Scientific Anthology: Failure as a Stepping Stone

Introduction

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

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

Scientific Anthology: Failure as a Stepping Stone

Genentech: When Science Stumbles into Business

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

Genentech: When Science Stumbles into Business

Universities’ Role in Biotechnology

In the beginning of Genentech, the founders- Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen- are introduced to us. After a brief introduction to their childhoods and what motivated them to pursue biochemistry, genetics, and biotechnology. Hughes shifts her focus to their research years. Academic Institutions, such as UCSF, start by receiving a profit from researchers from small companies that use the universities’ labs and resources through a grant. However, the staff, faculty, and researchers at such institutions are not the most welcoming.

“Unbeknownst to Genentech, the pharmaceutical giant had previously sealed an agreement with the University of California. Lillly and UC concluded a $13 million =, five-year agreement on the complementary DNA cloning and expression of human insulin and human growth hormone. (Hughes 94)

Here is the purpose of Research Universities is explained. This can give us more understanding as to why Genentech was making this big move. To conclude, in the world of patents, the process of becoming official is tough. The focus on the Genentech’s partnered research universities is to discover the Human genome hormone and insulin. Typically, this is why there is an emphasis on the professors and less on the undergraduates.

Universities’ Role in Biotechnology

Exit Strategies

In chapter 6, the subject of “exit strategies” are discussed. The process is explained as such:

“Genentech would stage a public stock offering. Through one or the other of these “exit strategies”…Kleiner & Perkins and its co-investors would “cash in”, and in so doing fulfill their primary responsibilities: to recoup for their fund investors and for themselves their original investment” (Hughes 140)

It is interesting to see the business behind intellectual companies and research facilities such as Genentech. I knew the purpose of many companies was research, but I didn’t release how tightly woven the business aspect was. It make sense because in order to receive grants and keep the research facility, or pharmaceutical company,  open there must be a good investment with good owners who can keep the place running. New ideas must come up so they stay valuable. This is also in the hope that the companies’ success will lead to potential marketing to different industries.

Exit Strategies

The Aftermath

As Pointing From the Grave comes to a close, it is evident that Weinberg forms a relationship with Frediani that would raise a couple eyebrows had she developed the relationship during the trial. In my opinion, it was strange for Weinberg to continue a working relationship with Frediani after his conviction. Did she have doubts? In addition, did she think Frediani was capable of love? At first, I did not believe Frediani could be capable of real emotions because of the stereotypes surrounding sociopaths and his history of manipulating and hurting his partners. But I was wrong. “Inside the Mind of a Sociopath” describes the type of love Frediani was capable of.

“whatever it is that we feel affection, for me it’s maybe 70 percent gratitude, a little bit of adoration, a little bit of — if it’s a romantic relationship — infatuation or sexual attraction”

It was still wrong, in my opinion, for Weinberg to get wrapped up emotionally with Frediani, but we benefited as readers because we read more of Frediani’s personality and gained possible evidence that he did commit the crime.

The Aftermath

Past and Present: How DNA Intertwines with Crime

Unlike many narratives that are focused on the technical world of DNA and genetics, Pointing From The Grave by Samantha Weinberg introduces and incorporates the language and function of DNA into a murder mystery. The novel-like nature of the book encourages the inclusivity of all readers. Weinberg achieves this by describing and defining genetics at a level that allows the reader to learn and follow a court case effectively. Like jury members, readers learn about DNA during the sexual abuse and murder trials of Helena Greenwood.  Weinberg keeps us wrapped up in her slightly, graphic account of the prime suspect, Paul Frediani, by relating the factual evidence of DNA to civics, the criminal justice system, and psychology. It makes for a chilling tale. A large emphasis is placed on DNA so the readers have enough background and information to partake in the journey with Weinberg to figure out “whodunit”. The roles of numerous detectives in the story are in locating and trying the perpetrators of cromes committed against Helena. Weinberg as the author places herself in between the detectives with an intentional lack of the third person as omniscient. Opposed to texts like Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson, the knowledge from Weinberg does not focus on inventions, but she rather applies the use of DNA in modern day cases, and explores how DNA has helped in past court cases. It is effectively noted as “both the history of a science, overlaid with human drama, and a human tragedy inextricably entwined with science” (xi). Weinberg’s crime narrative is one that can be followed by any reader familiar with the work of DNA and interested in seeing how it is woven into the legal system and identifying criminal suspects. Weinberg has previously written other books such as A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth, The Moneypenny Diaries, and Last of the Pirates: In search of Bob Denard. Weinberg is definitely an experienced and qualified writer; her motivation for this book may be her similarities with Helena Greenwood in age and both being from England. Continue reading “Past and Present: How DNA Intertwines with Crime”

