In the book, Weinberg writes about how Helena had an interest in science, more specifically biotech, at a young age. With all her knowledge about the field, one would think that it would help her in her case, but it did not. Clearly a traumatic experience takes a toll on our mental state, but it seemed that prior to her attack, Helena would have been capable of using her knowledge and independence for her own good. Although it is a terrible thing, it is interesting to see how trauma effects our mental state. Helena, knowing what she knew about biotech, took a shower after the incident, which removed the DNA of her attacker. When a human experiences something traumatic, they react in survival type way rather then taking into consideration a more suitable action, why does this happen? Helena responded to her attack by taking a shower, but she should’ve known that it would remove the attacker’s DNA. What happens to our brain in “survival” mode that makes us overlook other options that could be more beneficial?
I started this journey with only the vaguest idea of what DNA is and does, and it is in large part thanks to Matt Ridley’s erudite and informative Genome that I made it out of the starting gates – page, vii
This quote really caught my attention because what DNA has enabled us to do is massive. We have solved many mysteries by understanding the DNA. Not only crimes, but it helped us solve health mysteries. It has given us an idea of what each face could look like and not only that, but how we could be like personality wise. Of course, one of the greatest things it has done is being able to solve mysteries. If it were not for that a lot of criminals would still be out in the loose and be a danger to society.
“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.
“This is a story about a murder and a molecule. It is both the history of a science, overlaid with human drama, and a human tragedy inextricably entwined with science” (Weinberg xi)
In the opening of Pointing from the Grave, we are introduced to the world of DNA. We know it will play a large factor because of the large emphasis placed on its usefulness and its abilities. I am excited to see how the role of DNA plays into our every day lives, and ultimately, how DNA solves a murder.
In Chapter 1 of Pointing From the Grave the only thing I kept thinking to myself was why didn’t they test the semen stains on Helena’s pillowcase. I am sure the technology now is a lot more useful and developed than the technology during the time of Helena’s assault, but it still would have been more concrete evidence than a simple description of the intruder’s looks. This wonder led me to look up how Semen tests are conducted, and what they tell us about the person who left them. Check out this site I found. It talks about the different types of test that can be run on semen samples, and about the biological information that semen imparts on us. The link is below!
“Do you render an opinion of the assailant’s race?” “Yes or no?” “I said that I can’t positively identify the person.” -Weinberg (9)
The inability to positively identify an attacker could be due to stress Helena was going through. Negative bias against people of certain races (white, brown, black) can also contribute towards memory. This vulnerability can brings the chance for witnesses to add that elaborations stemming on their bias. A study made to research this vulnerability in human memory was conducted by Barbara Tversky and Elizabeth Marsh. They discovered participants would make error in retelling experiences. The experiences were categorized as socially cool, neutral and annoying. Participants made minimal errors in retelling the stories that were delivered from a neutral standpoint. But from the socially cool and annoying experiences, participants made many more errors and added characteristics attributed to the bias in their retelling.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) was invented in 1985 by Kary B. Mullius. This process was developed the same year that Helena Greenwood’s court case. PCR was a revolutionary discovery for the study of DNA because what it does in a nutshell, is make a ton of DNA from any time tiny bit of DNA. It basically duplicates the strands of DNA to make more and more of it so that its a substantial amount of DNA to do an analysis with. Before this, if DNA samples were taking from a crime scene, if there wasn’t a substantial amount, than only a few test would most likely be able to be done. PCR now allows for an unlimited amount of retesting because more DNA sample can be made. This process is truly amazing!
As amazing as this process is, it actually takes quite some effort. The Molecular Genetics course has a lab portion that does a lot of PCR. It is a series of heating, centrifuging, cooling, adding enzymes, etc. Heat is used to break apart the strands of DNA to than have an enzyme called DNA polymerase travel along each strand making a complimentary strand. This process continues exponentially within the tiny test tube producing a subtle sample for testing.
Testing than is done on an electrophoresis gel, that will show whether a person is a match to the DNA or not. The picture shown above is an example of a gel.
As someone who has never really read or enjoyed mysteries in general, I was surprised that I am anticipating reading on in this story. I think that Weinberg does an outstanding job at intertwining science and mystery and real life. She is also an eloquent writer to begin with, and this adds to the enjoyment of reading the text.
But the way the whole trial happened that Weinberg presented raised a few questions in my mind. Firstly, I was confused why Greenwood’s case was not put before a judge until a year after the incident. This seems confusing to me especially because the first thing she did after the attack was report it to the police. This issue may be something we find out the answer to as we read on though.
The was the DA talked to Greenwood was also interesting. When he asked her how she described the race of her attacker, it seemed as if he was almost trying to put words in her mouth at one point, but she also seemed to be guarding her words or avoiding the direct question a little bit. I think that the DA was trying to protect his client, but I also do not think that Weinberg was racist herself.
After reading Chapter 1 of Pointing From the Grave, I found it very interesting and relatable to various other science courses I took. In the prologue it mentioned how DNA was first discovered and used to understand the sequencing of the genome and related to genetic makeup of humans. In my Genetics, Synthetic Biology, and Cancer Biology courses we discussed the ways in which DNA was analyzed based on RFLP (Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism Technique) analysis which allowed researchers to understand the matches in the breaks in DNA. This is described in the link below in which this techniques uses restriction enzymes to see the cuts in DNA and match the fragments to those of other pieces of DNA. It was interesting to see how DNA, the basic building block for genes, is able to be used in such a way that includes intense analysis of sequences to match the sequences of interest in a case like the one described in this chapter. If foreign DNA was detected in Helena’s saliva samples, from the bodily fluids of the assailant, it will be interesting to see how RFLP could be used to match the DNA to that of the assailant.
I am enjoying “Pointing from the Grave” thus far. Murder books and shows have always intrigued me. After reading the first chapter, I was impressed with the way it was written. Weinberg makes the story increasingly interesting by altering the chapter from present scenario to flashback. Readers are able to better understand what exactly happened the day of the incident as well as get an inside look at what is now going on inside of the courtroom. This chapter provides readers with the beginnings of the background information of the case. I am excited and curious to know how it is going to build up.
I thought it was interesting that both the prologue and the first chapter begin in a courtroom, the first appearing to be a trial regarding Helena’s murder, and the latter being the trial for her assault. Although this is a true story, Weinberg can still choose how she wants to organize it, and I like her choice to open with a piece of the story that I’m sure comes at the very end to draw her readers in before flashing back to the very beginning. It makes me wonder if the rest of the case will be presented in strict chronological order, or if there’ll be more jumps to and from the present.
Going into “Pointing From The Grave”, I was expecting murder. That I was fine with. I did not expect rather graphic sexual assault. I was very shock, and frankly disgusted. It made me rather uncomfortable to read. For this same reason I don’t watch “Law and Order: SVU” and shy away from movies like “Boys Don’t Cry”.
The information following the assault though, such as the sexual examination, I tried to understand in a technical, intellectual sense. From watching crime shows like “CSI” (which isn’t usually as gory as “Law and Order: SVU”) I understood why it was so important that she receive that examination so quickly. Sperm especially has a short life span when it exists outside of the body. So collecting that DNA needed to be done as soon as physically possible.
The issue, most of the time, is how emotionally ready a victim is for such an examination. Greenwood described it herself as a “reprise of the indignity” (Weinberg, 7)