Scientific Anthology: Discoveries Ahead of Their Time

Introduction

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”

Scientific Anthology: Discoveries Ahead of Their Time

The Birth of a New Industry: The Rise of Genentech

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”

The Birth of a New Industry: The Rise of Genentech

The full spectrum of scientific ingenuity

 Sally Smith Hughes is an Academic Specialist in History of Science. She studied at the University of California, Berkley. She does research in biology which reflect her areas of interest. Moreover, she published a book called Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech. This book focuses on the beginning of the company Genentech. The company struggled through various obstacles including obstacles with the government and within the company. In the prologue the author notes, “The making of Genentech was in fact racked by problems, internal and external” (i). Despite of all the obstacles, the company managed to grow and make life changing discoveries.

The two founders of Genentech Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer both worked on the basic-research techniques. However, “they immediately foresaw its practical applications in making plentiful quantities of insulin, growth hormone, and other useful substances in bacteria,” (1). This brought internal problems because they started seeing a different direction of what they wanted to discover. Some wanted to go straight to the discovery of insulin, while others wanted to discover somatostatin. Even though it wasn’t as a strong fight as the others, their differences started to show. Their problems grew when they started publishing articles, “Then a heated dispute over authorship broke out,” (65). The more they were able to do, the more complicated it became for them. Robert Swanson started helping in managing the company and focused on getting financial security for the company. Nevertheless, some did not love the way he managed things. The author notes, “As his severest critics put it, he was ‘selling out to the industry,’” (71). It is obvious that working in such a huge project isn’t easy, and all of their fights proved that. Continue reading “The full spectrum of scientific ingenuity”

The full spectrum of scientific ingenuity

Scientific Incentives

 “Political, social, and economic factors and strategic scientific, financial, and business decisions” – Hughes 165

What incentives are there for scientists? Well, that question isn’t too hard to answer. But what is their motivating factor when conducting their work?

Its obvious that scientists usually pursue a field that sparks interest to them. But how can we be sure that money, fame, and recognition aren’t just as significant, if not more significant? The answer is that we don’t, we just have to assume they’re doing it for all the right reasons.

But put yourself in the shoes of a scientist. Clearly you’ve devoted your life to discovery and scientific ingenuity. But, was your motivation science itself, or was it the perks and incentives that came with it? Its a difficult topic to think about, but when digging deeper the options become more apparent.

The fame, recognition, and money that come along with large groundbreaking discoveries in a certain field can skew the minds of scientists. But those truly committed to their work will do it for the right reasons. So given this, what do you think the motivation was at Genetech? I know my answer, but everyone is entitles to their own opinion.

Scientific Incentives

Genentech Today

“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.

Genentech Today

Genetech: Money or Science?

After reading the book, the audience can question whether or not scientists are motivated by helping the people, or money. Even when visiting the Genetech website, they stress their dedication to the patients and the good of science. However, like any company the scientists must work in oder to please investors. If a product is not made in a timely manner successfully, the company will fall behind competitors. The website even lists reasons why people should invest in their company, all surrounding money obviously. People can become concerned projects are rushed, or not done to the best of the scientists ability in order to make certain deadlines or requirements. Regardless, Genetech is a multi-billion dollar company and is not lacking in investments.

We believe it’s urgent to deliver medical solutions right now – even as we develop innovations for the future. We are passionate about transforming patients’ lives. We are courageous in both decision and action. And we believe that good business means a better world.-www.gene.com

Genetech: Money or Science?

How Are Scientific Studies Chosen to Receive Grants?

“To maintain our edge . . . we’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars . . . that’s what’s going to maintain our standards of scientific excellence for years to come.”- President Barack Obama 

President Obama restated an idea that has kept the United States at the forefront of scientific research and discovery for decades; we must have the most rigorous peer review in the world in order to stay ahead of the world. Grant’s are given by the United States Government by going through a peer review process that grades your work, and considers its impact. There are several criteria that have to be considered in the peer review process for a lab or study, including, but not limited to: overall impact, significance, investigators, innovation, and approach.

A study’s overall impact is very important to peer reviewers because they want to know that a discovery will have a lasting impact on the research field and the world. The significance of a study is similar to overall impact, except that it focuses on overcoming a barrier or problem in the research field. Investigators, are the actual scientists who will be running the study, the peer reviewers want to know that they are accomplished members of the research field, and how the organizational structure and hierarchy of the study is laid out. Peer reviewers also need to know how innovative the study will be, will it shift the current understanding of the field? Finally, the approach of the study’s team is also important, how will it be designed, what are variables that are being controlled, do they have a alternative strategies?

 

Source: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/peer_review_process.htm#Second

How Are Scientific Studies Chosen to Receive Grants?

