Scientific Anthology: Debunked Scientific Theories

Introduction

A scientific theory is a well-tested, comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature supported by evidence and facts gathered over time (Oregon State). These theories are typically proposed by one scientist or researcher and then retested and reexamined over time by other scientists and researchers, who will either agree with and add onto the original theory or will find evidence against it and eventually debunk it.

Debunked scientific theories are these theories that were once widely accepted within the mainstream scientific community but nowadays are considered to be inaccurate descriptions of nature. Often times, these debunked scientific theories are only disproven when scientists and researchers work to retest the original theory and another theory emerges from this research to replace it as the norm. In this anthology, a series of famous debunked scientific theories, such as the Flat Earth Theory or the idea of Geocentrism, are given an in-depth look.

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Scientific Anthology: Debunked Scientific Theories

Genentech: A Science-Business Hybrid

Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech is a book that tells the story of how Genentech, one of the first biotechnology companies, was founded.  It tells the story of how “The company inspired a new industrial sector transforming the biomedical and commercial landscapes ever after” (Hughes Prologue 1). It is written by Sally Smith Hughes, a historian of science at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Virus: A History of the Concept and Making Dollars out of DNA: The First Major Patent in Biotechnology and the Commercialization of Molecular Biology (“Sally Smith Hughes” 2012). She has lots of experience detailing the history of scientific processes and companies as she is also the creator of an extensive collection of in-depth oral histories on bioscience, biomedicine, and biotechnology. This shows in her book about Genentech, as she is able to provide lots of information on the key figures in the company’s start-up, such as Herb Boyer, Stanley Cohen, and Robert Swanson. She is also able to describe the scientific processes that made the company successful such as the use and discovery of recombinant DNA. Continue reading “Genentech: A Science-Business Hybrid”

Genentech: A Science-Business Hybrid

Media Guidelines for Scientists

In Chapter 6 of Genentech, the media’s influence on new scientific discoveries is discussed. Hughes calls the media “uncritical” of the scientific discoveries and I believe that the media is uncritical because they don’t truly understand the science they’re reporting on (136). After reading this, I wondered what scientists could do, for their part, to help the public and the media reporting to the public better understand their work. According to Social Research Science Center, scientists should speak to journalists, but there is a list of guidelines they should follow. For example, the scientists should read the papers or watch tv to get an idea of how their field is often portrayed in the media. Does the media question the ethics of their field or do they raise any additional questions to be answered? This website also suggests hiring a press officer to bridge the gap between the science world and the media world. This officer can help state the risks and benefits more meaningfully to the public and can help shape the main ideas into a more understandable thesis. Lastly, scientists should take public interest to heart. They should try to explain the exciting feature of their research rather than the tedious, academic details.

Media Guidelines for Scientists

Moneymaker

“Swanson, bringing his business training to bear, found insulin economics impressive. The hormone was an immense and reliable moneymaker for a number of American and European pharmaceutical houses, wuth world sales greater than $100 million and growing” – Hughes, 38

In chapter 2 of Genentech, Hughes refers to insulin as a moneymaker. Though insulin was primarily created as a means of helping diabetics, it also found a booming market with thousands of customers willing to pay for what they need. These diabetics are forced to pay for the insulin to help their condition, no matter what the price is. This notion had reminded me of our earlier discussions of Martin Shkreli, the man who hiked up the price for Daraprim, a life-saving AIDs medicine, by over 5000% and led me to the question: is the hiking of drug prices a common occurrence? According to Bloomberg LP, a financial software company, the prices of several drugs get hiked every year with no changes to the actual drug. Apparently, a survey of about 3K brand-name prescription drugs found that prices more than doubled for 60 of these drugs and more than quadrupled for 20 of them. For reference, the chart below, also taken from Bloomberg’s website, shows a list of drugs whose prices had been hiked and by what percentage this hike was.
Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 8.02.37 PMThough Martin Shkreli’s drug, Daraprim, is the highest hiked drug, there are several other drugs which were hiked over 500%. Some drugs even continue to rise by 10% every year. I personally believe that this is an unethical practice and this belief me to the question: are there any legal stances that could be made against this? How high do drug prices have to get for attention to be called to this issue?

Moneymaker

Frediani: Murderer or Victim?

