Throughout time, monumental discoveries have been made that have greatly benefited society. Although every discovery eventually receives its time in the spotlight, the brilliance of many discoveries by hardworking scientists go overlooked until long after the scientists are gone. We who benefit from these discoveries end up saying that these people were “ahead of their time,” and therefore they were not recognized for their greatness and potential during the time in which they lived.
This anthology includes 20 instances where discoveries from a wide variety of scientific fields were made before the world was ready for them. Also included in these 20 examples are the profiles of scientists who did not receive the recognition they should have at the time, simply because their discovery was not made in a time period that could fully implement and comprehend their discovery’s advanced features and societal importance.
Continue reading “Scientific Anthology: Discoveries Ahead of Their Time”
In her book Genentech, Sally Smith Hughes tells the story of the rise of the biotech giant Genentech. Hughes is a historian of biomedicine and biotechnology at the Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley. She takes us through the tumultuous early years of Genentech’s history, showing how the company grew from a trio of founders to a massive organization that made a fortune through the stock market. From Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen’s development of recombinant DNA, to Tom Perkins and Bob Swanson offering Genentech as an IPO, Hughes makes a great effort to describe every major step that Genentech had to take and every hurdle they had to pass to find both commercial and scientific success. When a new person enters the company, Hughes describes them in detail, and her descriptions present these entrepreneurs and scientists as likeable characters who truly care about the work they do. She skillfully and simply describes both the complex science behind Genentech’s research and the caveats of the business world, which helped Genentech grow and succeed financially. To enhance the quality of the Genentech story, the book is filled with many photographs of the people discussed in the book as well as a few diagrams that add explanations of various scientific concepts such as DNA recombination. In this short but interesting book, Hughes provides insight into the origins of the biotechnology industry, as well as introduces readers to some of the problems early innovators in the industry had to face. Continue reading “The Birth of a New Industry: The Rise of Genentech”
“As the founders of the biotechnology industry, our goal is to use the power of genetic engineering and advanced technologies to make medicines that address unmet medical needs, and help millions of people worldwide” – Genentech
After finishing Hughes book, I was very interested at looking at Genentech’s website to see what they are doing today and all that they have accomplished. This quote which was on their “our leadership” page really summed up their mission as a company and answered a lot of questions that I was asking myself throughout the book. I often wondered whether Genentech was too concerned with the money they were going to make when they initially started their company. Especially Swanson, the business end of the partnership, who really pushed the scientists to discover their products very quickly in order to profit as a company. I questioned whether over time they became too concerned with the competitive scientific world, and lost sight of benefiting humanity, but this quote disproves my feelings. Genentech’s website is set up similarly to a blog page. They have links to all their research and ongoing projects, which I thought really represented their mission as a company. It is a very easy site to navigate and it truly shows that Genentech is a company for the people. Another item that I really enjoyed on their website was the “Living 10 years in the Future” page. Here they showed a fantastic video of what it is like to be a Genentech scientist.
“Plasmid research seemed a perfect fit: he [Cohen] knew the necessary molecular and biochemical techniques, and the growing medical problem of antibiotic resistance was an appropriate topic for a physician” – Hughes, p7
This topic of antibiotic resistance really interested me because as a speech-language-hearing sciences major, we discuss the topic of overprescribed antibiotics and the possibility of antibiotic resistance specifically in regards to ear infections in children. Antibiotic resistance is natural phenomenon where the bacteria resists an antibiotic and has a greater chance of surviving because it grows stronger than the antibiotic itself. According to Claire McCarthy, M.D., from Parents Magazine, as bacteria becomes more and more exposed to antibiotics, potentially because of the overprescription, the bacteria actually changes over time so that the antibiotics becomes less effective. The antibiotics are still able to cure the weaker strands of bacteria, but the stronger strands that are capable of defying the antibiotics treatment grow and multiply. When Hughes mentioned antibiotic resistance it prompted me to question why antibiotic resistance occurs, and why antibiotics are overprescribed even when some illnesses, such as certain ear infections, can cure themselves. The conclusion I came to as to why antibiotics are overprescribed is that it is based on a mix between parental pressures on doctors, and doctors serving as businesspeople. When a parent takes their child to the pediatrician, and their child is in pain or discomfort, obviously the parent is going to want their child to get better as soon as possible. The recent generation of parents seem to rely on antibiotics as the only way to cure illnesses, and I can see how a parent may pressure a physician to prescribe an antibiotic so that their child gets better immediately. On the other hand, the doctor may be practicing unethically if he or she prescribes antibiotics in order to benefit the business side of medicine.