The Motivation Behind Genetech

The idea for Genetech originally came from Bob Swanson, a capital venturist with a love for chemistry and science in general.  But, did the motivation behind starting the company come from his love of science and determination to make advancements in the field of biotechnology?  Or did he just see a market that could be exploited to make himself a ton of money?  Genetech was trying to replicate insulin genes and market it to people in need, such as those with diabetes.  That sounds like a noble thing to do, but did Swanson really care about the advancements his team was making in the field?  I doubt he would have continually looked for funding for his company if he did not see a huge payday at the end of the tunnel.  I believe scientists, such as Cohen, genuinely want to help people and want to develop cures or treatments for different diseases.  But venture capitalists, such as Swanson, are mainly along for the ride because they believe there will be a lot of money at the end of the road, and maybe even some fame to go with it.

The Motivation Behind Genetech

Science and Industry

“The heart of [Boyer’s] problem, as they saw it, was that as a full-time, tenured professor he was simultaneously and inappropriately cofounder, vice president, board member, advisor, and major stockholder of a private company–Boyer’s company… As his severest critics put it, he was ‘selling out to industry.'” -Hughes, pg 71

I thought it was interesting that so many people were adamantly against the idea of Boyer working with Genentech. The idea that he was “selling out to industry” makes me wonder if many researchers at the time wanted science and industry to remain separate; maybe they thought scientific research should be motivated by curiosity and a need to understand how things work rather than attempting to turn a discovery into a product.
If that is the case, then I would certainly disagree with those types of researchers. Commercializing the product of an experiment can bring in money for the laboratory or university, providing funds that would allow them to do even more research. I’m not sure I see the logic behind these criticisms of Herb Boyer–an ideological disagreement, that I can see. Maybe these critics aren’t fond of the idea of a scientist being so involved in business. But calling it in appropriate?
The only concern I might have had regarding Boyer’s work with Genentech is simply the question of whether or not he has enough time to devote to both, and if not, then which would be his first priority? Teaching or business?

Science and Industry

NIH Grant Funding Process

Chapter 3 of Genentech mentions how Riggs applied for a grant from the National Institute of Health to conduct his research on somatostatin.  I was curious how someone, or some company, would apply for a scientific grant today from the NIH and how the process worked.  The following   webpage from the NIH’s site explains how the full process is conducted.  After determining a careful plan and deadlines, much like Riggs did with his three years of research estimation, the NIH provides a broad range of federal grant-making agencies that can provide one with funding opportunities.  Once a company applies for a grant, the NIH’s Division of Receipt and Referral, within the Center for Scientific Review, will determine the area of research the application falls in and review it based on its how relevant it is.  During months 4-8 of this process, the proposal will be peer reviewed and rightfully awarded thereafter.  Progress reports must be made during the research and all results generating by the funded experiments must be made available to the public.  I feel like the 9-10 months it takes to be awarded a grant is a long time, especially for scientists eager to test their theories, however having the process set up over this time period allows the CSR to fully review the applications.  Overall, the process is rightfully tedious for the amount of money that can be awarded for research to discover new scientific things that can benefit the public.

NIH Grant Funding Process

The Similarities of Law and Science

“They were still forbidden from discussing the case with each other or their families” (Weinberg 322).

During a case the jury is not allowed to talk to or discuss any of the legal proceedings in the case besides with the jurors themselves. This law or standard put in place is very similar to how patents and other laws that protect the ability from two different labs or research firms having the ability to talk about experiment and findings. In both cases the argument can stated that this stalls progress rather than improves upon it. In both cases the jury and the scientists can discuss and learn more about their findings rather than just having the opinions of their colleagues. It enhances both science and law as more people are aware and attentive to what is going on in the world and in turn solve the problem at hand. There must be some way that jurors and scientists are able to freely talk about their ideas and findings in order to progress both science and the law.

The Similarities of Law and Science

The Chain of Custody of Physical Evidence

“He directed her to her testimony at the preliminary hearing. She had described then how she had collected the fingernail cuttings and scrapings and put them in paper bindles. Now they were in clear boxes. When had they been transferred? Mary Pierson said had no independent recollection. It was a phrase that was becoming more familiar with the trial.” -Weinberg (p. 287)

During the time of the investigation of a crime scene it is pertinent to keep a chain a custody of any physical evidence collected. This provides a means of monitoring where and when the evidence is being stored. If the chain of custody is improperly managed then the evidence collected at the crime scene could be thought that it it could have been potentially tampered with. In cases where DNA, a piece of physical evidence, is the only evidence that links the defendant to the crime scene it is crucial that this evidence is held under the proper protocol and management. Because if it isn’t properly cares then evidence used court can be dismissed. Taking a forensic entomology class at Loyola, I learned that when investigating a crime scene it is critical to annotate everything done in and out of the crime scene. So that there are no inconsistencies and have the forensic eyewitness report allowed in court.

