Throughout time, monumental discoveries have been made that have greatly benefited society. Although every discovery eventually receives its time in the spotlight, the brilliance of many discoveries by hardworking scientists go overlooked until long after the scientists are gone. We who benefit from these discoveries end up saying that these people were “ahead of their time,” and therefore they were not recognized for their greatness and potential during the time in which they lived.
This anthology includes 20 instances where discoveries from a wide variety of scientific fields were made before the world was ready for them. Also included in these 20 examples are the profiles of scientists who did not receive the recognition they should have at the time, simply because their discovery was not made in a time period that could fully implement and comprehend their discovery’s advanced features and societal importance.
Continue reading “Scientific Anthology: Discoveries Ahead of Their Time”
In her book Genentech, Sally Smith Hughes tells the story of the rise of the biotech giant Genentech. Hughes is a historian of biomedicine and biotechnology at the Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley. She takes us through the tumultuous early years of Genentech’s history, showing how the company grew from a trio of founders to a massive organization that made a fortune through the stock market. From Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen’s development of recombinant DNA, to Tom Perkins and Bob Swanson offering Genentech as an IPO, Hughes makes a great effort to describe every major step that Genentech had to take and every hurdle they had to pass to find both commercial and scientific success. When a new person enters the company, Hughes describes them in detail, and her descriptions present these entrepreneurs and scientists as likeable characters who truly care about the work they do. She skillfully and simply describes both the complex science behind Genentech’s research and the caveats of the business world, which helped Genentech grow and succeed financially. To enhance the quality of the Genentech story, the book is filled with many photographs of the people discussed in the book as well as a few diagrams that add explanations of various scientific concepts such as DNA recombination. In this short but interesting book, Hughes provides insight into the origins of the biotechnology industry, as well as introduces readers to some of the problems early innovators in the industry had to face. Continue reading “The Birth of a New Industry: The Rise of Genentech”
“‘…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
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!
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”
“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.
“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.
“Once the trial started, the world, the world watched transfixed as week after week, month after month, some eminent DNA expert or another sat on the witness stand, exploring the intimate details of a tiny molecule in a microscope in microscopic detail.”- Weinberg, page 202
Chapter 13 looks into the trial of O.J. Simpson. This case was momentous for many reasons: O.J.’s fame, the fortune he used to defend himself, and the seemingly incriminating DNA evidence all played a part in an event that grew from a simple court case into a nationwide media extravaganza. The media played a large part in people’s perceptions of O.J., and made it tough for the jury and the public to stay unbiased while the trial proceeded. Recently, this trial has come back into the public scene with the tv series The People V. O.J. Simpson. Does this show accurately portray the case of O.J., or is the story of the case dramatized in order to make it seem more interesting than it actually is? In film, one often has to consolidate facts and events in order to make things fit into a certain time-slot. This may have impacted how true to the original the characters and events in the show were. Either way, people should keep in mind that the show is fiction and not completely factual when they are watching, or else they may get the wrong idea about the trial
In Chapter 10, Weinberg writes about the discovery of the polymerase chain reaction, or the process used to duplicate DNA. While we talked a lot about it in class, I thought that some people still did not completely understand the process (myself included), so here is a post on Reddit which explains it well. In addition to that Reddit post, while I was researching I found many Q&A Reddit threads with scientists who were involved in GMO study. I felt that these threads were relevant to our discussion, since we talked about GMO’s in class earlier in the semester. The questions that the scientists are asked are very interesting and give a lot of insight into how these GMO companies function and understand their work. Here they are:
“Ask Me Anything About Transgenic (GMO) Crops!”
Since the dawn of humanity, mankind has been perplexed by this strange attraction we call love. People have tried to define love as a joining of two halves of a whole, a union of two bodies, and even as simply an act of asserting dominance over others. However, modern interpretations of love are much more emotionless, as shown by this article from Fusion.com, which even goes as far as to show what is happening in your brain during different “stages” of love. In my opinion, Frediani gets stuck in these early stages in his college and early-20’s life, and this immobility contributed to his problems with Helena Greenwood in the late 80’s. Love is a complex emotion, based in a variety of sciences from neuroscience to anthropology to most fields of biology. All in all, it is a highly interesting field and I cannot wait to find out more about it in the future.
In my Moodle questions this week, i asked “Since the police depend so much on DNA evidence when investigating certain crimes, would it be ethical for the government to create a database with the DNA of all American citizens?” Turns out, such a database exists today! The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS for short) allows the FBI and other government agencies to use DNA analysis to solve a myriad of problems, from missing persons cases to murder and rape trials like the one in Pointing from the Grave. Many people would say that this gives governments too much power, allowing them to know too much about its citizens. Perhaps in the future, this database could even be used to clone people or grow organs for them! I thought this was really cool, and just goes to show that you should always check for facts before asking questions!
One of the most “newsworthy” types of stories is the story of a person who was previously convicted and then freed on new DNA evidence. The Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, which has grown rapidly in popularity and sparked a lot of debate, covers a man wrongly convicted of murder and then freed in 2003. When pondering the questions that this series and other stories like it ask, many are starting to suspect that many in prison right now are innocent, and could be freed like Steven Avery, the convict in Making a Murderer. This article from the New York Times talks about the difficulties convicts have getting DNA tests while imprisoned by the American justice system.
In Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, readers are able to get a glimpse into the process of creating major innovations. Johnson has already established himself as an insightful and creative author with his other books like The Ghost Map, which looks into the spread and cure of cholera in London. In each of his books, Johnson explains complicated concepts in a novel and simple way, allowing contemporary readers to understand the points he is trying to make. This book is no exception, with each chapter illuminating a different quality of the ideal idea-making process. To prove his points, Johnson uses a myriad of examples of innovation ranging from lone inventors to the exploits of coral reefs to the creation of the very first computers. Through each example in his novel, Johnson shows his idea-making concepts at work in real life. Continue reading “Where Good Ideas Come From: A Method to the Madness of Innovation?”
“Sam Morishima had a gut feeling that something was wrong…’I drove on the freeway past the Del Mar exit, and I had this strong feeling that I should drop by Twenty-third Street on my way. But I told myself that was stupid- I would see Helena as soon as I got to the office.” – Weinberg 69
Why did Sam get a “strong feeling” he should drop by Helena’s house on the day she was killed? Mothers have reported the same type of feelings when their children or loved ones are in trouble. Is there a scientific explanation for this phenomena? Though I searched around on Google for some kind of article that would explain this, I could find nothing that explained or addressed this. However, many people report that on the day that someone dies, they “had a feeling that they should call”, or were uneasy for no reason. It could be a placebo used to stifle guilt and grief, or a story to reassure one’s faith in the ethereal and spiritual, but no one truly knows. It is hard to scientifically identify this type of thing, but I think it shows that we have much to learn about science, psychology, and the universe itself even today.
In response to Chapter 5, I found an article in the New Yorker called “Can fingerprints lie?”. This article gives lots of information about fingerprints, and includes an interesting anecdote about an officer who was accused of murder because her fingerprints were wrongly identified. At this point in the book (Chapter 5), can we assume that the same thing has happened to David Paul Frediani? He does not match the physical description that Helena provided, but also she was not in the greatest mental state when she gave that description. Either way, this article raises some great questions about forensic science’s dependency on fingerprint evidence.
“Now, practically every policeman is trained in the art of collecting fingerprints, and every police crime lab has a fingerprint analyst.”- Weinberg 49
Though Weinberg talks about hiding fingerprints through gloves, I wondered if it was truly possible to remove one’s own fingerprints like Agent J (Will Smith) does in one of my favorite films, Men in Black. I found a a small debate about it on a question site called quora.com, which mentions that it is possible to temporarily “sand” off one’s fingerprints as well as permanently burn them off. So, in reality, the device used in Men In Black could very well be a real thing; However, this article from CNN says that it is useless, at least from a criminal’s perspective. Fingerprint analysis techniques get better every day, and even mutilating one’s own fingers might not be enough to escape the cops anymore.
In Chapter 3, Weinberg brings up multiple examples of society rejecting scientific developments. Helena, Gregor Mendel, and Oscar Avery all encountered difficulty telling the world what they had discovered. Mendel was “revered and reviled”, with his discoveries polarizing the scientific community. Avery was misinterpreted, and thought that rather than evidence that DNA contains the material for human life it was merely a step in the process. Did Helena face the same stubborn community that silenced many of the great minds that came before her? In my memory, the world of the late 20th and early 21st century has accepted many scientific discoveries (like Hawking’s black hole theory) almost too easily. For example, recently evidence of gravitational waves was discovered by scientists at the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. Every one I talked to accepted that evidence without question, and either were excited and supportive or indifferent. However, no one opposed that discovery or said “that can’t be!” It seems that, in our modern era, people are more accepting and supportive of scientific ideas. This could be for many reasons; Rapid information transfer in the Internet Era could be to blame, or the presence of science in the media. Maybe this could even be because the world has learned from the mistaken rejections of Mendel’s philosophy in the past, and has grown to be a better place because of it.
