Scientific Anthology: Serendipity

Introduction

Serendipity is defined as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.” (1)

This anthology provides examples of scientific serendipity. This will introduce a number of scientists, inventions, and theories that all came about because of serendipity. This theme was clear throughout the books that we read during the semester and we wanted to prove that serendipity really exists in the scientific community as well as the world around us.

  1. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/serendipity
Scientific Anthology: Serendipity

Similarity between Genentech and Google

Chapter 5 describes “an emerging culture” in the Genentech company. Genentech was developing a culture that was unmatched by any other technology company at the time. Hughes wrote that Silicon Valley firms were equally motivated by innovation, research, and protecting intellectual property. However, these companies lacked strong ties with the academic world that biotechnology is built upon. The culture of Genentech’s company combined the financially driven aspect of product development that tech companies thrive on, with the academic collaboration that universities promote.

“Genentech’s culture was in short a hybrid of academic values brought in line with commercial objectives and practices. It was, to turn a phrase, “a recombinant culture” in way that the biotechnology industry of today continues to manifest in one way or another” -Hughes, 132

The culture was not lost on its visitors. As Hughes states, visitors to the company immediately noticed the energy and electricity of the company’s scientists. The company was noticeably informal and was lacking in respect to authority or hierarchy.

“Genentech’s culture of extremes included a strand that observers today would label socially unacceptable. But it was not Genentech’s blemishes that financiers noticed. They saw a company with an impressive line of scientific accomplishments and major corporate alliances.” – Hughes, 135

The environment of Genentech reminded me about Google’s environment from reading Johnson’ Where Good Ideas Come From. Google is notorious for having a laid back, informal work environment, where employees are encouraged to collaborate. Both Genentech and Google provide their employees with work environments that may not fit the norm, but allow their employees to be as innovative as possible. Both companies are able to produce highly marketable, successful products, while still providing their employees with the interactive environment they so desire.

Similarity between Genentech and Google

Silicon Valley: A new type of Manifest Destiny

“The plan was to exploit the rich opportunities for risk investment in the Bay Area. Arriving in 1970, Swanson encountered a thriving center of the microelectronics and computer industries in a region thirty miles south of San Francisco, soon to become known as Silicon Valley. It was without doubt the most entrepreneurial region in the world, boasting a refreshingly boundless, risk-tolerant, success-breeds-success culture in which an aspiring young person could spread his wings and try new things” (31).

In the 2 question forum, I asked questions into why and how California developed such a hot-bed for technological and other advancements in different fields. Silicon Valley, the most famous of any locations in Cali. in regard to technology. Clearly risk-tolerance, entrepreneurial culture, and relatively young people are the reasons for the success of the region. Also, the weather in California is probably a strong attraction for people to migrate to, especially from the colder weather of the east coast. “There’s something in the air here” may not be such an off phrase for “the most entrepreneurial region in the world” because of how people interact and network with one another. This area breeds innovation that has made it very successful, impacting people all over the world when you think about it. A 21st century, manifest destiny-type of migration will continue to attract young innovative people out to California, looking for ways to contribute to a region of success and influence.

Silicon Valley: A new type of Manifest Destiny

“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

Technological Acceleration

“This Acceleration reflects not only the flood of new products, but also outgrowing willingness to embrace these strange new devices and put them to use.” – Johnson (13)

It is amazing how fast we are adapting to new technologies, and then moving on to the next big thing. Technological progress has been greater in the past 50 years than all of humanity combined. We are developing new technologies at a ridiculously fast rate that its becoming tough to stay up to date with current technologies. Its forcing us to learn these technologies and further our technological knowledge. Unless of course, you decide you don’t want to adapt to societies technological progression, which is becoming very difficult to do as technology plays a larger role in our lives every year. A study conducted by The Emerging Future predicts that in the next 20 years, we will have surpassed our technical progress one million-fold. At this rate, it seems impossible to be able to adapt based upon one current lifestyles. It will be interesting to see how our lives will change when all this technology is released. speed-technological-advancement_20years

Technological Acceleration

Forensics Today

“The only evidence that linked him to the case was a single fingerprint, but that could be enough. In the courtrooms of the world, fingerprints and blood and semen stains were increasingly playing the dominant role. Forensic science was leaping from the test tube to tap criminals on their shoulders like a triumphant child  in a life or death game of grandmother’s footsteps.