Past and Present: How DNA Intertwines with Crime

Frediani’s Demeanor

When Frediani was first questioned and trialed for the sexual assault of Helena Greenwood, he was described as having these intense change of emotions. He would go from looking frantic to bored to nervous. It causes me to wonder how Frediani uses his emotions against the jury, does he manipulate them? Another instance of his changing demeanor:

“Laura and Vic were trying every tactic the could; cajoling, riling, persuading, threatening. But Frediani did not break… Frediani barely raised an eyebrow” (Weinberg 230)

In this point in time, I see why it would be convenient for Frediani to keep his cool without a presence of a lawyer, especially as an established white-collar worker. But why did he make no move to defend himself? Why does he possess so much confidence when the odds are stacked against him? His actions tie into our class discussion on anti-social personality disorder and bipolar personality disorder.

Frediani’s Demeanor

Irony

In Chapter 16, Weinberg takes a trip to visit Helena’s father, Sydney Greenwood. During her visit, Sydney recounts many memories of his life as a young man, and of Helena’s life. He prided on her accomplishments, and when speaking on her life and murder said:

“Her killer took her life, but he did not silence her. It has taken fifteen years, but I know Helena has spoken from the grave to indict her killer” (244)

This passage gave me chills because it acknowledges the irony of Helena’s career and its connection to her death. Helena had studied the versatility of DNA, and it is ironic to see what a large part it plays in her murder case. Would she be proud of the advancements of her field even though she was a clear sacrifice for its progression? It is grim subject, but I cannot help but wonder.

Irony

A New Life?

Frediani’s post-jail life is highlighted in Chapter 12. It seems as though he is off to a typical, clean life in the beginning of the chapter. He starts at lower, entry-level jobs post-bail but soon manages to make it into the white-collar world. I wonder why Frediani was able to succeed so well after three years in prison, when so many struggle with issues such as homelessness, unemployment, and drug/substance abuse. What mentality did Frediani have that made him succeed? How was he able to pursue an MBA? It makes you think that maybe he was innocent because he was so willing to make a 360 right out of jail. However, when discussions of his anger started to arise later in the chapter, it confirmed (in my mind) that Frediani must have been guilty on some account. His temperament issues might be the switch that makes him commit crimes.

A New Life?

Murder and Sexual Abuse

In Chapter 6, Helena Greenwood is fatally murdered on her way to work. This came as a big shocker to me. I did not expect her to die in the middle of the trial, but because it is a quite a lengthy, I suppose I should have suspected something to occur. At first, I was angry that Helena died without really figuring out who her abuser was, but then this made me suspect Frediani even further. His story did not match up to what it should have. I began to wonder how many victims are attacked when they are going through a trial, what protection are they granted from potential threats? Is it common for sexually abused victims to be murdered? Further, was Helena’s murder an accident? Or a result of excessive force and power during another sexual abuse attempt?

Murder and Sexual Abuse

Alec Jeffreys- Testing of DNA

In Chapter 8 of Pointing from the Grave, we read about the first case that used DNA fingerprinting to catch sexual abuser, and murderer, Colin Pitchfork. We are introduced to Alec Jeffreys early in the chapter, for he was a geneticist who was interested in discovering how differences in DNA can be used to identify criminals.  Jeffreys’ method was also used in the case of a Ghanaian boy who was denied entry back into his country of birth, England.

“He was stopped and detained by immigration officers at the airport, who suspected that a substitution might have occurred. Conventional serological tests-including ABO and PGM- showed that the woman and the boy appeared to be related” (Weinberg 117)

The DNA fingerprinting allowed for the boy’s reunion with his family, but the case really struck me as odd. However, I understand why there was a concern. It made me wonder how many times this is used, falsely or otherwise, on immigrants coming into Western countries. I was also intrigued by the “mass blooding” discussed in the chapter because it seemed like a strange strategy to go about finding a perpetrator, but the method was probably devised out of desperation.

