form their ideas. In fact, his book explains in depth to you exactly what the subtitle says, “The Natural History of Innovation.” Johnson’s extensive experience of technological progress shows itself inside his chapters as he fully explains his main idea of the “slow hunch” by examining hunches like “a plot involving multiple radical Islamic fundamentalists” and how different ideas about how to identify these men are more successful than others (74). By using several other microcosms like that throughout his book Johnson incorporates his knowledge about how science has progressed in a way that is engaging and fast paced. Johnson’s goal is to show us how great ideas form, and where, like how “a metropolis with a population of five million people was almost three times more creative than the average resident of a town of a hundred thousand (11). His writing is full of interesting facts such as this. As a nonfiction book, Johnson presents historical evidence in support of his analysis of how the many great ideas in science have formed. His writing is both informative and entertaining, chock full of behind the scenes looks about great scientists like Charles Darwin and how they came to the realization of their great ideas. Our society is pushed forward by great inventions like the printing press and by revolutionary ideas like the punnett square. Johnson breaks down the process of these discoveries and finds a system that identifies the keys to forming a great hunch. This system proves in fact, where good ideas come from. Continue reading “Where Good Books Come From”

Where Good Books Come From

Testing

Chaput reports that analysis of the semen found on the flowery pillowcase and sheets is under way at the San Mateo crime lab…”I spoke to Mona Ng, who is the criminalist doing the testing. . . She had completed two of the tests that I requested on the serological samples. She did the ABO types, which did match the defendant. She also did PGM types, which was the same as the defendant. But she said it put him as a type O secretor, which is not a terribly uncommon situation among adult males. I asked her if she could do any further testing of any other enzymes and she said she would attempt to do that” (weinberg 58)

This is one of the most biotechnological term heavy passages from this book so far. During the preliminary hearings for Mr. Frediani the prosecution is attempting to present enough evidence to convince the judge to continue with the trial. The investigating detective, Chaput, is speaking of the tests that were run on the fluids and hairs found at the scene. A serological sample according the the encyclopedia Britannica is any test run on a sample of blood serum. So assuming that the police had taken a blood sample, Mona Ng was analyzing his blood through these tests. An ABO test identifies what blood type a suspect has, either A, B, AB, or O. This test matched Mr. Frediani. A PGM tests is looking for a mutation in the suspects blood that is inherited from their parents and effects how blood clots. Because both the ABO and the PGM tests matched the prosecutors are hoping that this is enough circumstantial evidence to convince a judge to proceed to trial.

Testing

Who did it?

“Over the following years, Lattes, and a growing band of fellow forensic serologists, were called in to use both the precipitin test and blood grouping in an increasing number of cases. Although they acknowledged that they were nowhere near being able to tell whether a bloodstain came from a particular person- the groupings were far too large for that- and it was of no help if the victim and suspect shared the same blood type, the techniques proved to be powerful in excluding suspects, narrowing down the list of potential culprits, and above all, as tools to produce a confession” (Weinberg 53)

The discovery of the precipitin test started a trend of forensic discoveries. But each of these tools that scientists uncovered proved to be useful only in eliminating suspects, not finding guilt. Like Weinberg said “the techniques proved to be powerful in excluding suspects”. Not until the ability to profile DNA was discovered were scientists able to prove guilt of a suspect. This perhaps is why the detectives in the case of Helena and Mr. Frediani were forced to question him instead of just simply arresting him. They could prove that he was indeed on the scene but not that he committed the crime. They were using the tools that were covered in the chapter like the precipitin test to exclude other suspects and use them to “produce a confession” from Mr. Frediani.

Who did it?