Forensic science plays a huge role in crime cases these days. With the expansion of technology, I am curious as to how forensic science has changed and grown. Do forensic scientists look at camera and video evidence more so than physical evidence, such as hairs and stains? In addition, as the book progresses, I am realizing that I enjoy Weinberg’s style as a writer. Thus far, she has presented the facts of the case in the way in an informative yet enthralling way. Like any crime show, Weinberg presents this case in such a way that is more than just straight facts. I especially appreciated her simile in the last sentence above.  

Forensics Today

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

Errors

“The error is needed to set off the truth, much as a dark background is required for exhibiting the brightness of a picture.”-William James

I found this quote by William James very convincing, if one has the drive to never quit.  Growing up, I was raised to never give up at things I truly wanted and it is almost impossible to imagine a world without the many inventions discovered through trial and error.  As Johnson talks about, errors open new doors to the adjacent possible and I too feel they are necessary to find truths.

Errors

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

Make it Cheaper

In the year that followed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Indonesian city of Meulaboh received eight incubators… by late 2008, when MIT professor named Timothy Prestero visited the hospital, all eight were out of order. (27)

In todays society the amount of advanced technology that is available is amazing. But there is one common problem across the board, no matter if it is consumer based or a life saving device, it is all too expensive. It also all will break far too often. Even today, cell phones can barely make it the two year contract you must sign to buy it. This issue continues on into biotechnology and healthcare. If those incubators were more reliable then more babies could have been saved. Because they were broken they could not be useful to the people of Meulaboh. Developing a way to make technology less disposable is necessary. Making something fixable is the next step in technological development.

Make it Cheaper

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

NeoNurture

This is a good invention that is not only more reasonable to make but also easier to fix. The scientists and inventors at work on this project are helping to lower infant mortality rates and improve the quality of life in third world countries. The pros outweigh any cons. Although there is the worry about prices of this invention and if it will be made available to those who really need it who might not be able to afford it.

NeoNurture

YouTube’s 1/1 Rule

The 10/10 rule stuck out to me for the fact of how long it took for these technological advances to become the new norm.  HDTV didn’t rise to mainstream popularity overnight, but YouTube was close to doing so.  One of my questions for this section dealt with if our generation (Generation Y) had large hand in making YouTube successful at such a faster rate.  I believe that our large generation, who is always seemingly on the next social media fad, definitely contributed heavily to YouTube’s success. Even though HDTV seemed to focus on a larger and broader target audience, it still didn’t have the generational focus that Youtube had to give them this “1/1 Rule”.

YouTube’s 1/1 Rule

Adjacent Possibles

After reading Chapter 1 of Where Good Ideas Come From, I found it very interesting when they discussed the ideas of new advancements or innovations as adjacent possible’s. Essentially, everything we do in a society builds on one another, an adjacent possible, the next invention. I think this idea is interesting because, while science often is described as the exploration of new things or new developments, I never thought machinery or technology as the gathering of many ideas to increase complexity. Everything is based off of the previous and builds in it complexity. While this is believed to be true, I thought the example of Babbage’s Analytical Engine was noteworthy. In this example, it was proposed that the

“machine was so complicated it never got passed the blueprint stage” -Johnson, p37.

I think this idea is extremely important, because while technology leads to  the future, one consequence deals with complexity. Are we ever going to get to a point in which the world is too complex to keep moving forward? Will things come to a halt? I think these ideas are very important to think about especially living in a world today in which technology is so advanced and new things are created every day.

Adjacent Possibles