As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” What they don’t tell you is that it also makes Jack less likely to succeed at work. In the next fifteen examples, you will see the value of play–hobbies–in addition to work, specifically scientific exploration. In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson reports how hobbies have benefited the scientific community through many generations.
“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities—a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity—but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies” (Johnson, 172).
The innovative power that comes from balancing work and play–career and hobbies–has always been present in scientific exploration. This anthology will describe how that power is still at work today.
Sally Smith Hughes lays out the history of one of biotechnologies most important and influential companies, Genentech. From the founders early days through their most important discoveries the self explaining title Genentech, the Beginnings of Biotech, tells of how Genentech was founded in South San Francisco. According to Hughes “Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech is the story of a pioneering genetic-engineering company that inspired a new industrial sector, transforming the biomedical and commercial landscapes ever after”(VIII). By becoming the first in the industry to synthesize insulin and Human Growth Hormone, Genentech placed themselves in history. Hughes writing tells of a new creation, “the entrepreneurial biologist” and the “intimate and people centered history traces the seminal early years of a company that devised new models for biomedical research”(xi). The importance of Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen in the field of biotechnology is repeatedly emphasized in Hughes’s words. This non-fiction history of Genentech is laid out for you by a leading historian of science and the University of California at Berkeley. Often, the existence of insulin for diabetics, or HGH for those who suffer from other disabilities, is taken for granted. Genentech tells the story of the struggle to recreate such complicated bio-medications.Continue reading “Genentech: A Visionary Company”→
At the end of Chapter five, Hughes mentions some very interesting points about the culture of the Genentech company. In particular, this quote from a female scientist that worked at the company sparked interest with me:
“‘The company seemed to operate like a boys’ locker room, and the place reeked of testosterone. No prank was too outrageous, no poker bet too high, and no woman was part of the inner circle.'” -Hughes, 151
I wonder how in particular this environment was both promoted by and affected the workers in the company. First, it is no secret that there is a considerable lack of women in the STEM fields (the attached statistics are taken from twenty-first century surveys, so I would imagine that in the 1980s the numbers were much lower). Therefore I’m sure there was a natural promotion by these employees.
The affects of it, however, are unclear. Evidently it may have been detrimental for women to get ahead and succeed in the biotechnology field if it is mainly male driven, especially if no women were invited into the “inner circle”.
This may point to the reason women are not encouraged to succeed in STEM fields, despite their obvious capabilities.
“But the folks at home were stymied. ‘What are you doing?’ his father would ask. ‘Restriction endonuclease modification,’ he would glibly answer, using the technical term for his research area. He would then pause for his father’s inevitable retort. ‘Well, what good is it? What are you going to do with that?'”
I found this particular section of the origin story of Boyer to be hilarious and relatable. It is first hilarious because clearly it is important scientific research that Boyer is performing, but his father simply wants to know how he plans on supporting himself. With older generations I think it is very common to be more concerned with the immediate job opportunities one can get so that one can support oneself. Younger generations, though, think on a much more global scale, where they wonder what they can do in the world or what difference they can make, hence Boyer’s response to his father: “I don’t know–cure the common cold” (Hughes, 6)
The argument of which is more important (accomplishing short-term and long-term goals) continues even after Boyer and his father had this discussion; many parents today have that same argument with their college age children. What is extraordinary about this is that while Boyer was studying his restriction endonuclease modification and ultimately striving for a long-term goal, he was able to create the business, the short-term goal of having a job and an income to support himself.