In Samantha Weinberg’s book, Pointing from the Grave, readers are told the true story about a man named Paul Frediani and his conflict with the law. The British novelist, journalist, and travel writer tells us about how she became fascinated by the story of Helena Greenwood, a woman who was sexual assaulted and then murdered by her alleged assaulter in the 1980’s. Although Pointing from the Grave is a nonfiction book, Weinberg writes about both Frediani and Helena as if they were characters in a story, giving a fiction feel to her book. Weinberg tells the story of Helena and David Paul Frediani, her alleged assailant, as though it is unfolding before our eyes, intertwining scientific knowledge and human emotions in order to grab and hold her reader’s attention. The scientific knowledge Weinberg uses in her book stems from the biotechnology field (specifically forensics) and although she uses a lot of scientific terms that many people would be unfamiliar with, she presents the material in a clear and concise way that is easy for the average reader to understand. Continue reading “Modern DNA: The Prosecution’s Greatest Ally”
“‘Does he look like he belongs in prison?’ he asks me. ‘She’s dead now, she has no family–so why does our family have to suffer, even if he is guilty?'” – Weinberg, p346
As I was reading the end of Weinberg’s book, this quote struck me as interesting and truly made me think about each word the Mr. Frediani was saying. It made me question whether what he was saying was right, or whether it was selfish considering Helena lost her life in an abrupt and cruel way, and her family had to suffer from the pain her loss caused them, and then ended up dying themselves after battling cancer. Some people may comment that the Frediani family lost a son, like the Greenwood family lost a daughter and wife, but I believe that they are much different types of losses. The Frediani family can still visit Paul in prison and write to him, whereas the Greenwood’s were suddenly stripped of all communication with Helena. That being said, it is evident that Paul is not living the free life he once was, and the Frediani family now feels that they have to hide this event from their community so that they are not judged for Paul’s actions. I do see Mr. Frediani’s point about how his family has had to suffer because of Paul’s actions because I could imagine how hard it would be for a normal family to be struck with this unfortunate series of events. However, I believe that Helena’s family suffered a much greater loss and therefore the Frediani family must accept that the product of their combined DNA broke the law, and that as a consequence their family has to suffer with him.
“At this point, Frediani is not a real person to me; just a man accused of murder, approaching his day of judgement. My thoughts and sympathies are with Helena Greenwood, the victim, the person I am already relating to” – Weinberg, p238
I found this quote from chapter 16 very interesting for two reasons. Firstly, I wondered whether Weinberg was putting into words what all the jurors who were gathered for this case were already thinking. It prompted me to question whether people can have an unbiased view when they are involved in the trial of a murder case. Personally, I think it would be hard for me to go into a murder trial with an open mind about hearing the suspected murderer’s side of the story. Although the person is not convicted yet, the word “murderer” resonates badly, and even though it is coupled with the word suspected, murderer overshadows this word and consequently, I believe it blurs the vision of the jurors. Secondly, Weinberg statement that “Frediani is not a real person” to her anymore is a very strong and opinionated statement. Throughout her book, Weinberg seems to contradict this statement since she makes Frediani into a very real person for her readers by writing about what his family thinks about him, and how he has redeemed himself and made a better life for himself after the sexual assault trial. It is interesting to me that although Weinberg says that Frediani is not a real person to her anymore, she creates him to be a person in order for her readers to build their own opinions about him.
“‘I am a psychologist,’ Thompson says. ‘My research is on how people make judgements. And if I know one thing it is: what you expect to see and want to see influences what you do see, when you are looking at something ambiguous'” – Weinberg, p194
I thought this quote was extremely well put and really captures the essence of what I was thinking while reading about how the forensic scientists know exactly which sample comes from the victim, and which sample comes from the suspect. It is clear that if the forensic scientists know the information about the case it would be very hard for them to keep their biased opinion from playing a role in the results of their work. As I was reading this section of the chapter I was questioning why forensic scientists do not go into a case blind, similar to how a scientist who tests finch paternity goes into the experiment blind. I understand that the forensic scientists are considered part of the prosecution team, but I believe that in some cases scientist’s feelings and opinions would be very hard to keep separate from the case, and therefore must play a role in the results. Thompson referenced cases where questionable DNA results came out as matches, and I wondered to myself whether these were cases in which the scientists knowledge of the case impacted the results. I believe that scientists should have to look at the DNA and samples blind, without any knowledge of who the suspect or victim is, or any details about the case.
“On May 18, 1989, David Paul Frediani changed his plea from “not guilty” to “no contest” to the burglary and sexual assault. It is essentially an admission of guilt, and carries a criminal record, but unlike a straight guilty plea, it cannot be used against the defendant in a subsequent civil action based on the same facts” -Weinberg, p180
I found this information about Frediani changing his plea extremely interesting. Firstly, I did not know that you could change your plea after you have already been found guilty by two separate juries. Secondly, it was very intriguing to learn that if you plead “no contest” you are basically admitting that you are guilty, but it lowers the consequences of that guilt. I wanted to learn more about the basics of a “no contest” plea so I read a question and answer forum on the Ohio State Bar Association website. From this website I learned more about how a “no contest” plea cannot be used against the defendant in future criminal proceedings. This website also stated that when a defendant pleads “no contest,” the judge still must find the defendant guilty or not guilty. This information about a “no contest” plea makes me question Frediani even further. Since be basically admitted to being guilty of a sexual assault, why should he be released from jail early for good behavior and not have this case held against him if he is in fact guilty of sexually assaulting Helena? Especially since Frediani had a history of domestic violence and public indecency, it seems to me that a “no contest” plea is a way for people like Frediani to find loop holes in the system and escape the punishment that they deserve.
“Alex Jeffreys was delighted, and more than anything by the fact that Pitchfork was eventually tracked down by a marriage between science and police work. ‘That was important. The union kept the police happy, and showed that DNA can’t do anything by itself'” – Weinberg, p125
This quote really struck me while I was reading this chapter. I found it very interesting that Jeffreys pointed out that DNA alone does not accomplish much. This quote made me think about the individual aspects that both police and science bring to the table, and how together they achieve something great. Science, or more specifically DNA, needs to be paired with something, such as police force or crime investigation, in order to prove itself useful. I thought Weinberg showcased the influence police and science have on each other very successfully by using the word “marriage.” By using this idea of mixing two elements, in this case police and science, the readers can get a full sense of how police and science work together to solve crimes. Alone, police would be less effective in solving crimes because they would not have the technology to test DNA samples. Similarly, science would have no place in solving crimes if the police did not utilize the accomplishments made in the scientific field.
“To Dr. Katsuyama, these were all classic signs of death by manual strangulation” -Weinberg, p76
It is very interesting to me that an autopsy can detail so much about a person’s death in such a short amount of time. Weinberg noted that Helena’s autopsy was performed the day after she was killed and that it uncovered multiple indications of how she was killed. Since Dr. Katsuyama saw multiple signs of strangulation being the cause of her death, it was found that Helena’s attacker must have been a large man with a lot of strength. This crucial piece of evidence could not have been discovered so quickly if the autopsy was not performed. The autopsy also uncovered that there was trauma to the back of Helena’s head, which the detective recognized as being the same shape as the latch on Helena’s fence. It was directly established from the autopsy that Helena was repeatedly pushed into the latch on her gate, and from this the crime scene investigators were able to collect DNA from that latch. Clearly this autopsy lead the investigative team in directions they may not have gone on their own. In a way the autopsy provided the police with a platform from which to work. It provided the team with crucial information about where to start the investigation. In certain religions or personal beliefs autopsies are considered controversial for obvious reasons. In this case however, the allowance of an autopsy on Helena’s body may help the investigative team reach a conclusion faster than if she did not have one.
In Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, readers are able to get a glimpse into the process of creating major innovations. Johnson has already established himself as an insightful and creative author with his other books like The Ghost Map, which looks into the spread and cure of cholera in London. In each of his books, Johnson explains complicated concepts in a novel and simple way, allowing contemporary readers to understand the points he is trying to make. This book is no exception, with each chapter illuminating a different quality of the ideal idea-making process. To prove his points, Johnson uses a myriad of examples of innovation ranging from lone inventors to the exploits of coral reefs to the creation of the very first computers. Through each example in his novel, Johnson shows his idea-making concepts at work in real life. Continue reading “Where Good Ideas Come From: A Method to the Madness of Innovation?”
“Of all the fingerprints Hill had examined from the scene, only one was clear enough for full analysis, a single print found under the lip of the teapot. After studying it using a microscope, he found sixteen separate points of comparison, all of which matched” -Weinberg, p56
This quote really stuck out to me as I was reading this chapter because it shocked me that only one fingerprint from the scene was good enough to be analyzed. This was surprising to me because the attacker broke into Helena’s house through the window, therefore he had to open the window, and I assumed that some of the fingerprints that were found on the window frame would have been good enough to use. I wondered if some of the fingerprints that were lifted off the window frame were ruined because of the possibility of inexperienced police officers lifting the prints. It was also interesting to me that the attacker and his lawyer considered the sixteen points of comparison, all of which matched, as flimsy evidence. This seems like very concrete evidence to me. Is it possible to have a fingerprint that similar to someone else? These points of comparison also seemed to strike the Judge as solid evidence, but the attacker’s lawyer was able to convince him that the situation was not as serious as he was treating it. Personally, I think the fingerprint that was found on the teapot was substantial evidence, enough to assume that Frediani was Helena’s attacker, and the case should have been dealt with more seriously and in a quicker time frame.
“It was a clear case of fiction pre-dating reality, this time by more than a decade” -Weinberg, p49
This quote followed Weinberg’s description about how Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective, actually inspired the “scientific detective,” and figured out that there was an infallible test for blood stains. I was very interested to read that fiction actually predates reality in many instances, and I was very curious as to what other scientific discoveries were already thought of in fiction. I read an article on Wired, written by Nick Stockton, that discussed some of the science that is present in fiction stories that came to life in 2015. It was shocking to me to see all the present scientific advancements we have today that were actually thought up by fictional authors. The most notable inventions from fiction were genetically engineered organisms and food. Stockton mentions that in the book Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood created characters that were actually genetically modified pigs, which had been modified to have multiple copies of human organs. Now a Virginia based bioengineering firm started its own genetically modified pig-organ breeding program. Another example that Stockton mentioned which was interesting to me was that Isaac Asimov, a science fiction writer, wrote an article for the New York Times where he touched upon turkey and steaks that would one day be grown from yeast and algae. Asimov’s thought of food being grown in a petri-dish is almost a present day reality since many of the flavors that are in our foods today are synthetically created.
While reading chapter 3 of Weinberg’s book, I noticed that many of Johnson’s ideas on how to come about a great innovation were used by many scientists who played a role in discovering how DNA worked. This was very interesting for me to see how the ideas that we read about in our last book were implemented in a different context.
“So instead of pooling their resources—Wilkins’s theoretical advances and Franklin’s photographs of DNA…they huddled in separate labs, and moved far more slowly than they should have” – Weinberg, p37
This is a great example of how sharing your ideas with other people, one of Johnson’s main arguments, is the most efficient way of creating monumental innovations. If Wilkins and Franklin shared their ideas with one another instead of working separately, they would have been able to reach the discovery that they eventually stumbled upon much sooner in their careers.
Platforms were another one of Johnson’s ideas that was present in chapter 3 of Weinberg’s book.
“In the spring of 1900, three botanists, working separately in three countries, simultaneously stumbled upon Mendel’s paper, and credited it in their own writings on patters of inheritance” – Weinberg, p31
Without the early work of Mendel, later discoveries of DNA would not have been possible. Mendel created the platform that many other scientists were able to work off of. The lack of resources at the time impacted Mendel’s discovery, but because of Mendel’s initial interest in DNA, scientists were able to discover the secret behind it.
“She knew her future lay in science, and already she was turning her attention to DNA, the molecule that was reorienting the worlds of biology and chemistry, smashing preconceptions, and opening vistas that spread from pre-birth to eternal life” -Weinberg, p14
I found it extremely interesting that Helena devoted her life to studying DNA and that it seems at this point in Weinberg’s book, that DNA could be the missing link to solving her case. Helena’s work with DNA could potentially help the police find her attacker. What scientists have discovered about DNA, and all the different things that they can do with it in this day and age is an amazing biological advancement. At this point in the book, I wondered whether or not DNA will help solve this case, and also if Helena would be one of the people that discovered the link between DNA and her attacker. I am interested to keep reading to see if Helena figures out a method to find her attacker even before the police do. This insight on DNA’s link to criminology is new to me and allowed me to view these types of cases in a new light.
“She keeps looking, but she cannot even recognize the eyes, not in the whole face. But maybe she has seen him before?” – Weinberg, p5
This quote really stuck out to me and clearly showed me how science can make evidence so much more concrete. As soon as I read it I questioned how effective it can be for the court to lay such a heavy emphasis on the victims visual idea and memory of the physical appearance of his or her attacker. After reading some more of the book it is clear that DNA, one of the greatest biotechnological advancements, can solve a case in a much easier way. Therefore it seems to me that it would be foolish to rely solely on someone’s perception when science is much more effective. In other words, I think it is hard for a person who has been through a traumatic event to recall something that is so negatively engraved in their minds, especially if it was a long time ago. Science can lead a case such as Helena Greenwood’s to being solved much more concretely than perception can. The power of DNA has made a large impact on the outcome of such cases. Before I read this chapter I had never thought about how big of an impact DNA and science vs. a persons perception had on criminal investigations.
“We may very well decide as a society that people simply deserve to profit from their good ideas, and so we have to introduce a little artificial scarcity to ensure those rewards” – Johnson, p242
This quote struck me because I was wondering about patents and whether or not they impede on the free flow of ideas. In this passage, Johnson sheds some light on the idea that has been in my head since we started reading this book; Should we do away with patents in order to promote more collaborative and connected environments? Johnson suggests that we do need some form of patent laws so that the inventors can be compensated and rewarded for their hard work. I agree with this because if there was no reward for a groundbreaking invention, I fear that people would stop trying to create great innovations. Maybe, someday the patent laws can become more lenient in a way that the inventor will still get the credit, but other people can use that idea, add to it and improve it, or exapt it to use in a different context. By doing so, we can combine some artificial scarcity with liquid networks that promote serendipity, exaptations and platforms.
“Twitter’s creators recognized that there was another kind of competitive advantage that came from complete openness: the advantage that comes from having the largest and most diverse ecosystem of software applications being built on your platform” – Johnson, p194
This quote really stuck out to me because it was interesting to me how Twitter created this platform where anyone could add their ideas or make the software better. It also prompted me to question whether this open platform causes issues with crediting someone for their work. In other words, should the Twitter creators receive full credit for their invention or should they have to share it with tons of people because they only made the basic platform? Once everyone inputs their own ideas into a project how can we determine who should receive the credit? Should it be shared by anyone who has ever submitted an idea? It is clear to see how for Twitter having an open platform was beneficial because the site was able to grow immensely, but can this kind of platform work for other ideas, concepts, and businesses? I believe it takes a certain field, like building social media, for open platforms to really be beneficial. I cannot see large businesses benefiting from an open platform because usually when I am in a decision making setting where a lot of opinions are being considered, we do not usually reach a conclusion.
“A tool that helps you see in one context ends up helping you keep warm in another. That’s the essence of exaptation” – Johnson, p157
This quote came right after Johnson’s example of having a match to light up a dark room, which in turn helps you find a room with a fireplace, where the match can have a completely different use (lighting a fire). I thought this quote really captured what Johnson was trying to convey to his readers in this chapter because it gives a clear example of what exaptation is. Personally, I see exaptation occurring all the time in my life, even though before reading this chapter I did not know there was a word for it. Even small things such as learning information in my macroeconomics class that I can apply in my speech pathology courses, or even at the dinner table with my friends, exaptation is at work. I was able to take that information that I learned in economics and apply it to other contexts and broaden my knowledge even further.
“It’s not that mistakes are the goal— they’re still mistakes, after all, which is why you want to get through them quickly. But those mistakes are an inevitable step on the path to true innovation” -Johnson, p148
I thought this quote did a good job of summarizing the message of this chapter. In this excerpt, Johnson emphasizes that mistakes are important in the process of creating a successful innovation, and that they are pieces of the puzzle that we cannot avoid. I also thought it was important that Johnson made sure to explain to his audience that he was not saying to make mistakes on purpose, but he was instead assuring his readers that when mistakes do happen they can be helpful instead of hurtful. For me personally, I always thought of mistakes as bad things, things that set me back in whatever I was doing, but after reading this chapter I feel more confident in the fact that mistakes can be beneficial and act as stepping stones that lead to great innovations.
“But the strange fact is that a great deal of the past two centuries of legal and folk wisdom about innovation has pursued the exact opposite argument, building walls between ideas, keeping them from the kind of random, serendipitous connections that exist in dreams and in the organic compounds of life. Ironically, those walls have been erected with the explicit aim of encouraging innovation.” – Johnson, p123
While reading this chapter this passage really made me question why we build barriers around our ideas if sharing them, and connecting with other people is really the best way to establish great ideas. Why has the world created patents and copyrights that protect ideas from the ideas of others? How can people develop a slow hunch that they have, or explore the adjacent possible if everyones ideas are guarded by legal documents? How can we break down these walls and introduce a more connective environment?
“Sustaining the slow hunch is less a matter of perspiration than of cultivation. You give the hunch enough nourishment to keep it growing, and plant it in fertile soil, where its roots can make new connections. And then you give it time to bloom.” – Johnson, p78
This quote stuck out to me because I liked the visual it provided of the slow hunch. Johnson talked a lot about the slow hunch and how great ideas usually take time to develop, but after reading this particular passage I was really able to visualize exactly what Johnson was talking about. I especially like the statement, “where its roots can make new connections,” since Johnson really tries to emphasize throughout this chapter that hunches will stay hunches if they do not connect with other peoples ideas. By picturing the slow hunch as a plant, I can see how the plant must be given time in order for its roots to grow and connect with other plants.
“It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network” – Johnson, p58
The network environment helps to bring ideas into the light and propel them into a state of success. This quote stuck out to me because it is significant in showing that the network is not the smart component in the equation, but instead the people that are connected to the network are the smart ones. By being surrounded by people who share your intellect and creativeness, innovation prospers. Johnson does a good job of exemplifying that by bouncing ideas off one another, and sharing thoughts with one another, people gain knowledge.
“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries” – Johnson, p31
I think this quote is important because we were reading about how the adjacent possible is “a shadow figure hovering over the edges of the present state of things,” but this quote shows us that in order to take advantage of the adjacent possible, and explore new rooms in the mansion, we must take that first step ourselves. In order for the adjacent possible’s limits to grow, we must push those limits and see where we can take them.
“The long-zoom approach lets us see that openness and connectivity may, in the end, be more valuable to innovation than purely competitive mechanisms” – Johnson, p21
This quote really jumped out at me because I think it is extremely important to have an open mind about things. Johnson continued to explain that to fuel creativity you have to keep an open mind about the people that are around you and the environments that you are in. By doing so, you can think more creatively and collaborate with one another to make ideas even better. Constant competition limits ideas from flourishing because they stay in the mind of one person, or the minds of a small group of people. The key to successful innovation is having an open mind and connecting and sharing your ideas with other people.
“We are generally more willing to live with familiar risks than new ones, no matter what the relative dangers” – Grace, p216
This quote stuck out to me because of its relevance to my feelings about GMOs and the issues concerning patenting genes. As relatively new topics, GMOs and patented genes seem scary to me because they are unknown, but everything that is introduced into our society is at one point unknown. We grow to become more comfortable with certain risks because they are functioning in society and we see people interacting with them more and more each day. I think this quote is very applicable to all new inventions and topics that spark controversy because with time new risks will morph into familiar risks that we are more comfortable with.