 

Alec Jeffreys- Testing of DNA

Frediani’s Past

It was interesting getting a background on Frediani’s past. His childhood was relatively normal, despite his mild medical condition and his curfew, nothing in his past was so dramatically terrible that would lead him to domestic and sexual abuse. He was not abused, no one was killed, nothing seemed to drive him to commit crime. What surprised me were his ties to the real estate business. I thought because he worked for Lincoln properties he could use the clients that he’s been talking to as potential sexual abuse victims. It’s twisted, but maybe that is how he picks his victims. He uses his job and place of power to find women.

Frediani’s Past

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

Book ReviewWhere Good Ideas Come From

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

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

Blood

This chapter was fascinating because it had so much information on blood groups. Blood types have always interested me, and the fact that you can group the different types of blood, and test them in crimes. It sets to prove that each individual is very unique. If not the prints, you can always test the blood.  It also surprises me that we can test dry blood stains. Truly revolutionary! Also, in the beginning, I wondered how they tested semen like blood, and pinpointed a person that way.

“The same blood antigens are secreted into other bodily fluids- semen, saliva, tears and sweat- Not only could a murderer be tracked by his blood, but a rapist by his semen” (Weinberg 53)

I feel like this was a huge leap forward for inventions in biotechnology because its use is relevant and very useful. I wonder if this leads people to commit less crime, or if they continue to not be phased that any evidence they leave behind can be tracked?

Blood

Gender and Science

Something new I learned this chapter was the working relationship between Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. When I first learned the story of Rosalind Franklin, in high school, I did not know she had partner with her when she discovered the shape of DNA. Their relationship was described as:

“They were less a team than a push-me-pull-you, to the extent that Franklin refused to show Wilkins her work out of irritation at being treated as a subordinate…Wilkins believed that Franklin had been hired as his technical assistant” (Weinberg 37)

This passage puts into perspective the discrimination of women in the workplace, especially in science. I believe this hindered them from discovering the structure of DNA before Watson and Crick. If there was not as much competition and more team work, they could have made greater discoveries, and explored their hunches in more depth. It’s a shame how women were treated in science, and how some are still treated now.Rosalind

Maurice_Wilkins_nobel

Gender and Science

Results of Competition

In Where Good Ideas Come From we learned of the power of competition, especially when patenting was involved. To counter that idea, Johnson also discussed the necessity of team work and the fourth quadrant. In Pointing from the Grave, Helena discusses how competition got the better of her company.

“Syva had poured more money than it could afford into a new, automated drug-testing machine. If it worked, it would have dominated the field. But there were technical hitches and Abbott, Syva’s main competitor, got their product out first. It was a disaster for Syva- they were forced to lay off hundreds of staff and cancel future projects” (Weinberg 17)

It is interesting to see the theories come to life. It can only be a matter of days for a competitor to beat out its competition. I can see why patents can be essential because they can protect inventions and the employees who worked on a project.

Results of Competition

The Beginning of a Story

“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” (Weinberg xi)

In the opening of Pointing from the Grave, we are introduced to the world of DNA. We know it will play a large factor because of the large emphasis placed on its usefulness and its abilities. I am excited to see how the role of DNA plays into our every day lives, and ultimately, how DNA solves a murder.

The Beginning of a Story

Ideas and Economics

In the conclusion of Where Good Ideas Come From, Johnson ties together his book of good ideas with introduction of the quadrant system. He explains the fourth quadrant, and the inventions that have succeeded from this category. In his explanation, he goes back to his discussion of slow hunches…

“A slow hunch can’t readily find its way to another hunch that might complete it if there’s a tariff to be paid every time it tries to make a new serendipitous connection” (Johnson 232)

This made me wonder about the amount of good ideas that have fallen short because of patents and the economic endeavours of fellow scientists. I wondered if the fourth quadrant could start to wither in the future, for the exchange of fame.

Ideas and Economics

Social Media

Johnson has made social media a very prominent theme throughout each chapter of “Where Good Ideas Come From. In the chapter, Platforms, he shows how different social outlets can be used as a source of information. The internet can help us share information, and help us  find answers quickly, and with less effort than 30 years ago.