Samantha Weinberg, a writer, reporter, and politician, wrote Pointing from the Grave: A True Story of Murder and DNA. This book tells the story of Paul Frediani, a sex offender, and murderer. In a thrilling manner, Weinberg explains how DNA was discovered, and eventually used to convict Frediani of the murder of Helena Greenwood, a prominent research scientist. Helena was a visionary who “knew the power of this twisted molecule: she could see its potential” (xiii). In the prologue Weinberg writes “this is a story about a murder and a molecule. It is both the history of a science, overlaid with human drama, and a human tragedy inextricably entwined with science” (xi). This book lays the perfect amount of foundation, scientific knowledge, along with an engaging story of a man who got away with murder for 15 years until technology finally caught up with his crime. Without being a dry summary of DNA, Weinberg explains everything from Mendel’s study of peas to Mullis’ discovery of PCR. Without the knowledge of these scientists, each discovery was a step towards the conviction of Paul Frediani. The two stories, one about the discovery of DNA analysis, and another about Helena’s sufferings at the hands of Frediani, are perfectly intertwined, almost like the double helix of DNA. Weinberg has certainly done her research. The entire history of DNA is laid out within this book with expert input from the scientists who participated in the research. This book is perfect for any reader who isn’t afraid of light academic writing, but also keeps it interesting with engaging drama. Continue reading “DNA: The Smallest Clue”→
“‘You have about as much choice in some aspects of your personality as you do in the shape of your nose or the size of your feet.’ ” -Weinberg, 349-50
After reviewing the existences of the “gay gene” and the genetic mutation that makes people predisposed to aggressive and impulsive tendencies, Weinberg includes this quote from Dean Hamer, the scientist who found these genes.
This in particular is very interesting to me because it technically takes some responsibility for his crimes away from Frediani. The untreated genetic mutation that failed from discouraging Frediani the same way someone without the mutation might be discouraged is a rather compelling argument supporting Frediani’s innocence. Ultimately, the mutated genes did not force Frediani to do anything, nor do they absolve him from his actions as a “temporary insanity plea” would.
I wonder that if the jury had known about this gene mutation, and if it was explained to them in a similar way that the temporary insanity plea would be, would they have been more merciful. I don’t believe so, especially considering the more conservative area of Del Mar that Weinberg had described, because I’d imagine that the jury would feel his actions outweigh any genetic mutations that he has.
Detective Decker took the stand to report what he has observed from Helena’s murder scene. While mentioning that he checked to make sure the gate latch shape matched the mark on Helena’s head, he was told to be more professional about addressing the deceased:
“The judge admonished him for calling her Helena, as if he knew her–asked him to be more formal.” -Weinberg, 282
I wonder, first of all, why the Detective used “Helena” in the first place. An established and successful Detective, Decker would have been to hundreds of trials, all where the proceedings and level of formality remains the same. He knew that he shouldn’t have called her “Helena”, but rather “Dr. Greenwood.”
Maybe, after searching of for her murderer for fifteen years, Detective Decker is haunted by Helena’s cold case. Maybe, just like Laura Heilig (who had been studying the case since 1998 and knew Helena’s face, job, interests, and family better than any other investigator) he became attached to the story.
Such expressions of emotion are predictable from other, less professional witnesses, like Roberta Loiterton, who cried on the stands (Weinberg, 279). A detective should not be as obviously affected and emotional by the case.
“Paul Frediani’s parents believed their son when he said he was innocent. To do otherwise would be to question their role as parents, the values they has instilled in their eldest son, the genes they had passed on to him.”
How much of blame should Frediani’s parents be assigned for his situation? Personally, I feel none. There was no distinct lack of nurture or extreme abuse of Frediani as a child that should have caused this situation.
The genes, however, may have some effect on Fredinani’s criminal record. Earlier in the semester we spoke about a gene that makes people more likely to be violent or have extreme emotional reactions to common occurrences. Based on the accounts from his ex-lovers, in which Frediani was painted as an emotional wreck and a hazard to the women’s safety, he could be exposed to the same genetic mutation. Is it possible that Frediani is just a victim of his genes?
I don’t believe so, because in the same video that explained the violent gene we saw an innocent, calm, and gentle family where each member had the gene. The family was in control of their own actions and not harming anyone.
Therefore, if anyone is to blame, it is not his parents, his upbringing, or his genes: it is just him.