Peas

He found, to his excitement, that in almost exactly one-quarter of the cases, the characteristics of the “lost grandparent”-the “recessive”-re-emerged. Thus dwarf pea mixed with a tall one might produce tall offspring in the first generation, but when these self-fertilized, they each gave rise to a dwarf plant from one in every four seeds. (Weinberg 30)

This idea of a one in four dwarf pea immediately reminded me of the punnet square. In this case, the second generation pea plants had the following genetics, BB, Bb,Bb,bb. The first three of these would have been the tall pea plants that the monk, Gregor Mendel, observed. The only plant with the recessive dwarf gene was the last one, bb. That 25% chance of a recessive, bb, gene was what inspired the idea of dominant and recessive genes and how they operate. This discovery sparked much of what we know today about genetics and DNA. Along with Watson and Cricks, Mendel is a father of genetics.

Peas

Photo’s

Jennifer Jomes studied the pictures for about a minute, then picked out the one numbered 5. “If i had to pick one, it would be this one,” she said, pointing to a photograph of  Frediani…”This is spooky, he really looks like the guy.” Her roommate, Catherine Scott, again thought that photo 5 looked like the man from the nose area up, but she also said she couldn’t be positive. Her sister, Lyssa, wasn’t sure it was any of the men in the photographs. Roseanne Melia thought that number 5 was the closest.  (Weinberg 26)

In every crime show on television there are photo id scenes or the classic suspect lineup. In this situation several women thought they could identify #5 as the rapist, but when asked if they were positive they could not confirm. So what do police do in a situation when they know the Frediani is most likely the culprit but lack proof? Perhaps this question is what lead scientists to search for another way to convict a suspect, DNA profiling. Because the memories from assaults can be blurred from trauma it is easy to understand how none of the women could be 100% sure that #5 was their rapist, maybe DNA will serve a purpose in this investigation and assist detectives in convicting Frediani.

Photo’s

Guilty or Not?

http://www.innocenceproject.org/free-innocent/improve-the-law/fact-sheets/dna-exonerations-nationwide

According to the innocence project more then 25% of suspects are proven to be innocent once DNA results are returned to police. Since the discovery of how to use DNA to identify a certain person 337 people have been exonerated from crimes they did not commit. Clearly the use of DNA in forensic science is a crucial development in our justice system and assists prosecutors in convicting the right criminal. In the case of Helena Greenwood DNA would have been an easy way to discover if Mr. Frediani was in fact her rapist or if he had been wrongly accused. The evolution of science can be applied to our justice system and help us improve the decisions that come from it.

Link

Crumbling Shoulders

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_species.html

This article from noaa states that indeed, thousands of species live on coral reefs in oceans across the world. The creatures exist on coral that is thousands of years old, even older then colonization and humans in North America at all. These corals today, and all fish and other creatures that make reefs their home, are standing on the shoulders of giants. This idea of the liquid network concludes in Johnson’s final chapter. Do humans have any responsibility for maintaining the coral? Do we have any responsibility in maintaining the shoulders we stand on in our own networks? If those shoulders crumble then we too will fall with them, so yes we do have a responsibility.

Link

The Web

The web can be imagined as a kind of archaeological site, with layers upon layers of platforms buried beneath every page…all he [Tim Berners-Lee] had to do was build a standard framework for describing hypertext pages (html) (Johnson 189).

The web built on top of a network of computers that were already communicating between themselves all across the world. For me often this idea of world wide computer communication is synonymous with the internet. But in reality the web was just another door that opened following this network. HTTP was already in practice with computers internationally. HTML is simply the language that computers use to create the web pages we look at every day. Tim Berners-Lee even based his HTML off of SGML, which was IBM technology. This is further evidence that collaboration between scientists produces at a higher rate then solo work. The web was a collective effort between many scientists, Berners-Lee just stood on the shoulders of giants like HTTP and SGML.

The Web

Macrocosms

“Exaptation. An organism develops a trait optimized for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function” (Johnson 154).

Beyond the world of genetics I believe this word still has application in our daily lives. When exaptation occurs in the natural world, a trait created by genetic change, ends up having a purpose that was not the driving force behind the mutation. Like the feathers on prehistoric dinosaurs that led to flight, we often find second or third uses for goods in our lives. Creativity seems to be a cliche word used to describe someone but the human race in itself is exceptional at exapting uses beyond the intended purpose. I am interested in this reoccurring of biological processes repeating themselves in macrocosms in the world.