The chain of custody described by the SART Toolkit says, “To maintain chain of custody, you must preserve evidence from the time it is collected to the time it is presented in court. To prove the chain of custody, and ultimately show that the evidence has remained intact, prosecutors generally need service providers who can testify.” These service providers are typically the forensic scientists or trained policemen that can explain:

  • That the evidence offered in court is the same evidence they collected or received.
  • the time and date the evidence was received or transferred to another provider.
  • That there was no tampering with the item while it was in custody

All these components are critical for a service provider to have. Not only will they explain that the procedures done in the crime were up to protocol standards under oath but also convince the jury that the evidence is reliable. This requires a lot of understanding of the scientific methods used as well as have ability to be well spoken. The art of testifying is can be difficult and daunting for most people. Withstanding the badgering by defense lawyers, and surviving shots made towards your credibility as a scientist are some qualities that not all service providers have. That is why its important when dealing with trials, like the Frediani case, to have service providers that hold their own against sharks of defense lawyers.

Media involving the chain of custody:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cArnlbn-ums

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFXzG6qfxWc

References:

Dr. River’s Forensic Entomology Class

http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/sartkit/develop/issues-coc.html

https://ic.fsc.org/en/our-impact/program-areas/chain-of-custody

http://d4discovery.com/discover-more/2015/7/how-to-document-your-chain-of-custody-and-why-its-important

 

The Chain of Custody of Physical Evidence

“Ambiguous” DNA Tests

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

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

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

“Ambiguous” DNA Tests

Bias in Forensic Science

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

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

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

Bias in Forensic Science

A Scientific Anthology: Women in Science

Introduction

There have been many op-ed pieces and articles published about women in science chronicling their ups, downs and everything in between.

This anthology profiles 20 women in various fields of science, from molecular biology to physics, astronomy to zoology. They come from various socioeconomic, ethnic and geographical backgrounds. Some are well known, others you may just hear of for the first time. Some are still alive, while others are now circulating as a part of our universe. Some may have found their career path easier than others. Some may have had additional labels threaten to weigh them down.

Something you’ll find they all have in common is a curiosity and a passion – about their field and their work – and a desire to make the world a better place.

Continue reading “A Scientific Anthology: Women in Science”

A Scientific Anthology: Women in Science

Science vs Police

“Eventually tracked down by a marriage between science and police work” -(Weinberg 125)

Science is often seen as revolutionary and and answer for all things. However in some aspects of society specifically religion it is seen as a rival or conflict. In the book “Pointing From The Grave” the author illustrates the importance of a successful and productive marriage between science and police work. In pop culture especially in CSI shows science and police always go hand in hand from finger print scanning to the autopsy to even blood stains on a carpet. However in reality it seems that with the increasing police force and need for more guns and ammunition, forensics and science almost seemed to be cast aside. There have been even politician trying to cut scientific research for the need of military and defense spending. However, as with the view of history there needs to be a strong relationship between science and police work. In the end science offers and answers all the important questions posed by the police force.

Science vs Police

Gender and Science

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

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

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

Maurice_Wilkins_nobel

Gender and Science

Reconciling Business and Science

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

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

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

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

Reconciling Business and Science

The Philosophy of Science

“The poet and the engineer (and the coral reef) may seem a million miles apart in their particular forms of expertise, but when they bring good ideas into the world, similar patterns of development and collaboration shape that process.”- Johnson 22

This quote sticks out to me because it summarizes the concept this book is trying to prove. When I first read this, i thought that this was a very exaggerated claim to make. However, as I thought more about it, I realized that Johnson was right, and that in many cases great ideas seem to come from the some trains of thought in many different fields. We are so used to thinking of science as its own field, separate from authors or philosophers who delve into the human soul, but not too long ago this wasn’t the case. In many ways, science is simply another school of philosophy, asking the same type of questions that Socrates and Aristotle asked but backed up by hundreds of years of critical thought.

The Philosophy of Science

Penicillin: An Accidental Discovery

Penicillin is an antibiotic drug discovered by accident. It was founded by Sir Alexander Fleming who at the time was experimenting with the influenza virus in a lab. The scientist took a break from experimenting and  weeks later found mold on a plate. When the scientist found the mold, he investigated it and noticed the mold prevented growth of staphylococci. After this discovery, Fleming tested the mold and found out it can work against bacteria. Today, the penicillin drug  treats many life threatening illnesses such as meningitis and pneumonia.

This is one of many serendipitous moments in science that has happened  influencing society for the better. These accidental happenings in science are amazing and are so interesting to read out. I wonder what will be discovered next by accident.

pencillin

Picture Credits: http://www.topbritishinnovations.org/~/media/Voting/Images/Penicillin_detail_2.jpg

Here is a video featuring Science and Serendipity:

Video

Penicillin: An Accidental Discovery

Science is Poetry

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.

Science is Poetry