Pointing from the Grave: a True Story of Murder and DNA is a scientific, crime novel about the murder of Helena Greenwood, a young DNA scientist who was sexually assaulted and then murdered a year later, and the main suspect in both of these cases, David Paul Frediani. It is written by Samantha Weinberg, a British author, journalist, and politician. She has written both scientific books such as A Fish Caught in Time, the story of J. L. B. Smith who was tasked with identifying a prehistoric fish, the coelacanth, and fictional novels such as The Moneypenny Chronicles which detail the life of James Bond’s secretary, Ms. Moneypenny. She combines both of these styles of writing in Pointing from the Grave, which is written as a novel but is filled with detailed scientific processes which Weinberg explained very well. In addition to detailing the story of both Helena Greenwood and Paul Frediani’s lives, she also describes the birth of many essential modern forensic DNA techniques with chapters focused on key figures such as Kary Mullis, a Nobel Prize winning biochemist. Continue reading “Frediani: Murderer or Victim?”

Frediani: Murderer or Victim?

Profile of the Sociopath

“3-4% of the American male population can be characterized as sociopathic” – Weinberg p. 339

In chapter 21 of Pointing from the Grave, Weinberg discusses her belief that Frediani is a sociopath. After reading this quote, I read into traits of sociopaths online . A common trait is superficial charm, something Frediani definitely possessed. Frediani was able to even charm Weinberg into feeling empathetic for him; she said that it was though he could put people under a spell. Another trait of sociopaths is an exaggerated sense of entitlement. They feel as though they have rights to things simply because of who they are. In this chapter, Weinberg states that if Frediani had killed Helena, he might not even feel that he is in the wrong. Rather, he might feel that his act was justified. Sociopaths also have somewhat of an incapability to love. Throughout this entire book, Weinberg ruins his relationship with women one after another due to his violent nature with them. Another trait of sociopaths is a need for stimulation and the inability to deny impulses. Frediani sexually assaults and murders Helena and there seems to be no true motive behind the acts. It’s suggested that perhaps he committed both of these crimes due to his own impulses that he just couldn’t deny. After reading all of these traits of sociopaths, I am convinced that Frediani is indeed a sociopath.

Profile of the Sociopath

Media Influence in Death Penalty Cases

“A television camera is being set up, a press photographer leans against the barrier between the court and the spectators. Four reporters take their seats across the aisle from the family…” – Weinberg p. 270

Often times, high-profile cases, such as death penalty cases, attract a swarm of media attention, leaving up to question: how much does the media actually influence these cases? According to Capital Punishment in Context, jurors who are qualified for such death penalty cases are statistically likely to watch daily news programs and are, overall, well educated. Therefore, these jurors tend to be more biased against defendants by nature. These jurors are able to recognize the facts of a high-profile case and statistically are more likely to believe the defendant to be guilty. Likewise, in cases that are highly publicized, judges are more likely to give more serious punishments than in cases with little publicity. They feel the responsibility to punish someone for a crime that has received a lot of fame and buzz. Lastly, the potential for fame and profit can affect the way some lawyers act. They can develop motives aside from defending or prosecuting someone. For example, it’s been discovered that famed female serial killer Aileen Wuornos’ lawyer lacked prior crime law experience but rather took the case for her own potential benefit. Overall, media plays a large role in high-profile cases. The unfathomable attention that these cases draw bring about a new sense of pressure for the jurors, judges, and lawyers to do their jobs properly.

Media Influence in Death Penalty Cases

Steven Avery

 

“‘We already knew that there had to be innocent people in jail and that their innocence could be proved through DNA,’ says Scheck [the director of the Innocence Project].” – Weinberg, p198

In chapter 13 of Pointing from the Grave, Weinberg discusses The Innocence Project, an organization founded for the purpose of exonerating those who had been wrongfully convicted of crimes. One of the most famous cases the Innocence Project had worked on was that of Steven Avery, the subject of Netflix’s hit documentary Making a Murderer. According to the Innocence Project’s website, in July 1985, a woman named Penny Beernsten was brutally raped in a wooded area while she was out for a jog. In court, Beernsten gave an eyewitness testimony and named Avery as her attacker. Despite 16 alibi witnesses and a recipe which put Avery over 45 miles away from the attack an hour after it happened, Avery was convicted on the testimony alone. He served 18 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him and helped to catch the real attacker, a man named Gregory Allen.

As Scheck states in this chapter, I believe the Innocence Project has the capability to prove the innocence of dozens of convicted people, if their cases and DNA evidence could be reopened.

