Recommended Reading from this Nobel Prize Winner
In an age of consensus originality, big money manners, and serioso Elmer Gantry profiteers of science-panic exploiting ingenues in pigtails, everybody needs to read Kary Mullis.
The greatest American scientist you maybe haven’t heard of, he somehow managed to die in August last year of pneumonia at age 74 without the help of coronavirus.
Having missed his passing, I would like to award him a crown anyway for his single-handed launch of biotech through the invention of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology. Invented in 1973 when he was at Cetus corporation, PCR is a cheap and fast method of making hundreds or even billions of copies of a specified stretch of DNA. It won him the Nobel Prize in 1993 when he was in his forties. The Swedes released him on the world for more than three decades to tell us exactly what he thinks.
As Mullis explained, the three billion nucleotides in the human genome are intrinsically as hard to read “as a particular license plate on interstate 5 at night from the moon.” PCR was a chemical procedure that would replicate it so massively that it became as “easy to see as billboards in the desert.”
Mullis exploited the natural tendency of DNA molecules to replicate themselves, as they do every time they divide to define a protein. A short piece of synthetic DNA from Cetus could be made to stick to a longer piece when the sequences matched up.
The first step might reduce matches to 1,000 among three billion nucleotides. He then would repeat the process to get the stretch he wanted, then replicate it through the use of a polymerase enzyme. Thirty repetitions would get him a billion copies.
As he said, “I knew computer programming so I knew the power of a reiterative mathematical procedure”— recursion. Finding a place to start is of utmost importance. Natural DNA is a trackless coil, like an unwound and tangled audio tape… If I could arrange for a short synthetic piece of DNA to find a particular sequence and then start a process [with polymerase enzymes] whereby that sequence would reproduce itself over and over… I would be famous. I would get the Nobel Prize.”
With cheap and fast PCR, DNA could be read, manipulated, diagnosed, and researched by any cockamamie entrepreneur, paleontologist, physician, inventor, or detective. Biology could be rendered readable — an information science accessible through information theory and computer science.
Police could pin murders on their perpetrators, lawyers could free death row convicts, doctors could correct genetic diseases, mothers could give good news to deadbeat dads, paleontologists could define evolutionary paths, families could catalog their ancestries, biochemists could identify viruses and specify vaccines, and businesses could develop genetic services, such as “23 and Me.”
Matt Scholz, a Mullis throwback, could start four biotech companies to follow the trail that Mullis pioneered.
A Valuable Investor Guide from Mullis Himself
A wave-riding surfer dude from North Carolina, Mullis’s rabble-rousing autobiography, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, made the rakish Nobel physicist Richard Feynman seem like a stuffed shirt, intimidated by Ivy League sanctimony. But for all Mullis’ rampant LSD, sex, wives, and rock ‘n roll, he was dead serious about science and defiant towards its prestigious abusers. A truthteller among panic-sellers, he offers a valuable guide to investors today.
For example, it is worth knowing that Mullis completely debunked the “ozone hole” panic of the 1980s, which represented a lucrative dry run for the climate change weather ruckus of today.
“Beyond the lack of scientific evidence, it makes no sense anyhow that we could destroy ozone in the upper atmosphere. If a hole in the ozone layer appeared somehow [and it’s cyclical, folks], the ultraviolet rays from the sun would come through the hole and strike the earth’s atmosphere, where they would be absorbed by the miles-thick layer of oxygen surrounding the Earth. Then it would make more ozone. When the UV rays from the sun combine with oxygen they form ozone…That’s why we have oxygen to breathe down here and ozone in the upper atmosphere…” There is much more similar lucid teaching in his book.
Mullis points to Nobel economist James Buchanan, who “noted 30 years ago — and he is still correct — that there is no vested interest in seeing a fair evaluation of a public scientific issue.”
Mullis comments: “I couldn’t help but notice the amazing coincidence that the American patent on the production of Freon, the principal chloroflorocarbon used in refrigerators and air conditioners, expired at just about the same time Freon was banned… And a new chemical compound… protected by patent, would soon be substituted and make a lot of money…”
“We accept the proclamations of scientists in lab coats with the same faith we once reserved for priests,” he wrote. “We have turned them into something almost as bad as lawyers.”
Destroying the US chemical industry through overwrought safety regulations and EPA chemophobia, all amplified by class action litigation, the lawyers have done enough damage. The consensus science just provides a new set of suits. Where is the Supreme Court when you need them?
This is the “Age of Chicken Little”, says Mullis, “We have been had again, and grossly misinformed [by the IPCC at an ante-cost to us $1 billion per year]. And the more we pay these bastards the longer they will be in business and the more damage they can do in the name of saving us from ourselves.”
We can all imagine what Mullis would have said about the coronavirus shutdown at a time when all technology converges to allow most production to proceed without direct contact and GPS and smartphones and thermal gauges and face recognition lets infected people be followed and identified.
This is a strategic problem to be solved by expanding the economy and exploiting information technology and recognizing human individuals, not by treating everyone as a case. The South Koreans have shown the way.
Today nearly all the damage is being inflicted by clueless politicians. They should not be paid until they figure out how to pursue opportunities, rather than their own power.
Maybe Trump is enough of an outsider to see this. Too bad Mullis isn’t around to counsel him, but his book is there for everyone to read.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy