A Scientific Anthology: Multiple Discoveries

Introduction

Science is all about discovery and invention. Discoveries can come from slow hunches or even spontaneously. What isn’t normally considered is the possibility of the same discovery occurring by two different people. The concept of multiple discovery, otherwise known as simultaneous invention, suggests that scientific discoveries are typically made independently of one another but simultaneously by many scientists. Essentially, more than one scientist has independently discovered the same thing.

 

This anthology profiles 15 examples of multiple discoveries in various historical situations and books that we have read this semester. From the discovery of evolution to the discovery of a carbon nanotube, it is important to understand the many types of discoveries, the time frame, and the context in which each item was discovered. Furthermore, while these examples are offered, this anthology aims to aid in the understanding of how multiple discoveries contribute to the success of of the scientific field.

Continue reading “A Scientific Anthology: Multiple Discoveries”

A Scientific Anthology: Multiple Discoveries

The Success of Genentech: Integrating Science, Law, and Corporate Business

      Do you ever wonder what it takes for a company to be successful? Sally Smith Hughes’ book, Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech, answers this question with an inside look at the makings of Genentech, a California-based biotech company, and their quest to make human insulin and growth hormone commercialized. Hughes has established herself as an academic scholar through her study of the history of science and her oral stories such as “Making Dollars out of DNA: The First Major Patent in Biotechnology and the Commercialization of Molecular Biology” as she looks into discoveries and commercialization (Berkeley). Similarly, in Genentech, she integrates scientific, legal and corporate ideas to portray the biotech startup and challenges it faced. The most important challenges are competition, patentability, and partnerships with corporate companies, all of which Hughes uses to give readers who are unfamiliar with these fields a better understanding. Continue reading “The Success of Genentech: Integrating Science, Law, and Corporate Business”

The Success of Genentech: Integrating Science, Law, and Corporate Business

Academics in Industry

“Commercialization of biological discoveries was far from novel at the birth of Genentech: Big Pharma had been doing it for a long time. But for a member of the academic community to be so intimately involved, that was a sea change. No one had thought much about the rules for how this might be done. So there were repercussions, particularly among the faculty of UCSF- a hue and cry over potential conflicts of interest. It was a harrowing time for Herb Boyer”- (Hughes 72)

Firstly, even though Hughes here makes a distinction between using academic discoveries for profit and academics using academic resources for profit, I do not see a difference. If Big Pharma was using discoveries found in research labs for profit, that is essentially the same thing as using research labs to make profit. In the end, the work of the research labs is being used for money-making purposes.

Secondly, Boyer himself was not motivated by profit, saying he “thought I was doing something that was valuable to society” (Hughes 73). Just the fact that he went through depression after experiencing all the criticism from academia shows that his motives were sincere. He was still performing his duties as professor, so why was his using university labs a problem? I guess it is the equivalent to someone doing their own project at work, and not their company’s assignments, and so losing their company money, but I feel like the point of research universities is not to make money off research, but to contribute to the knowledge pool of that field. Furthermore, if the point of research universities is to better society, was’t Boyer doing that? Finally, I feel as though the fact that the criticism came mainly from other UCSF professors says a lot.

Academics in Industry

It Isn’t Just CSI: Piecing Together DNA, the Courtroom, and Perspectives

       Do you ever find yourself watching Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) and wonder: How do they trace a killer in 45 minutes? Samantha Weinberg’s book, Pointing from the Grave, answers this question as she follows the court case involving the sexual assault and murder of Helena Greenwood. Weinberg has established herself as a scientific author through her other books like A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth where she explores the process of scientific discovery to explain the evolutionary history and ecological importance of this organism. While Weinberg expresses interest in evolutionary science, in an astonishing crime and science thriller, Pointing from the Grave, she pieces together genetic technology, forensic science, and courtroom laws to formulate an exciting tale of a crime solving. Weinberg presents readers unfamiliar with the field of science with reliable scientific explanations, an in-depth understanding of the trial, and an inside look into the perspectives of various individuals involved to effectively tell the story of the murder of Helena Greenwood and the tracing of her killer, Paul Frediani, fifteen years later. Continue reading “It Isn’t Just CSI: Piecing Together DNA, the Courtroom, and Perspectives”