 

Steven Avery

Tendencies of Perpetrators

“‘He once flew off because I did not butter the toast properly,’ Eileen claimed recently. ‘He started throwing everything. I was scared to death of him.'” -Weinberg, p185

In chapter 12 of Pointing From the Grave, Weinberg describes how Frediani, Helena’s supposed sexual assaulter, is extremely violent to yet another girlfriend. Frediani’s behavior towards his girlfriends is suspicious and consistent, leading me to wonder if these violence and underlying anger is a tendency of sexual assaulters and if so, what are other tendencies. The University of Michigan’s Sexual Assault Awareness website, describes typical tendencies of sexual assaulters. This page states that 99% of perpetrators are young adult males. These men tend to be very aggressive and impulsive and have a sense of “hypermasculinity,” or the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior, such as physical strength and sexuality. Often times, they have access to consensual sex and are therefore raping for reasons other than their sexuality. It seems to me that Frediani displays a great deal of these tendencies.

Tendencies of Perpetrators

When is Bail Given?

“Not only was there the assault on Andrea and the strange attempted burglary, but Frediani had been spotted sitting in his car on the side of the road at 3:45 am, and… was hit in the face by a man wielding a tree branch, apparently unprovoked…. [Fredian] was told that his bail had been revoked and that he was going back to prison.” – Weinberg, p13

In this chapter of Pointing from the Grave, Weinberg explains the suspect, Frediani’s, strange behavior while he was out on bail. He assaulted his girlfriend, broke into his old work building, and got into a physical altercation. Eventually, his bail was revoked, which led me to question why he was granted bail in the first place. I decided to research reasons why a person could be denied in the first place. According to a bail bond website, suspects can be denied bail if they are seen as a flight risk (someone who will run), if they’re accused of a very serious crime, if they were already on probation when arrested, or if they pose a threat to the public.

What constitutes posing a threat to the public? Does the defendant have to have a past of violence or mental illness in order to be deemed unfit to live in society? Is this a case by case decision? Personally, I believe Frediani should not have been granted bail in the first place due to his possible mental illness and due to the violent nature of his crime.

When is Bail Given?

Group 6 Book Where Good Ideas Come From Review

Many people ask where do I get ideas or how do ideas come to be. In the first book we read this semester Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson he seeks to answer that question by developing his own theory of the “slow hunch” rather than the traditional flashbulb ideas. The book is a nonfiction look at business, science, history, and psychology used to analyze innovation. Properly cited and filled to the brim with scientific facts, the book is able to defend its position in a scholarly way. Johnson is aiming his book at no particular group in general, instead calling for everyone to take a step into becoming more creative.   Continue reading “Group 6 Book Where Good Ideas Come From Review”

Group 6 Book Where Good Ideas Come From Review

Outdoor Crime Scenes

“He looked for footprints, and found some small ones to the west of the house, where the dirt had been raked. But there was a covering of leaves over the dirt… He noticed some scrape marks on a section of the bamboo fence…” – Weinberg 72

On the two question forum, a question that came up time and time again was whether the outdoor crime scene had any effect on the case. Because the murder happened outside, was there any evidence that was contaminated or lost due to elements out of the detective’s control, such as the weather? According to all-about-forensic-science, the outdoor crime scene is by far the most vulnerable to the loss of physical evidence in such a short period of time. If the scene isn’t secured almost immediately, evidence can be lost or tampered with. Environmental conditions, such as rain, cold, snow, or in San Diego and in Helena’s case, heat, can tamper physical evidence. Likewise, there is no way to protect the evidence in its natural state: you can either move it, which is problematic, or you can leave it and hope that outside elements do not interfere.

Source

Outdoor Crime Scenes

Insanity Plea

“Mr. Frediani is now seeing a Dr. Thomas Samuels, a clinical psychologist, three times a week… if Mr. Frediani were going to another place… it would have already happened” – Weinberg 60

In Pointing From the Grave, insanity pleas are brought up by Weinberg, which led me to look further into the idea of a mental illness as motive to commit a crime. There are different ways courts test for legal insanity and different results which are used in court. The most common rule used in courts is the “M’Naghten Rule,” which states that the suspect or defendant didn’t understand what he or she did and doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong because of mental illnesses. Another common standard used is courts is the “Irresistible Impulse Test,” when, due to a mental illness, a defendant is unable to control his or her impulses and therefore commits a crime. Though these rules and standards are used in courts all over America, there are a handful of states which do not allow insanity pleas. Idaho, Montana, and Utah do not allow for insanity pleas and Kansas allows for “guilty but insane” pleas where the defendant receives institutionalization rather than jail time.

Source

Insanity Plea

False Admission

In Chapter 4 of Pointing from the Grave, Frediani disputes all claims laid against only to later admit to them, claiming that he was drunk and that’s why. Along these pretences, I began to think about how often suspects lie and if it ever works in reverse; do suspects ever falsely admit to something they never actually did? After doing some research about this, I stumbled upon the Innocence Project’s website where they claim that false admissions are a huge factor in wrongful convictions. They stated that “more than 1 out of 4 people wrongfully convicted but later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement.” Their example was that of Damon Thibodeaux, a young man who eventually admitted to raping his cousin, whose body had been found earlier that night. His story was inconsistent with injuries on the victim and it did not make sense in a timeline but that was not sufficient enough evidence to counter his admission. Damon wrongfully served 15 years in a federal prison before DNA evidence freed him.

Source

False Admission

Money

“Biotechnology firms raced to turn the results of pure research into applicable technology. By luring some of the best scientific brains with salaries that academia couldn’t hope to match, they too started to push back the frontiers of knowledge, driving the world of the universities, much as they had originally had been driven” (Johnson 40)

Is money the main motive for driving the frontiers of the scientific world? When thinking about the question, I decided to research how money and the desire to profit affects the healthcare world. According to Forbes magazine, healthcare costs in the United States might be so high because there is a huge desire for profit. Russell Andrews, a neurosurgeon interviewed by the magazine claims that “we have transformed healthcare in the U.S. into an industry whose goal is to be profitable.” Another situation described by Forbes magazine is the story of Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical entrepreneur who raised the price of a life-saving HIV drug by 5000% overnight. Though Shkreli claims that the profits his company will make off of this drug (due to its high price) will fuel even more HIV research, he has made it so thousands of people who need the drug are not able to afford it.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterubel/2014/02/12/is-the-profit-motive-ruining-american-healthcare/#4b151e79a0ce

Source

Money

Lack of Evidence

“It wasn’t enough. With no physical evidence, Joe Farmer knew he was going to have problems persuading the DA’s office to prosecute Frediani for anything other than the indecent exposure.” (Weinberg 26).

How many cases get thrown out due to a lack of physical evidence? According to the Yorkshire Post, a newspaper based out of England, almost 2/3 of police rape investigations in Yorkshire in 2014 ended with no one being charged because of this lack of evidence. Often times, eyewitness testimonies in such traumatizing cases, like sexual assault cases, are unreliable and inconsistent due to high anxiety, stress, and paranoia. The best bet for a conviction relies on physical evidence, such as semen and pubic hair DNA sampling, but these are hard to find matches for. The victim must still have this DNA on his or her body, meaning that unlike Helena they mustn’t wash off after the assault. Does the failure rate of sexual assault cases influence victims and future victims? Are victims less likely to make a case out of their assault if they were to know this statistic?

Source

Lack of Evidence

Eyewitness Testimony

“I said that I couldn’t positively identify the person” –  (Weinberg 9)

Here, the victim of a sexual assault, during her testimony, states that other than the attacker’s dark hair and athletic build, she really couldn’t recall any specific details regarding his looks. She was unsure of who the man was and when a suspect was placed in front of her, even she questioned whether or not she had ever seen this man before. This led me to the question, is eyewitness testimony reliable? Despite a lack of confidence, the victim could agree that the man in front of her was the attacker simply because the police suspect he was. She was traumatized, anxious, and dependent on the detectives and her own desire just to punish someone for her pain could lead to a wrongful conviction.

Eyewitness Testimony

Restriction of Innovation

“Ideas, Jefferson argues, have an almost gravitational attraction toward the fourth quadrant. The natural state of ideas is flow and spill over and connection. It is society that keeps them in chains.” Johnson 241

Ideas in the fourth quadrants are “networked,” meaning that they evolved through collective, distributed processes, and involve a large amount of people. Johnson states that it is society that is holding the flow of non-marketed ideas in the fourth quadrant back, specifically in the form of patents. Are there inventions that could be improved upon or are there instances of exaptation that are being restricted because of patents? After reading this and forming these questions in my mind, I did some more research and found that several collegiate professors at MIT had actually published a study about this. They found that once someone patents his or her research, others tend to drop their research in the same area, thus stopping innovation.