As we all are flawed human beings who have a limited experience and perception, we cannot truly make anything that is not colored by our personal biases and beliefs. However, we can do a lot to temper our biases and try to provide both sides of a story. In writers of nonfiction and journalists, this quality is expected if not required. I feel that in Chapter 2 of Pointing from the Grave, Weinberg doesn’t do enough to provide an unbiased picture of the lives of Helena Greenwood and David Paul Frediani. She spends the first half of the chapter explaining the childhood and personality of Helena Greenwood. She includes anecdotes about Helena’s organizational quirks, her love life, and her early fears and motivations.
When Weinberg talks about Frediani, she adopts a much different tone. She is unfeeling, and every time she talks about Frediani or his girlfriend it seems she already has the assumption in her mind that he is guilty of the sexual assaults she previously mentioned, though she makes no attempt to tell us of her convictions. To me, this is like having a detective flick where one of the characters is very obviously the villain but none of the other characters notice it. Weinberg makes almost no effort to tell us about the life of Frediani, how he met his girlfriend (she spends one sentence on the relations between Frediani and his girlfriend while she spent almost two pages describing the relations of Helena and her husband Roger), or his profession. I have not read further into the text than this, so I do not know if he is guilty or not, but her bias seems to underlie every line and passionately push readers into believing that Frediani is guilty.
“‘You would concede…that there are hundreds of thousands of males in California with Mr. Frediani’s height and build?'”-page 11
One greatly under-appreciated aspect of our modern society is the widespread use of DNA mapping that Weinberg talks about in the prologue. One can only imagine how many people were incarcerated because they looked like someone who committed a crime, or because the victim’s foggy memories convinced them that the persons accused of harming them must be the ones who actually performed the crime. Using appearances and the accounts of individuals is an extremely inaccurate and tough method of identifying guilty parties, and its difficulty is part of the reason law is such an acclaimed profession. DNA mapping is a great advancement of forensic science, and it can only lead to less people being unjustly jailed and accused of crime.
“The fourth quadrant should be a reminder that more than one formula for innovation.”- Johnson 236
I believe that this is the main message of Johnson’s book. Clearly, he has defined methods through which innovation has developed in many different aspects of science and nature. However, Johnson never comes out and says “This is how you innovate. This method is the way that you can become a great inventor and make amazing innovations. This is mostly because a method like this doesn’t exist. Johnson does a great job showing us this, as well as showing us specific factors that influence the process of idea making. He chooses to not try to define the Eureka! moments so that we can use his advice to go out and think freely rather than try to follow some formula he claims facilitate idea-making.
Internet platforms have a great potential for the sharing of ideas and concepts. Johnson mentions Twitter in his chapter about platforms, but there are so many other areas where idea sharing can occur. The great thing about the Internet is that you don’t have to live in a specific area in order to access complex and vastly different communities, like you have to with cities. One has access to troves of information, and if you can find the right websites and forums one can expand their adjacent possible almost infinitely. In addition, the availability of blogs allows people to publish their discoveries much quicker than they would before the advent of the Web. However, this has drawbacks. For example, internet posters depend on the will of seemingly random public opinion to “go viral”, or receive recognition. Regardless, the Internet is a budding new platform that is already leading to innovation and will clearly lead to more in the future.
Since I was a kid, I have loved to play video games. I really enjoy watching games evolve, and I marvel at how games went from simple simulations like Pong to such varied experiences as Super Smash Bros and GTA. In many (if not most) of these games, exaptations serve as a key method to making a game feel fresh and exciting. One of my favorite games, Undertale (which released last year), takes the traditional style of an RPG like Final Fantasy and merges it with the tactics of a completely different style of game, bullet-hell shooters (games where you have to shoot or avoid a large amount of fast-moving particles, such as Galaga or Super Hexagon). Undertale uses these fast-paced mechanics to solve a problem that many gamers had with the RPG genre; namely, that there was not enough challenge and that fights quickly became repetitive and boring. This is only one way in which exaptation is used in the modern era.