“In the forensic world, the people who are doing the interpretation are, in most cases, considered part of the prosecution team; they meet with the detectives, they know the particulars of the case, often they have strong expectations of what they are going to see…’I am a psychologist,’ Thompson says. ‘My research [says]…what you expect to see and want to see influences what you do see…” -Weinberg, 194
Since forensic scientists are working with the organic evidence and DNA of a case, they should be objective members of the prosecution team. They work directly with the only true links to a crime scene and should be examining the evidence without a personal agenda. However, since they are given all of the information of the case, and are usually hired by the defense or prosecutor to prove that particular side’s case, it becomes difficult to not become personally invested in the research.
William Thompson points out that what a person expects and wants to see will affect how they see what is in front of them. So if a scientist, believing that the accused is guilty, sees an ambiguous analysis or interpretation of evidence, it is possible that they will see a link to the crime. Weinberg gives the example of the scientist who found DNA that could only possibly match the suspect, but insisted that it matched because of there circumstances in which the investigators found the evidence.
This problematic form of scientific analysis poisons the justice system, and gives objective, true evidence the potential to be unreliable.
“‘Suddenly I knew how to do it,’ he recounts. ‘If i could locate a thousand sequences out of billions with one short piece of DNA, I could use another short piece to narrow the search. This one would be designed to bind to a sequence just down the chain from the first sequence I had found. It would scan over the thousand possibilities out of the first search to find just the one I wanted.'” -Weinberg 151
Mullis’ explanation of how the PCR could work seemed very complex to me at first. Not exactly a great chemistry student, I was rather confused about how the DNA was being tracked and replicated. However, I started thinking about this particular explanation as a research problem and it became much clearer to me.
Mullis mentioned that his goal was to “narrow the search” of a certain DNA sequence. He is able to do so by adding more of the DNA sequences to the original probe to make it even more specific what he was looking for; essentially, he refined his search. I performed a similar experiment here with research on Google:
First I searched the word “puppies”. The were over 89 million search results.
So I narrowed down my search by adding more specificity as to what I was looking for. I typed “pitbull” in front of “puppies”, and my search was narrowed by about 76 million.
Finally, I cut the search results from the millions to the thousands by adding a third adjectival phrase to my search: “blue nose”
Just as Mullis reasoned that adding more sequences to his search would help him find exactly the DNA match he was looking for, I added adjectives to my Google search that lead me to exactly what I was looking for: a picture of this little sweetheart.
“Much of the rest is ‘junk’…[consisting] partly of now defunct genes–that once carried instructions that are no longer relevant. For instance, in humans, the stretch of DNA that told our bodies to grow thick long hair all over is no longer useful, but, instead of being deleted, remains alongside a DNA message that disables it.” (Weinberg, 114-115)
This entire process is exaptation. As we learned from Johnson, exaptation is taking something, here a gene, and defining its role. The example he gave was birds’ wings used for flight instead of warmth.
Similarly here, the gene that programs for thick hair all over out bodies is not deleted or modified. Instead it is given a partner to work with. The partner gene allows the original hair gene to still exist, while also giving the modern human body the normal image. A new purpose is given with the aid of a newly (well, relatively) developed partner gene.
Before this example, I didn’t fully understand how exaptation worked in humans, or how it was different than evolution. Now I understand that exaptation in humans works to address a very specific genetic code. The partner gene process was developed to help in the evolution of humans.
If the gene were deleted instead of redefined in purpose, we would not be humans or advanced primates. Similarly, if the wings of a bird were deleted instead of redefined in purpose, they would not be birds.
Sometimes when reading a story like this, I get so caught up in the plot and action that I forget that these are not just characters but real live people. Every action, word, and depiction is based on a real human person and not just from Weinberg’s imagination. The line that made this most apparent to me was at the very end of Chapter 7.
“Murray stood up: ‘Excuse me, your Honor. Mr. Franklin asked if it would be possible to have the photograph of his wife returned to him.'” (Weinberg, 110)
This absolutely broke my heart. I can almost hear Roger whisper to Murray, embarrassed that he should want to see his wife smiling so badly. This statement made the entire trial seem real. In the middle of it, where it was just back and forth dialogue, it sounded like an episode of a criminal justice show. But even those people are actors. As one could argue that Murray, Collins, and even Frediani are all actors, Roger was not. Especially when he stared at that picture of Helena.