“Stacked platforms are like that: you think you’re fighting the Cold War, and it turns out you’re actually helping people figure out where to have lunch” (Johnson 210)

This ties back into exaptation, and using information/inventions in ways that it was not originally intended create to perform to do. With the information we have available to us on the internet, we are able to mold information into the answers we need.

Social Media

Apple’s Approach

In a professional world, we tend to steer away from chaos, for we see it as unproductive. But…

“Apple’s approach, by contrast, is messier and more chaotic at the beginning, but it avoids the chronic problem of good ideas being hollowed out as they progress through the development chain” (Johnson 171)

I understand this reasoning because more ideas are available at the start of the project, and yes it might be chaotic, but great ideas can bounce off of the many ideas that are flowing through a department in the beginning, messy stages. So many devices can be created in the beginning because the ideas are fresh, and open to exaptation.

Apple’s Approach

Right vs. Wrong

Ever since high school, my classmates and I have been constantly told ” don’t be afraid to fail.” Yet, most of us strive for perfection anyways. It seems like a thing that is said to reassure some kids, but also as a mechanism to get the top kids even further. This chapter “Error” stresses benefits of making errors, and I liked that because we are not often given reasons why it is okay to mess up sometimes.

“Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.” (Johnson 137)

When you question your work and critique it, you might discover something unintentional, but progressive.

Right vs. Wrong

Corporate Retreat

It was a fun fact to learn that the FBI partakes in retreats in order for the whole division to get together and discuss and brainstorm together. Knowing that there is much competition to get into the FBI, and move up in the ranks, it is good that they work together to better the whole corporation. The ideas flow better, and similar hunches can be discussed.

Corporate Retreat

Slow Hunch

“… no attempt to collapse the evolution of his marvellous idea into a single epiphany. The Web came into being as an archetypal slow hunch” (Johnson 89)

I like how Tim Berners-Lee was able to have so many epiphanies that eventually led up to the creation of the Internet. He had the ultimate goal of the World Wide Web, but he followed the adjacent possible and was able to discover the steps leading up to the Internet (thus, several epiphanies known as the slow hunch.)

Slow Hunch

Carbon

“Without the generative links of carbon, the earth would have likely remained a lifeless soup of elements, a planet of dead chemistry” (Johnson 49)

From previous knowledge of biology, I knew of the importance of carbon and how sustainable it was. And in chemistry, we learned of its outer shell, which contains 4 valence electrons, and made it the most stable element. This quote put an image in my head: A planet of nothing, no life. A terribly lifeless and colourless world that would exist without carbon. It makes me wonder, can we create carbon artificially? If nothing else can replace carbon, will it need to created by man with the threat of climate change and carbon footprints?

*Also very interesting how something that sustains life can create deadly substances:(Carbon Dioxide, Methane)

Carbon

Prometheus and Biotechnology

“Biotechnology is a Promethean risk, another example of humanity’s self-destructive aspiration to play God” (Grace 215)

Are researchers, innovators, and scientists really trying to tamper with nature when they build better inventions that make life easier? Or are we supposed to flow with nature and expect that it will provide for us? I am never sure of my stance on this issue because on one hand, I want to see many human ailments eradicated to limit suffering, but then I question: Is that what makes life, life?

Prometheus and Biotechnology

Discovery

“Sunspots were simultaneously discovered in 1611 by four scientists living in four different countries” (Johnson 34)

I’ve never given much  thought to what would happen if multiple people discovered the same thing, at the same time. Many questions arose from this piece of trivia. Who receives the credit? Why is it that they all happened to discover it around the same time? Did some event happen to influence their research? Did they gather their information from the same sources? It was interesting to learn that 4 unrelated scientists were researching something so far from Earth, in 1611.

Discovery

The Long Zoom

In the introduction, Johnson discusses how creativity in the coral reef relates to innovation we experience everyday. His description and image of the “long zoom” caught my eye. I didn’t know there was a way to connect the new technology we see everyday with something as old, and natural, as the coral reef.

“You can’t just explain the biodiversity of the coral reef by simply studying the genetics of the coral reef itself” (Johnson 20)

There are comparisons between nature and culture that may not seem obvious, so learning to examine things through the long zoom (bigger picture) lets us observe similar patterns between multiple scales. It was interesting to see that looking at life this way could give us new facts about creations of the future.

The Long Zoom biotech

The Long Zoom