It Isn’t Just CSI: Piecing Together DNA, the Courtroom, and Perspectives

Genetic Nature of Personality Traits

“Hamer noticed a correlation: the people with more copies of the mini satellite- more stutters- exhibited a greater desire for novelty… It was one of the first studies linking a personality trait to a specified genetic state….In the coming decades, there will be a monumental leap in our knowledge of the genetic location 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 p 349-350

I think that if Weinberg were to comment on her speculation today, almost 15 years after the publication of her book, she would say genetic disease typing is moving a lot slower than she thought. I myself might just be out of the loop, but I feel like there have not been any major leaps forward in the field that studies genetic links to our personalities.

On the other hand, a 2012  article describing a study done by British researchers asserts that nature (genes) play more of a role in our personalities than nurture does, supposedly providing an answer to the nature vs. nurture debate. The study showed that identical twins were twice more likely to share personality traits than non-identical twins, who do not have identical DNA. The researchers focused on personality traits such as perseverance and self-control, and showed that there was the biggest genetic difference in these types of traits, i.e. the ability to keep going when things got hard. The researchers were less focused on individual talent, and more about what drove that talent.

I think that this is a very interesting and diverse field, with plenty of room for several applications and a great potential to make people’s lives better by understanding and diagnosing their conditions efficiently. But I also think it leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, particularly where what doctors diagnose as psychological conditions intermingle with what would now be known to be genetic predisposition. I also think that people might have more excuses for their behavior, now that they could blame their actions on DNA, or almost like instinct, as if they were forced to do something. But I think the biggest issue comes from what Weinberg was afraid of, completely knowing what every trait and gene in our body do and having a map of them. I think this is a ethical dilemma, and further research in this area would be open to ethical scrutiny of not done carefully.

Genetic Nature of Personality Traits

“Ambiguous” DNA Tests

“Taylor’s laboratory had spent the last year running all sorts of tests on the Profiler Plus system and the 310 Genetic Analyzer, he told Bartick. On numerous occasions, the results had been, at best, ambiguous.” -Weinberg 259

I find it very astounding to think that DNA tests that were being used to test people’s innocence or guilt in certain situations were not giving clear results. I think that when people’s lives are at stake, everything should be as blatantly clear as possible. This obviously ties in to the Innocence Project and its purpose of freeing wrongly convicted people, but it was from the other side: using DNA evidence to show that people were innocent. I think that it is a hard line to walk, especially because DNA evidence has the power to be so influential, so it is important that it be used ethically and carefully.

This also brings into question the nature of the court system and prosecution. Why were they so quick to accept the lab results given to them? I think it was because they were amazed by the infallibility of DNA. But as infallible as science is, it can be fallible when handled or interpreted incorrectly, either on purpose or unknowingly. I think that the best solution for this is to do all testing blind, but most importantly, make sure the technology is 100 percent accurate before it is used to convict someone of a crime. I think the end goal of the courts should be to find the person who committed the crime, not just person.

“Ambiguous” DNA Tests

Bias in Forensic Science

” I said something along the lines of, ‘This looks very promising, but for it to be used in court, we have to pass the Frye standard.’ I outlined the possible weaknesses, as I saw them; validation of the statistics, standards for matches, all the things that seemed pretty apparent to us. I thought I had given a nice talk about what would have to be done, when this woman from the Orange County crime lab stood up and said, ‘This kind of talk is dangerous. You shouldn’t be saying these kinds of things in public. Defense lawyers might find out about this and use it’ ” -Weinberg 192

I think that this attitude from forensic scientists says a lot. Firstly, I think that it shows the bias that at the time forensic scientists had towards defendants in general: they strove to prove them guilty. This statement from this woman shows that she and forensic scientists as a community were most likely to be on the side of the prosecution. This is even proven after Weinberg points out that the DNA testing was never done blind, and so forensic scientists were basically giving their own personal verdicts to the prosecution and courts.