From the very beginning Murray, Helena’s attorney, has disliked Frediani. And while he is not the most likable person, and the most prominent suspect in the sexual assault case, Murray seemed to jump the gun when he suddenly believed that he was the murderer.
After Collins, Frediani’s lawyer, passed over the plea negotiation they had been debating, that seemed to solidify the reasoning for Murray.
“‘That is when it hit me. I thought, whoa, there isn’t any other motive for this crime…My God, he did this…'” (Weinberg, 78)
However there is no way for Murray to have made that conclusion other than a feeling. Even though we learned from Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From that hunches should be nourished and supported, I don’t see any traceable thoughts or evidence that led Murray to this hunch. Even Decker, the detective for the case, noted,
“‘We had reasonable suspicion–but not probable cause.'” (Weinberg, 81)
Other than this “bad feeling” that Murray has, there is no proper reasoning behind his suspicion. Maybe it is mixed with years of lawyering experience or a very passionate dislike of Frediani. Whatever it was, it sounds like he combined too many emotions with too few reasons to form this conclusion.
Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From will walk you through how the greatest thinkers form their ideas. In fact, his book explains in depth to you exactly what the subtitle says, “The Natural History of Innovation.” Johnson’s extensive experience of technological progress shows itself inside his chapters as he fully explains his main idea of the “slow hunch” by examining hunches like “a plot involving multiple radical Islamic fundamentalists” and how different ideas about how to identify these men are more successful than others (74). By using several other microcosms like that throughout his book Johnson incorporates his knowledge about how science has progressed in a way that is engaging and fast paced. Johnson’s goal is to show us how great ideas form, and where, like how “a metropolis with a population of five million people was almost three times more creative than the average resident of a town of a hundred thousand (11). His writing is full of interesting facts such as this. As a nonfiction book, Johnson presents historical evidence in support of his analysis of how the many great ideas in science have formed. His writing is both informative and entertaining, chock full of behind the scenes looks about great scientists like Charles Darwin and how they came to the realization of their great ideas. Our society is pushed forward by great inventions like the printing press and by revolutionary ideas like the punnett square. Johnson breaks down the process of these discoveries and finds a system that identifies the keys to forming a great hunch. This system proves in fact, where good ideas come from. Continue reading “Where Good Books Come From”→
On page 55, Weinberg quotes Carl Hill, the supervising evidence technician at the San Mateo Sheriff’s forensic lab, as he explains fingerprint identification.
“‘They are based on the fact that fingerprints are formed in the first three to four months of the fetal period; they remain the same throughout life unless permanently scarred or decomposition sets in after death.'”
What does this say about personal identification versus how we are identified? I don’t know anyone that talks about their physical traits before their likes, dislikes, and hobbies. People don’t join clubs because all of them have whorls in their thumb prints. Yet all of those people could be assembled from a single print on a crime scene.
Furthermore, the fact that we have this trait of identification for pretty much our entire lives (where as likes, dislikes, and hobbies come and go) speaks volumes for the identity we have versus the ones we create.
“It’s science fiction!”
“A precursor to science fact!”
– Dr. Eric Selvig and Dr. Jane Foster from Marvel’s Thor
In the fourth chapter of “Pointing from the Grave”, Weinberg mentions how Sherlock Holmes’ discoveries led to scientists developing these innovations in real life and improving life. For instance, it was years before the blood-identifying serum was developed that Holmes “‘found a re-agent which is precipitated by chemistry and by nothing else.'” (Weinberg, 49)
It’s kind of amazing all the things that fiction and fantasy writers have thought of and developed before they were even in existence. I wonder what inventions from “The Hunger Games” researchers will think to develop.