Restriction of Innovation

Delaware

“If you sail due east sixteen nautical miles from Delaware’s Indian River Inlet… you will find roughly seven hundred subway cars, deposited there by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control over the past decade. The trains have been planted off the Delaware shore to create an artificial coral reef… the Delaware reefs have seen a 400 percent increase in biomass since the first cars were sunk.” Johnson 198

I lived in Delaware for over 10 years and had never heard of this project before. When I first read this passage by Johnson, I was very surprised. To me, it seemed almost counterproductive to dump a subway car, something that I assumed would be more biohazardous than helpful, into the ocean. Wouldn’t there be repercussions, such as poison from the car paint, for placing an artificial and unnatural thing in such a habitat? However, after reading the statistics, that there was a 400 percent increase in biomass, I was much more content with the idea, though without further research I do still have my concerns regarding the project happening in my own backyard.

Delaware

Liquid Networks

Cities, then, are environments that are ripe for exaptation, because they cultivate specialized skills and interests, and they create a liquid network where information can leak out of those subcultures, and influence their neighbors in surprising ways.  -Johnson 162

Are suburbs or more rural communities also suited for exaptation? I grew up in both Georgia and Delaware, two very rural and idle communities. I believe that we have liquid networks there as well, in the form of more personal relationships than people would have in a huge city. Though I have never lived in a bustling, such as NYC, I couldn’t imagine that its chaotic environment and its seemingly infinite number of residents could produce more exaptations than in a more personal and settled community.

Liquid Networks

The Great Mind

“The errors of the great mind exceed in numbers those of the less vigorous ones.” Johnson 137

Here, Johnson is stating that quantity takes precedence over quality. Those who attempt time and time again in several different ways to create something stand a better chance at actually succeeding than those who put all their eggs in one basket. I found this interesting because I have always heard “quality over quantity” rather than what Johnson is suggesting. Is there proof to his statement or is that an over-generalization?

The Great Mind

Happy Accidents

Serendipity is built out of happy accidents, to be sure, but what makes them happy is the fact that the discovery you’ve made is meaningful to you. It completes a hunch, or opens up a door in the adjacent possible that you had overlooked. (Johnson 108)

After reading chapter four of Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, this was the quote that seemed to resonate with me the most. It made me question, have there been times when discoveries were made that were unmeaningful to the researcher and were simply tossed aside? Could this discovery have brought serendipity to someone else? The idea that each discovery and hunch is personalized can be a scary one. It limits the influence these discoveries and hunches have simply because they are biased based on the discoverer.

Happy Accidents

Google

Google famously instutiuted a ’20 percent time’ program for all Google engineers: for every four hours they spend working on official company projects, the engineers are required to spend one hour on their own pet project, guided entirely by their own passions and instincts.

Google’s attempt to keep it’s engineers’ minds keen is very innovative. Typically, big companies attempt to keep their engineer or their workers’ minds completely on the company projects because this seems to be the most productive and efficient use of time. However, I admire Google for trying to inspire and push their workers to explore their hunches and to expand their own knowledge.

Google

The Multiple

A brilliant idea occurs to a scientist or an inventor somewhere in the world, and he goes public with his remarkable finding, only to discover that three multiple minds had independently come up with the same idea in the past four years. – Johnson pg. 34

Often times, if an idea is so great that it is often thought of multiple times over by different people, then why does it take so long for them to go mainstream? According to the 10/10 rule, it takes 10 years for an inventor to perfect their idea and 10 years for the idea to be accepted into the population. I believe that if an idea, such as the electrical battery (mention in Johnson, 34), is invented time and time again, then there is a need for it. If there’s such a need for a product, typically it should spark a fad for it and it shouldn’t take 10 years to be recognized.

The Multiple

Coral Reefs

“‘The list of land animals,’ [Charles Darwin] writes, ‘is even poorer than that of the plants.’… Yet just a few feet away from this desolate habitat, in the coral reef waters, an epic diversity, rivaled only by that of the rain forest, thrives.” pg. 4

Here, in the introduction of Where Good Ideas Come From, Charles Darwin notes that in a place where there is little domestic animals or plant life, there thrives a coral reef habitat. This idea is then explained to be called Darwin’s Paradox: coral reefs make up .001% of the earth and yet they contain almost 25 of marine species. Though I already knew that coral reefs were thriving, I was very intrigued and surprised to discover the statistics surrounding them. It led me to wonder, what is it about the coral reefs that make them able to sustain such a variety of life?

Coral Reefs