This attitude is very alarming to me personally, because I consider myself a scientist also. It worries me to think that other scientists would inject their own opinions and biases into evidence and use science as a means to an end. For me, science and the discovery of new things should come from and be used as a way to make everyone’s lives easier and more efficient, not to meet one’s own personal agenda. It is also alarming to think that these labs and the courts were not monitoring the DNA testing, so that it would be blind. Weinberg even mentions that a scientist who studied the DNA of birds could’t even imagine doing her experiments unblinded. If birds are monitored so closely, why weren’t humans? Are they not more important and aren’t the implications more drastic? I feel as though this situation was almost a breach of ethics.

Bias in Forensic Science

Nobel Prize Credit?

They continue to maintain that Henry Erlich’s work in making PCR into what is probably one of the most useful–and widely used– biochemical tools, the genetic equivalent of a photocopying machine, has been under-credited. But Mullis emphatically disagrees: ‘Henry Erlich? He was just the lucky person in the lab down the corridor who got to use PCR to amplify stuff’ – Weinberg, p157

I found this argument between Erlich and Mullis very interesting, mostly because I do not see how Erlich in any way would share in the Nobel Prize. Also, it seems to be a unique case to begin with because not many industry scientists receive Nobel Prizes. But regardless, I agree with Mullis solely getting the recognition. It is true that his company gave him the platform on which he needed to fully implement his idea, the “slow hunch” (Steven Johnson) was entirely his. In order for Mullis to find his eureka moment in that car that day, he needed to have a problem to solve and mull over in his head (which he did). Erlich’s contribution was patented fairly, as it was used directly to make money for his company.

Erlich developed PCR technology and made it practical, but he had no say or contribution to the actual theory or idea of what PCR was and how it worked. In Steven Johnson’s terms, he simply built off the platform. It would be like the fish who built its home on a coral reef taking credit for the reef, or the animal that feeds and thrives on the habitation surrounding the reef ecosystem, taking credit for its food being there to begin with, effectively sharing the credit with the polyp skeletons. The only action that is attributed to this feeding animal is that of eating and thriving. This is similar to Erlich, he took a base and built and thrived upon it.

 

Nobel Prize Credit?

Reliability of Physical Signals

I think it is very interesting that Collins made a counterpoint on Murray’s point that Frediani was visibly shaken when told that his prints were identified on the teapot– his shoulders sank and his face became flushed. That is also when he made the statement about being drunk during the act. But Collins reacts by saying that most people who are interviewed in a police station are physically altered or affected, and their physical features can give away their nervousness. So people are not always calm or collected, even when innocent.

This idea reminded me of our discussion of lie detector tests and their reliability. If lie detectors measure heart rate, isn’t it possible that someone who is nervous in general can give a false positive? Maybe someone had a lot of caffeine or is excited about something, or maybe they are simply nervous about being given a lie detector test or being in that setting.This question of the reliability of physical signals also affects court hearings themselves. It is possible that a sorrowful looking or unremorseful-looking person can subconsciously affect the way a just makes their ruling. The physical aspects of a defendant can also affect the physical aspects of the jury, for better or for worse, and truly or artificially.

Reliability of Physical Signals

The Root of Ideas: A Review of Where Good Ideas Come From

    Imagine you are driving along a busy highway in an area you are unfamiliar with. You miss your exit and end up in what seems to be the middle of nowhere. Panicked, you grab your GPS and it reroutes to the correct destination. In this moment, do you think to yourself, where did this invention come from? How did it become so successful?

     Steven Johnson’s novel, Where Good Ideas Come From, is successful in answering these questions as he proposes the seven steps to creating good ideas in a page-turning and thought provoking novel meant for individuals of all disciplines. Johnson offers insight on how good ideas arise in such a way that has never been considered before. He proposes that good ideas come from adjacent possibles, slow hunches, liquid networks, serendipities, platforms, error, and quadrants. Johnson focuses on the theme that ideas build off one another by coexisting in a prosperous environment. Specifically, Johnson’s fascinating and flawless discussion of hunches, platforms, and serendipities are perfect examples of how readers understand some ways in which good ideas form and thrive. Continue reading “The Root of Ideas: A Review of Where Good Ideas Come From”

