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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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July 31, 2007

Incomprehension, Out For A Stroll

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Posted by Derek

Here's a little night-time journey through Genentech's Vacaville manufacturing site, through the eyes of someone who has no idea of what he's seeing. The problem is, he doesn't know that - he and his friend think that they have it all figured out:

"On the one hand this place makes drugs that save people's lives -- treatments for cancers and cystic fibrosis and asthma," she told me. "Heading out," I told her, as the construction worker walked across the campus towards the gate.

"And yet, on the other hand, this place is pure evil." We walked past large vats labeled "Poison" and huge machines that looked like they could crush us. Smoke belched from the top of the building and we could see more buildings and a parking lot in the distance.

"Companies like this are made up of dozens of people, each of whom, individually, are the sweetest guys. Nice, friendly people who just care about doing well at their work." As we approached the buildings, we saw that even now -- 2AM -- the place was alive. New cars were pulling into the lot and men and women were walking from building to building. The yellowed light on their white lab coats gave the whole thing a sinister air.

"And yet, together, they manage to pull off the most incomprehensible evils. . ."

Well, incomprehensible to Aaron Swartz and his friend, anyway. The essay is written as a feeble imitation of Hunter Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Swartz presents himself through the whole piece as a passive, puzzled observer. It all just seems too much for him - equipment he doesn't recognize, people doing things he doesn't understand for reasons that he can't quite work out. The Genentech scientist in the piece comes across as a much more human figure, although there's some attempt to make him a figure of fun. Which reminds me - if anyone out there works at the Vacaville site, or knows someone who does, I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who witnessed this tiny adventure from another perspective).

Aaron Swartz, by the way, was one of the early people behind the social media site Reddit, which is intermittently interesting. These days, though, it's more often a swamp of delusional conspiracy groupthink. If it were your only news source, you'd likely be convinced that (among many other unusual things) storm troopers were sweeping the streets, rounding up supporters of Ron Paul. Or, perhaps, that Genentech was run by creatures out of H. P. Lovecraft.

Comments (14) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Why Everyone Loves Us


1. SleeplessInSF on July 31, 2007 9:52 PM writes...

You have a bad tag in the last graph.

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2. SleeplessInSF on July 31, 2007 10:07 PM writes...

Having read the original piece, I wonder what makes you think any of it actually happened? It all looks like a rather lame attempt at parodying the gonzo style and gave me the impression that the whole thing was invented. Does Swartz (there is a T in his name, BTW) say somewhere that the events are factual?

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3. A-non-y-mous on August 1, 2007 5:16 AM writes...

Pseudo-journalism, part truth, part fiction, pure crap. Why give this hack a stage? I could care less about him writing about a biotech firm, it's just that his writing is atrocious.

If you read the comments, someone that was there (maybe, maybe not) posted and commented on some inaccuracies. Then if you go to the loser's homepage he attempts to explain these inaccuracies.

Really, at the beginning he states "we popped some pills and picked up a BMW". I read that as "we did drugs and stole a car". He's going after Hunter's style, but falls short. Lilliputian short. Don't take him seriously.

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4. Derek Lowe on August 1, 2007 5:47 AM writes...

I figured that if the whole thing were made up, it would have been more interesting. And as for giving him a stage, I think this guy does a lot more traffic than I do already, unfortunately. . .

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5. A-non-y-mous on August 1, 2007 6:58 AM writes...

"I think this guy does a lot more traffic than I do already"

I refuse to believe this.

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6. Anonymous on August 1, 2007 7:46 AM writes...

I don't think I've ever seen a large vat labeled "Poison" in a manufacturing facility. I wonder if it was bubbling? Were there tentacles and eyeballs floating in it? Genentech must be scaling up from their pilot plant in Innsmouth, just down the road from Miskatonic University.

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7. Anonymous on August 1, 2007 7:48 AM writes...

I don't think I've ever seen a large vat labeled "Poison" in a manufacturing facility. I wonder if it was bubbling? Were there tentacles and eyeballs floating in it? Genentech must be scaling up from their pilot plant in Innsmouth, just down the road from Miskatonic University.

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8. GATC on August 1, 2007 9:20 AM writes...

Reminds me of some of the current reasoning in the anthropogenic global warming controversy. For something really scary, check out this link:

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9. SRC on August 1, 2007 11:38 AM writes...

Can't be real. Where were the condensers with colored coolant circulating in them? Where was the dry ice in the beakers full of liquid? How come the Genentech scientist wasn't cackling maniacally as he planned to take over the earth?

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10. Sigivald on August 1, 2007 12:27 PM writes...

Anonymous: I can believe storage tanks with a "poison" placard, though - that's at least not implausible, though I don't know what the labeling requirements/practices are in that industry specifically.

It does read as pure fiction to me, at any rate. Especially the unsupported claims of "evil"; one would think someone trying to actually produce an exposé would be more specific about even one example of "evil".

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11. Wavefunction on August 1, 2007 2:22 PM writes...

Sensational-sounding slander always does a lot of traffic. Hardly surprising.

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12. Morten on August 1, 2007 4:51 PM writes...

Um... Honestly I think that piece is taking the piss on biotech/pharma-conspiratards. The line about how even though Genentech makes cures for cancer and cystic fibrosis and all the people that work there are really nice guys, you should never forget that the place is pure evil..? This guy is pulling your leg(s) guys.
And he does say in the very first line that he is ripping off Fear and Loathing.

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13. Tim on August 1, 2007 10:32 PM writes...

Actually, Morten, while Swartz took artistic license in places with the 'article', his sentiment is serious.

It should be noted that Swartz is approximately 22 years of age; his only claim to fame is winning the lottery and becoming associated with the founders of, a failed experiment in an users-as-editors content driven site. He was forced to quit or fired, incidentally. His attitude (it doesn't rise to the level of 'viewpoint') is typical of the early-twenties post-cynical-smarter-than-thou set. Despite, or perhaps because of this, his traffic stats almost certainly put Derek's to shame.

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14. kiwi on August 2, 2007 6:02 AM writes...

Don't forget, making profit is a crime to these people, along with corporations. Don't worry there is no hypocrisy, they also refine and lithograph their own silicon chips, in order to send signals along handmade copper wires to the local commune telecommunications centre, in order to spread their ideals

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