“Two brilliant scientists with great technological acumen stumble across evidence of the universe’s origin- evidence that would ultimately lead to a Nobel Prize for both of them- and yet their first reaction is: Our telescope must be broken.“- Johnson 139
In this chapter, Johnson proves that one of the greatest forces of innovation in the world is, strangely enough, making mistakes. Seemingly limitless amounts of inventions, from Viagra to vacuum tubes, were discovered by accident. This raises the question, “Why do schools tend to punish people so harshly for making mistakes?” I went to a kind of competitive private high school, and when it came to tests and grades (especially when taking the SAT and ACT exams) I was taught that mistakes were unacceptable. People got taunted for getting bad grades, for making tiny mistakes or misinterpreting the questions asked. My friends who went to public high school tell me similar stories, if not as extreme. If schools are supposed to teach us to generate ideas, think freely, and live independently, then why do we so aggressively attack something that is proven to be one of the greatest sources of innovation ever, specifically human error? I believe that this is a major problem with our school system today and it needs to be addressed before more people are misled into putting perfect scores before good ideas.
Did you know that people with higher IQ tend to have worse handwriting than those with lower IQ? In our scientific society, a person is considered smart when they are organized, in control, and thorough. However, the mind of the truly smart person seems to lie much closer to the stereotype of the “absentminded professor” than the “stern headmaster”. This gives me much hope, seeing that my life is constantly a mess of balancing schoolwork, friends, plans for the future, and leisure activities. Johnson clearly shows us that a mind needs randomness, or serendipity, in order to truly function to its full extent.
“–Just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book.”- Johnson 84
Both this quote and this whole chapter gave me inspiration to start up my journal again. It’s something I’ve been trying to do since I entered college, but I could never keep up on it. But after hearing about the wonderful things that keeping a journal can do, I’ve been inspired to keep one once again. It’s very hard to get into the habit of writing every single night, but its worth it just to organize your thoughts for one hour or so a day. Not only that, with the modern push to bring everything onto the Web, there are plenty of apps that one can use to journal, not to mention blogging or just writing in the notes section in cell phones. I found this article. I also found this great article that goes in-depth into different ways you can jot down your thoughts.
One of my personal philosophies is “everything in moderation”: I try to find a balance at which I can enjoy everything life throws at me, by not being too extremely inclined toward an idea or thing that I cannot consider the other options. For example, dieting is good and I try to eat healthy, but overdoing it by eating almost nothing of substance would ultimately harm me (as would eating only fatty junk foods). It seems that liquid networks work because they have a moderate amount of order; suffocating corporate environments create too little communication while TBWA/Chiat/Day’s “non-territorial” offices led to too much freedom and were a failure. Liquid networks form because of a supervisor moderating the control they have over the network, keeping enough order to keep things flowing but enough open space to stimulate conversation, creativity, and, ultimately, the growth of ideas. I think that I already employ liquid networks in my life, and I hope that others find ways to incorporate them into theirs
I really enjoyed this chapter on the Adjacent Possible. I had never thought of defining a limit of what you can do and think, and after reading this chapter I realize it’s a great tool not just for building ideas but for organizing thoughts and solving problems. One space that has a very clear adjacent possible which I think would apply very well to this concept is video games and cell phone apps. In many short games, especially apps like Jetpack Joyride and Temple Run (two apps I play way too much of), there is a clear ceiling that you are aiming to hit. In these games, your main motivation is to get money to upgrade your character so that the game gets easier. However, there is always a point where there are no more upgrades, no more reasons to continue playing the games. In a way, the goal of all game developers is to expand the adjacent possible of their games. In the games I mentioned above, the way to do that would be to add more upgrades to the game, thus expanding the amount of things you can buy. In the same fashion, adding content to a sandbox game like Grand Theft Auto expands the adjacent possible of what players can do. This is only one way to use the adjacent possible in the development of ideas that Johnson may not have had in mind when he was writing this book
“The poet and the engineer (and the coral reef) may seem a million miles apart in their particular forms of expertise, but when they bring good ideas into the world, similar patterns of development and collaboration shape that process.”- Johnson 22
This quote sticks out to me because it summarizes the concept this book is trying to prove. When I first read this, i thought that this was a very exaggerated claim to make. However, as I thought more about it, I realized that Johnson was right, and that in many cases great ideas seem to come from the some trains of thought in many different fields. We are so used to thinking of science as its own field, separate from authors or philosophers who delve into the human soul, but not too long ago this wasn’t the case. In many ways, science is simply another school of philosophy, asking the same type of questions that Socrates and Aristotle asked but backed up by hundreds of years of critical thought.