The Root of Ideas: A Review of Where Good Ideas Come From

Locard’s Exchange Principle

“One of the fundamental tenets of crime detention, Locard’s Exchange Principle, states that a cross transfer of evidence takes place whenever a criminal comes into contact with a victim, an object or a crime scene. When the victim has died after a violent struggle, it is almost inevitable that in the course of the fight, as they claw each other, the victim might manage to scrape vital pieces of evidence with their fingernails– skin, dirt, hair” Weinberg 75

This process really stood out to me, particularly, how true is it? I am sure that it is a well established principle in the forensic science world, and has been used over and over to find and convict guilty offenders. But in real situations, it does not seem like it is as guaranteed as the principle makes it seem. Especially since there was not enough evidence under Helena’s fingernails to identify anyone’s DNA. Maybe it is because I watch too many CSI shows and am not immersed in any way with the actual process of real cases and forensic data collection, but it seems to me that this principle applies more in theory than in real life. This seems plausible especially for well planned out murders. The murderer probably tries to decrease physical contact as much as possible, and probably tries to get it over with as fast as possible without leaving behind any evidence. I think in cases where the murderer is somewhat mentally unstable or has a personal vendetta or wants revenge on someone, then they might attempt a hand to hand murder or come in close physical contact with the victim. This seems to be the kind of case that CSI shows deal with anyway.

Locard’s Exchange Principle

Lowering the Bail?

Weinberg recounts in the preliminary hearing that Martin Murray, the prosecution against Paul Frediani, is very  much against the lowering of Frediani’s bail from $100,000 to $25,000. The judge originally says she has reason to believe Frediani committed three offenses, but after Murray challenges the bail, she just says the reason for the $25,000 is for his exposure in front of the young girl. Additionally, he is going to therapy a few times a week and he has cooperated so far, not showing any signs of running.

This whole situation is a bit strange to me. I don’t understand why Murray was so against lowering the bail to begin with. Even though Frediani does not appear to be struggling with money, the difference between $25 and $100,000 for a regular person don’t seem to be that much. I don’t think Frediani could have managed either on his own anyway. But he gets very vocal when the judge suggests lowering the bail. From this angle though, it is hard to understand why the judge lowered the bail, even if that was the standard bail for exposure in front of the little girl. The judge seemed to think there was enough evidence to convict him of three crimes in trial, so why would she suddenly be okay with lowering the bail? She goes along easily with the defenses claims that Frediani was cooperating with police, even though this was his second time in court. Finally, what does this argument in the first place tell us about the importance of bail in criminal proceedings?

Lowering the Bail?

Landsteiner’s Slow Hunch

“Landsteiner, a shy man in his early thirties and an assistant professor of Pathology at the University of Vienna, had been drawn from medical practice and back into research out of frustration at the shortcomings of medicines in dealing with many illnesses” -Weinberg 51

Pathology- the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes (Google). Landsteiner is the man who discovered that humans have different blood types, and so for blood transfusions to be successful, their types must match.

I think Landsteiner is an example of Johnson’s slow hunch. At first look, it might look like Landsteiner just deciding to look at how blood differs and discovering blood types as serendipity, or just a happy chance or eureka moment. But at second look, Landsteiner needed his years of study and failures in the medicinal field to give him not only the idea or inspiration to look at a different problem, but also the materials and methods necessary. In other words, he trained and worked in the medicinal field and so was able to decide that that was what he didn’t want to do, and looked at a different problem/perspective with the same eyes and skills that he had used for years.

Landsteiner started out in the field of pathology, he experimented with body tissue to learn about preventing disease. But because what he was doing was not working (Johnson’s failure), he approached his problem (reversing disease) from a different perspective and found something even better- he learned another way to prevent disease.

Landsteiner’s Slow Hunch

The Slow Hunch and the DNA answer

” ‘From the start we hoped for some chemical revelation that would lead to the correct structure’, Watson wrote. ‘But we never anticipated that the answer would come so suddenly in one swoop and with such finality’. It was a true Eureka moment” (Weinberg 38-39).