“Every long lost dream led me to where you are/Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars/Pointing me on my way into your loving arms/This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road/That led me straight to you”
-Rascal Flatts, “Broken Road”
“You make me thank god for every mistake I ever made,/Because each one led me down the path that brought me to you.”
-Pablo Neruda, “Just knowing”
While reading this Chapter, I thought of all of the events that had to occur exactly the way they did for life as we know it today to exist. For instance, Brother Gregor Mendell had to be born to peasant farmers to know about planting. If he had not known about gardening, he would not have invested time in manipulating the “genes” (as they were eventually known by thanks to his research) of pea plants. Without Mendell’s first experiments with hereditary, Watson would not have “become polarized toward finding out the secret of the gene.” (Weinberg, 35) And if Watson had not gone to the specific seminar in Naples were he heard Maurice Wilkins speak, he would not have become “suddenly…excited about chemistry.” (Weinberg, 35). Without Watson’s (and Crick’s) chemical, genetic, and biologic pursuits, DNA and all of its benefits would not be around in the same form today.
It’s fascinating all of the things that had to fall into just the right time and place in order to happen.
Helena is very invested in her work, that was proven by her father’s, coworkers’, and employer’s accounts. She is a biotechnology specialist who has been aware of the DNA molecule and all of its glory for a long time. Her greatest accomplishment, at least with Syva, was creating a machine that took apart blood and urine samples to find what part of it was drugs and what part of it was DNA. (Weinberg, 16) Since she works so closely with it, she probably knows a good majority of its properties and what it can do for people.
Evidently, DNA evidence first made its way to the courtroom in 1986. Helena’s assault took place in 1984, long after she was an established biotechnician and doctor of her field. She was so educated in her field that she must have been aware of how to connect her assailant to his crime. Perhaps this is how she got the courage to go to the hospital for sexual examination right away, a trait that many victims don’t possess.
Going into “Pointing From The Grave”, I was expecting murder. That I was fine with. I did not expect rather graphic sexual assault. I was very shock, and frankly disgusted. It made me rather uncomfortable to read. For this same reason I don’t watch “Law and Order: SVU” and shy away from movies like “Boys Don’t Cry”.
The information following the assault though, such as the sexual examination, I tried to understand in a technical, intellectual sense. From watching crime shows like “CSI” (which isn’t usually as gory as “Law and Order: SVU”) I understood why it was so important that she receive that examination so quickly. Sperm especially has a short life span when it exists outside of the body. So collecting that DNA needed to be done as soon as physically possible.
The issue, most of the time, is how emotionally ready a victim is for such an examination. Greenwood described it herself as a “reprise of the indignity” (Weinberg, 7)
“But if you want to wrestle with the question one link farther up the chain–how do good ideas tend to come about– you need to take on the problem from a different angle. There’s a place for counting barnacles. But sometimes you need to zoom out and take the longer view.” (Johnson, 222)
The way that Johnson describes observing the formation of ideas reminded me of the graphics concept of perception. Pictured below are the Gestalt Six Modes of Grouping. Each mode displays a different method of perceiving an image. For example, the human brain processes the first mode, proximity, as a large group of sixteen circles, instead of individual circles that just happen to be near each other. Their proximity determines how we perceive them.
The mode that comes closest to what Johnson means is continuity. Just as Johnson encourages readers to step back from the individual works and see the system as a whole, the human brain processes the image underneath “continuity” as a cross instead of four lines intersecting. In reality, we subconsciously use Johnson’s advice every day. Perception makes all the difference.
“The elevation variation in volcanic islands was immense: some tapered off a dozen feet above sea level; others, like Mauna Kea, surged ten thousand feet into the sky. Most volcanic peaks lay thousands of feet below the surface.” (Johnson, 178)
Immediately the first image that came into my head was the volcano from Disney Pixar’s short “Lava”. The animated short traces the tale of a volcano singing a love song for years. As he sings, he is eroded away. But the lava he emits creates a new volcano. So while he is descending, she shoots through the water. He descends below sea level, but because he is so much closer to the peak of the water, when she emits lava, he immediately grows to meet her.