Macrocosms

The Accidental Hunch

“Could you take all that knowledge and apply it to the human heart? Greatbatch stored the idea in the back of his head for the next five years…Greatbatch happened to grab the wrong resistor. When he plugged it into the oscillator it began to pulse in a familiar rhythm” (Johnson 136).

Greatbatch’s hunch that remained in his head for over five years ended up being a solution to a problem that they were not trying to solve. This discovery could produce the beat of a human heart not just monitor it. By accidentally finding this technology Greatbatch’s contribution was even larger then he could imagine when he started trying to pursue the original hunch. How often are discoveries in science accidental? Are some discoveries missed in experiments when the researcher is close-minded?

The Accidental Hunch

Chaos

Thatcher’s study suggests a counterintuitive notion: the more disorganized your brain is, the smarter you are. (Johnson 105)

This is very interesting to me because organization is so often considered a characteristic of intelligence. People say “you cant work at a dirty desk” and things such as that. But the idea that chaos indeed sparks more ideas is very convincing to me. The more chaotic your brain is the more ideas you consider and the more data you absorb. If you are more observant and take in more of the world around you it may become chaotic but it is also an environment where one can be more creative. I truly believe that a more chaotic brain creates more hunches.

Chaos

Hunches

You can learn a great deal about the history of innovation by examining great ideas that changed the world. Indeed, most intellectual histories are structured in exactly this fashion, a narrative of breakthroughs and insights and eureka moments that had a transformative impact on human society. (johnson 72)

Great ideas that change the world, they are very rare things. What makes these ideas so much more effective then others? Possibly great ideas are just regular ideas that are pursued for a long time, tirelessly, until eventually they are world changing. These big ideas seem to develop, evolve from just a problem, to a solution. They change from perhaps what they thought was the original idea to something completely different. Those eureka moments are what everyone strives for, but very few actually experience.

Hunches

Ideas

 A new idea is a network of cells exploring the adjacent possible of connections that they can make in your mind. This is true whether the idea in question is a new way to solve a complex physics problem, or a closing line for a novel, or a feature for a software application. (johnson 45)

The thought that an idea is like a network it what strike me most about this passage. This network that can evolve, change, and develop into something completely different than the original idea. This completely inclusive theory about ideas is interesting because it makes an idea changeable, it can adapt to changing circumstances and new information. This passage makes an idea something that is alive, something that can be nurtured and create something new.

 

Ideas

Make it Cheaper

In the year that followed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Indonesian city of Meulaboh received eight incubators… by late 2008, when MIT professor named Timothy Prestero visited the hospital, all eight were out of order. (27)

In todays society the amount of advanced technology that is available is amazing. But there is one common problem across the board, no matter if it is consumer based or a life saving device, it is all too expensive. It also all will break far too often. Even today, cell phones can barely make it the two year contract you must sign to buy it. This issue continues on into biotechnology and healthcare. If those incubators were more reliable then more babies could have been saved. Because they were broken they could not be useful to the people of Meulaboh. Developing a way to make technology less disposable is necessary. Making something fixable is the next step in technological development.

Make it Cheaper

Geographical Differences

“[In America] Some 73 percent favored biotech crops if they would help farmers cut back on pesticide use. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, public attitudes were distinctly anti-biotech, at least where foods are concerned.”

Biotechnology Unzipped pg. 194

In the United Kingdom, and in Europe in general, attitudes towards GMO’s are much more severely negative in comparison to the United States. In the United States is seems as if only a percentage of the population is aware of GMO’s and recognize the possible negative effects. Even when these possibilities are acknowledged, genetically modified products are still sold in supermarkets in the US without much caution. Perhaps Americans are more accustomed to processed foods then Europeans and this is the cause of our high tolerance for high risk foods. Americans eat a very high amount of foods that come from factories, not farms. This routine of eating unnatural foods could be driving Americans tolerance of GMO’s. In time we will see the consequences of genetically modifying our crops in comparison to a part of the world who has rejected these practices.

Geographical Differences