I think that this quote, about Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA, illustrates Steven Johnson’s point about slow hunches being the basis of all good ideas. There actually aren’t generally such things as “eureka” moments. True, it seemed as if Watson just miraculously stumbled upon the answer to DNA’s structure, but in reality his process was different. For one, he collaborated the whole time with Crick, and so his ideas were inevitably influenced by and checked by someone else.

For another thing, Watson and Crick were basically at a stumped point in their research when they went and saw Rosalin Franklin’s work of X-ray photographs of DNA. Weinberg even says that with “more earnest manipulation of their models” (Weinberg 38), they started working harder to find the solution. This basically means that competition was a driving point to them making their discovery.

Finally, the two scientists were trying the whole time to answer one question: what was the structure of DNA? They were searching for this specific answer. They had exhausted basically all other possibilities and answers when they made the discovery. From this, one could argue that they just naturally arrived at the answer from their slow hunch.

The Slow Hunch and the DNA answer

Reconciling Business and Science

“It was Kohne who had developed a revolutionary new method for diagnosing infectious diseases, using DNA probes instead of traditional cultures. Helena liked them, and needed little persuading to accept their offer. She was excited about the technology– she had been following the developments in DNA as they rolled through the scientific literature like a snowball on virgin snow, and she knew that it  was the way the biotech industry was heading, with Gen-Probe leading the rush.” -Weinberg 21

Helena Greenwood lands this job heading up the marketing department of Gen-Probe because the co-founder of this biotech company had seen her at international markets “present papers to scientists and salesmen alike and was impressed” (Weinberg 21). In short, Helena got the job because she was so efficient at being a scientist and salesperson. In her description of Helena, Weinberg presents her as passionately interested in science, but also as wanting to improve the field of biotechnology itself, by reconciling the business and science aspects of it, and improving the efficiency of the relationship. This is what inspires her to get into the marketing side of biotechnology to begin with.

Helena’s ability and passion to bring the two aspects of the field together are very interesting to me. It reminds me of Steven Johnson’s observation that most “geniuses” were masters of many trades and had many interests and hobbies: guys like Einstein and Ben Franklin were not only scientists and statesmen but also musicians and hobbyists.

But this leads me to ask of Helena’s great success in life: was it due to her multiple interests? If Helena had never gotten into the business side of biotechnology, would she have continued to climb the ladder? Could she have continued to advance just staying in the research side of things? I think she could have continued researching and with unlimited possibilities simply due to her intellectual capacity. But I think the true genius and the fulfillment of her potential came from her passion to combine the two aspects. I think this is an interesting question to consider regardless, because there are so many “what ifs” that can be asked of great innovators and minds of the past few centuries. Were their ideas worth a lot because they could be exapted, or did the innovator exapt themselves and their skill set and passions to an ever changing world?

Reconciling Business and Science

Weinberg’s Writing and The Trial

As someone who has never really read or enjoyed  mysteries in general, I was surprised that I am anticipating reading on in this story. I think that Weinberg does an outstanding job at intertwining science and mystery and real life. She is also an eloquent writer to begin with, and this adds to the enjoyment of reading the text.

But the way the whole trial happened that Weinberg presented raised a few questions in my mind. Firstly, I was confused why Greenwood’s case was not put before a judge until a year after the incident. This seems confusing to me especially because the first thing she did after the attack was report it to the police. This issue may be something we find out the answer to as we read on though.

The was the DA talked to Greenwood was also interesting. When he asked her how she described the race of her attacker, it seemed as if he was almost trying to put words in her mouth at one point, but she also seemed to be guarding her words or avoiding the direct question a little bit. I think that the DA was trying to protect his client, but I also do not think that Weinberg was racist herself.

Weinberg’s Writing and The Trial

Tires-To-Sandals

“In Darwin’s language, the open connections of the tangled bank have been just as generative as the war of nature. Stephen Jay Gould makes this point powerfully in the allegory of his sandal collection: ‘The wedge of competition has been, ever since Darwin, the canonical argument for progress in normal times.’ he writes. ‘But I will claim that the wheel of quirky and unpredictable functional shift (the tire-to-sandals-principle) is the major source of what we call progress at all scales” -Johnson 239

I really agree here with Gould’s second point, that the tire-to-sandals-principle is “true” progress. I think that the most innovative and useful for moving human life forward are the principles that rely on what we have in excess or even whatever we have just lying around. Johnson illustrated this with the incubators which were made out of car parts in poorer countries where car parts were all over and easily accessible. Not only was this an efficient way of building new beneficial technology, but it ensured that it would be fixable and reliable when the time came.