I think it’s incredibly how accurate the short portrayed volcanic evolution. Granted it was not the most accurate representation, but it was still rather informative. If I really thought about it, I could probably recover a lot of valuable information from cartoons that I watched when I was younger.
In Chapter Six, “Exaptation”, exptation is described as a trait that was developed for one purpose, but is eventually used for another unrelated purpose. When I first read this, I thought of how this has affected humans. The appendix was used as an asset to the digestive system, but is not considered obsolete; one does not need it to survive. However the appendix, to me, was not a solid example because while it was designed for a purpose that it not longer performs, it did not adopt another purpose.
Because I am not well versed in biology, I could not think of another scientific example. But when I started to read about how the vacuum tube was created “to make signals louder”, and was eventually used in the Fender guitar amp in the fifties, I started to consider how music could be exaptation. (Johnson, 157)
If exaptation is the development of a trait from one purpose to another, then isn’t a shared chord between songs simply exaptated? Are Sweet Home Alabama, Werewolves of London, and All Summer Long just exaptations of each other? Or, to take it a step further, isn’t every song an exaptation because it is just a rearrangement of notes that another song has used?
The chapter “Error” focuses on all the inventions and discoveries that were made erroneously. The scientists that invented/discovered some of the most important things in our world (penicillin, pacemakers, and the technology that would eventually lead to the development of the computer) did not intend to do so.
Some of them intended their inventions to be for something else. For instance, Wilson Greatbatch was trying to develop an oscillator to record human heartbeats. By chance he grabbed the wrong resistor and created a device that simulates a heartbeat instead of recording them. (Johnson, 135-6)
Johnson considers this an error. Since it was an active decision that did not produce the desired result, that is true. However, as baseball defines an error, it is “a statistic charged against a fielder whose action has assisted the team on offense.” (MLB, Official Info) If Greatbatch’s actions did not cause another to succeed, was it an error? Should “error” be reserved for more grave actions?
What is the difference here between an “error” and an “accident”? Johnson also labels the creation of penicillin, when Alexander Fleming left a window open and mold invaded a culture in his lab, an “error”. Was leaving the window open an active decision, though? Did it assist someone who would not have succeeded if the action had not been made?
Where is the overlap between “error” and “accident”, and why does it matter?
In his chapter on “Serendipity”, Johnson reports how detailed dreams have inspired several scientists. First he cites Otto Loewi, who subconsciously developed the idea for his experiment with frogs hearts. Next, he explains that several very influential scientists, who had been working in their fields for years, realized a missing piece of their puzzles through deep REM dreams.
The most interesting thing about this is that, according to Johnson, many of the dreams, or “neuronal connections”, we experience “are meaningless”. (Johnson, 101) So when these scientists found inspirations, ideas, and answers hidden in their dreams, it was essentially coincidence.
Johnson also points out that “We conventionally associate dream inspiration with the creative arts…” (Johnson, 101) This leads me to wonder how much creativity is necessary in scientific experimentation. Why do we only associate creativity with right-brain activities, such as writing or painting, when it is so obviously needed in designing experiments? Why do we believe that scientists cannot be “creative”? By that same notion, why do we assume that those who are interested in “creative” things cannot understand science or other “left-brain” activities?
In “The Slow Hunch,” Johnson explains how ideas at every step of development are important. While most of the chapter focuses on the beginning of an idea, the “hunch”, Johnson mentions that it is also important to revisit ideas that could not get out of the development stage. He writes, “But those intrinsic causes can easily overshadow the environmental role in the creation and spread of those ideas. This is why it is just as useful to look at the sparks that failed, the ideas that found their way to a promising region of the adjacent possible but somehow collapsed there.” (Johnson, 72)
Immediately this reminded me of the television series Cold Case. In this show, the main character is a Philadelphia detective that reopens unsolved homicide cases in an attempt to finally solve them. As she revisited these cases, she was able to find new evidence and clues that led her to solving the murder.
With new technology, a fresh eye, and her own hunches, she was able to reignite “the sparks” of past detectives “that failed”.