Personally, I think that humans have a much greater potential for innovations such as these (sandals made from tires or the incubators made from car parts). I think that the former point made by Gould is the reason why these innovations are not made more often (or we are not made aware of them). I think part of our capitalist society is the motivation to get ahead, and so innovators, even from the fourth quadrant, tend to be focused on advancing this country, and not focused on benefiting poorer nations and people. This is obviously not necessarily always the case, as there are tons of inventions from and in developed countries that have and can help out poorer nations. But I think the focus is usually on making a prosperous country more prosperous, and finding more efficient ways to do this. I think with a cooperative effort from many prosperous nations and the creative minds within, by creating networks that are much more international and internationally accessible, we can greatly expand the “wheel of quirky and unpredictable functional shift [that] we call progress at all scales”.

Tires-To-Sandals

Reuse or Abandon?

“Platforms have a natural appetite for trash, waste, and abandoned goods… Emergent platforms derive much of their creativity from the inventive and economical reuse of existing resources…” -Johnson 199

“Nature has long built its platforms by recycling the available resources, including the waste generated by other organisms. Two things we have in abundance on this planet right now are pollution and seawater. Why not try to build a city out of them?” – Johnson 205

The first quote and idea of Johnson really struck me in regards to new ways and places of human habitation. A common theme in sic-fi books taking place in the future is proposing places where the author imagines humans will be living come some 50, 100, or even a thousand years from now. One that I came across was underground cities. At this point in life, humans had polluted the earth so much that the decided to move underground and build vast networks and infrastructures that were prosperous and habitable while sparing the earth’s bounty above. Other story lines suggest that humans trash their habitats so much that they just move on to other places and must start from scratch.

I think these two proposed situations illustrate an aspect that Johnson’s doesn’t really address about platforms and their efficiency.  For one, I think that for used platforms to be successful in fostering new ideas and having ideas built on top of them, they cannot be overused or dried up. For example, humans being forced to move underground or completely abandon cities because of the level of pollution and destruction does not allow for new ideas to grow or human life to prosper, unless they be animals or organisms that can make use of the environment.

Secondly, Johnson suggests that we build cities out of pollution and seawater, his point being that we can use waste and products which are just sitting idly but largely at our disposal to create things. This lead me to wonder, with all this recent craze about moving to space and inhabiting it, are we moving/thinking in the wring direction? Should we focus  on allowing human life to expand into space, which I am sure that scientists are going to be able to do, or should we focus on making use of the tons of untapped resources that are still on the earth (and maybe make existing resources a bit cleaner while we are at it)? I think it this is such a hard question to answer because there are so many factors involved. Ethics, government, profit, wealth, individual and corporate interests, country’s interests, these are all factors that make the issue complicated.

Reuse or Abandon?

How to encourage innovation?

“The most creative individuals in Reuf’s survey consistently had broad social networks that extended outside their organization and involved people from diverse fields of expertise… Diverse, horizontal social networks, in Reuf’s analysis, were three times more innovative than uniform, vertical networks. In groups united by shared values and long-term familiarity, conformity and convention tended to dampen any potential creative sparks” -Johnson 166

I think that most people would agree with this quote (even though it was already proven in a scientific study). Johnson alluded to this idea earlier when he suggested that the more people collaborate, the more innovative they are. But he also suggested an example where offices tried to encourage more talking between employees by having an “open” workspace, where people weren’t separated by desk barriers and behind computer screens all day. But he said that this design did not work because people preferred privacy where they could work. So if bringing people and their diverse ideas and ways of thinking together is the best way to move forward, how do we promote it? How do we “force” people to become innovative without actually “forcing” them to?

I think so far, Google has the best example. Like Johnson said, Google gives its employees mandatory time every day to work on their own project. But I think there are ways to improve upon this idea, and I think especially for companies that rely on new ideas to stay prosperous and afloat, it is a must to encourage more innovation. I think one way to do this is definitely to give employees time to work on their own projects like Google. But I think to take it a step further, employees should have to make their projects public at all times to other employees and mandatory for them to respond to a piece of positive and negative criticism once  a week. This will encourage more human interaction and connections and force the more “diverse” and “horizontal” networks that Johnson refers to.

How to encourage innovation?

Darwin’s Hypothesis

“Without noise, evolution would stagnate, an endless series of perfect copies, incapable of change. But because DNA is susceptible to error– whether mutations in the code itself or transcription mistakes during replication– natural selection has a constant source of new possibilities to test…Error is what made humans possible in the first place” -Johnson 142

Darwin’s theory about where these variations that produced the innovations of life came forms that when a particular organ or limb was heavily used in the lifetime of an animal, it released more “gemmules” that shaped the next generation of its species (Johnson 143). As was later proved by genetics, this theory was wrong.So, as Johnson also says, Darwin erred in trying to understand error (and its successes).

This leads to the idea of wondering why Darwin might have failed at understanding completely his discoveries. He seemed to have made the discovery of natural selection in the first place from the combination of his own observations and the adjacent possible. Did he need to “tap into” the adjacent possible once again to understand the whys behind evolution? Was he trying too hard to independently force another “eureka” moment upon himself? Or maybe he simply needed more time to contemplate any slow hunches about the reason behind his observation, constantly keeping them in the back of his mind while focusing on some other problem. Maybe, if he had “slept on the problem” like other scientists who studied single topics for years at a time, he might have come up with a solution.

But looking at Darwin’s hypothesis about the reason behind the selective traits, and comparing it to the quote above, one can say that the only possible way for Darwin to come up with an idea would have been to constantly try different ideas, revising them when they were in error. Darwin actually was acting like DNA when he subjected himself to an unanswered problem (stressed environment) and attempted to answer it.

Darwin’s Hypothesis

Write it down or look it up?

“If the commonplace book tradition tells us that the best way to nurture hunches is to write everything down, the serendipity engine of the Web suggests a parallel directive: looks everything up”– Johnson 123

I feel that this quote has truthfulness in that websites like wikipedia and online references help expand our knowledge and allow us to explore instant hunches. And even though I think that looking everything up that pikes our curiosity is good, this idea counteracts the more random route of exploration that Johnson also endorses, methods like “sleeping on the problem” or Poincare’s pedestrian method of walking where ideas “rose from crowds”. I feel like if Poincare had the web, when he got stuck or encountered a problem, he would immediately go to the web for a solution or for some random browsing. And while this random browsing could possibly stimulate the answer to form in his head, it would be much more natural and easy for him to do what randomly stimulated and gave his mind a break at the same time: take a walk or vacation.

This is not to say that all people are like this, but the more the Web becomes an influence in people’s time, I think we are going to see more solutions and more ideas be born, just different types of ideas.

Write it down or look it up?

Liquid Network vs. World Wide Web

“The Web arose as the answer to an open challenge, through the swirling together of influences, ideas, and realizations from many sides, until, by the wondrous offices of the human mind, a new concept jelled. It was a process of accretion, not the linear solving of one problem after another” – Berners-Lee (Johnson 90)

The formal definition of accretion is: “The process of growth or increase, typically by the gradual accumulation of additional layers or matter.” I think this quote from Tim Berners-Lee- the creator of the World Wide Web- outlines Johnson’s liquid network idea perfectly, as well as gives a concrete example. The web as a creation of Berners-Lee did not form from some ingenious spark or eureka moment in his mind. Rather, his idea started from the time he was a child and developed throughout his life, finally culminating from his environment and influences. Johnson argues for something similar in his liquid network. He says that great ideas, even though we tend to think they are some spark of intuition, come from different layers adding up, or different doors opening. Many doors must be opened, as different doors lead to even more different doors. There is never “one” door that leads to innovation. In Berners-Lee’s case, it was a process of opening many doors, while still remembering, connecting, and building upon what was seen through other doors..