This proves why ideas at every stage of development are valuable. While hunches may need more encouragement, the “failed sparks” also need maintenance.
In the “Liquid Network” chapter, Johnson analyzes how we can push ourselves to think more creatively. He writes, “The answer, as it happens, is delightfully fractal: to make your mind more innovative, you have to place it inside environments that share that same network signature: networks of ideas or people that mimic neural networks of a mind exploring the boundaries of the adjacent possible.” (Johnson, 47)
I reread this statement a few times and realized that I was a prime example of this: While at school, I work so much more efficiently. I manage myself, my time, and my work more effectively than I ever did while living at home. And when I work, whether it is in writing or designing, I can generate better ideas.
Much of that has to do with the campus environment. The people I’ve met here think the same way that I do, so when I explain ideas to them, they understand and help me develop them further than I could have on my own. I also have the opportunity to connect with people in my major. So when I need help with design layouts or revising an essay, I can talk to someone who is equally interested in that subject and at my level of study.
Therefore, this quote is accurate. People who think alike can develop more together.
In Chapter 1, “Reef, City, and Web”, Johnson writes, “Science long ago realized that we can understand something better by studying its behavior in different contexts.” Following this statement Johnson explained that it is sometimes easier to grasp a concept when we stop focusing and researching so much on the concept, and instead relate it to something we know. For instance, non-scientists understand cities and how urban life functions much more than the complex ecosystem of the coral reef. By showing the similarities between the two, as Johnson does further down in his text, a non-scientist is able to comprehend how the coral reef functions through her knowledge of cities and urban life.
What Johnson means is that we understand the scientific world through metaphors. Comparing and contrasting our current understandings of the world with our new experiences or information is how we learn.
Just as Maya Angelou explains her depression as a caged bird, something more tangible for her readers, Robert Hooke named the small organisms that make-up all living things after the tiny rooms of monks called “cells” so that fellow scientists will understand his discovery.
Johnson continues, “…It turns out that we can answer the question more comprehensively if we draw analogies to patterns of innovation…” This essentially confirms that in their discoveries (and attempts to break that “adjacent possible”) scientists try to hold on to what they know at the same time. While they travel from room to room through the doors that Johnson describes, they leave a bread crumb trail for others (scientists or not) to follow them. They recognize that not everyone will see the discovery in the same way, nor does everyone think like a scientist. Therefore by explaining scientific theories, processes, or discoveries in tangible and non-science terms, scientists can reach a broader audience and be more widely accepted.
The use of metaphors and imagery by scientists to explain science makes them poets.
In one of its last paragraphs, the article notes that McDonald’s, one of Simplot’s oldest customers, is refusing these new GM potatoes. Since these new potatoes are approved by the FDA and USDA, and more resistant to bruising, it doesn’t make much sense why McDonald’s wouldn’t want to use them.
McDonald’s resistance to GM potatoes raises the question: if a company that is known for unhealthy foods is rejecting these potatoes, should all of us?
The FDA has stated that these new potatoes are “as safe as any other potato on the market”, though people’s general aversion of GMO’s makes them wary to trust the statement. In a survey of UK citizens, “most rejected genetic modification, even though most people who responded agree that they did not know much about it.” (194, Unzipped) The opponents of GMO’s “who knew more about the technology…were convinced that no one knows enough about its long-term effects on human health.” (195, Unzipped)
In addition to McDonald’s rejecting GMO products, about 65% of people surveyed were likely to reject GMO’s based on their views of religion, science, and environmental issues, 25% believing that “biotechnology offers more danger than benefits.” (196, Unzipped)
There is a lot of confusion that floats around GMO’s, but does it all have to do with actual biotechnology? Is it partially our fear of science and natural dislike for change? Should we trust a major food company opinion on GMO’s, even though they were proven extremely unhealthy by the famous documentary Super Size Me? Are there genuine concerns with trusting a plant, something that is supposed to be “natural”, once it has been manipulated in a lab?