Liquid Network vs. World Wide Web

Nature of Innovation

“No doubt some ingenious hunter-gatherer stumbled across the cleansing properties of ashes mixed with animal fat, or dreamed of building aqueducts in those long eons before the rise of cities, and we simply have no record of his epiphany”- Johnson 54

This way this quote is worded makes me wonder about the nature of innovation. Is it fair to assume that a hunter-gatherer simply “stumbled” upon the discovery of mixing ashes and animal fat? Is it possible that he was actually looking for something or experimenting? It also relates to Johnson’s other point of the connection between the concentration of people and the rise of ideas. Was the hunter-gatherer who came across revolutionary ideas simply ingenious or ahead of his time, seeing that he had not city environment to foster his creativity and he came up with the ideas on his own? If this is true, I think that it also applies to many great minds of the modern era, such as Einstein, who seemed to be in a world of his own intuition when it came to new or revolutionary ideas. Yet, I’m sure there are those who would argue that he was equally a product of his environment, upbringing, etc.

Nature of Innovation

New Ways To Help Developing Countries

“The Meulaboh incubators were a representative sample: some studies suggest that as much as 95 percent of medical technology donated to developing countries breaks within the first five years of use”- Johnson 27

This is simply stunning to me as I had no idea that this was the case. When I hear about medical donations to developing countries I have nothing but praise and appreciation for the companies, but now I see them with a new perspective. The developing countries need a way or assistance to develop technology, especially a kind that caters to their environment, not just to be given other’s technology. The human baby incubator made from car parts was truly amazing and a revolutionary idea itself. This makes me wonder what other innovations people can come up with the cater to specific needs in developing countries that can also be renewed, developed, and improved upon easily by the people themselves using their own resources. I can imagine what a difference some kind of water purifier would be to locals and their children if they could build it themselves for minimal costs!

New Ways To Help Developing Countries

Geoffrey West’s Investigation

“Kleiber’s law proved that as life gets bigger, it slows down. But West’s model demonstrated one crucial way in which human-built cities broke from the patterns of biological life: as cities get bigger, they generate ideas at a faster clip”.- Johnson 10

Through intensive research on city’s innovation and creativity, West proved that cities grown more creative as they grow bigger and more connections are made between people. But at what point does this potential for creativity reach its max and at what point does it become counter-productive to bring more people and ideas together? Is there a point where ideas become recycled and refuse to produce more new ideas? I think this is a difficult question to answer because very heavily populated areas can many times be very poor, and so the main focus is survival and staying alive. But this can also foster innovation, when people have little to work with. Then again, many of the most famous or richest innovative cities are the most populated. So maybe an answer is that from different kinds of population concentrations comes different types of new ideas. In turn, the kind of idea being produced leads to a certain attraction for certain people, and they in turn go to that city. Still, I can imagine a city that exponentially grows so much that it becomes entirely too crowded and all connections are put on hold and come second to finding a way to live with mass amounts of people. At this point, people may simply migrate out of the city and the process will start all over again.

Geoffrey West’s Investigation

Ethical Patents?

“The healing potential of plants used by indigenous people may end up providing profits to drug manufacturers as a direct result of their patent rights, while people in poor nations where the plants are found cannot afford basic medical care. The industry argues that a patent is necessary for them to invest in the development of new drugs, whose production benefits everyone” – Eric Grace, 207

I believe this situation is a very serious one and should be taken that way. In theory, there are two legitimate claims to the argument, but in reality, the pharmaceutical industry is taking advantage of their monopoly of industry in society. Indigenous people do not have an obligation to share their medical traditions with modern industry, but at the same time, pharmaceutical industries do have an obligation to use their resources to benefit all of society. This does not mean that they should exploit the indigenous people’s knowledge by using patents unfairly, but should work as hard as possible to first obtain the knowledge fairly with some kind of compensation, and second make the new medicine available and accessible to the indigenous people. If the companies make drugs that are not accessible to everyone, it can be argued that the drugs do not “benefit everyone”, and the companies are simply making profit for their own benefit.

Ethical Patents?