Author Archives: Beza Yoseph

Annie Dookhan and why her undisputed “science” imprisoned thousands

Who is Annie Dookhan you may ask? She was a government chemist for the state of Massachusetts who worked with the government in the criminal justice system. As many of us know, in this day and age forensic evidence is one of the strongest pieces of evidence we can utilize to track people down or place people at the scene of a crime; but if that power an privilege is abused or used for the wrong reasons…what could happen then?

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Dookhan has now been found guilty on 27 counts of misleading investigations, falsely executing reports and tampering with evidence during an ongoing investigation. She has also been sentenced to serve two years of probation and to undergo mental health counseling, but only if needed. At this moment, Dookhan is out on bail. The courts are now scrambling to go through all of her former cases and deciphering which pieces of evidence she and her colleagues may have contaminated. Because of this catastrophe, the state has currently expunged 600 people’s convictions, released over 300 people from prison, and is pushing to complete thousands of others. A representative from the District Attorney’s Office stated the lab scandal has burdened not only the district attorneys, but also the courts. Due to the scandal, the courts have had to free or grant prisoners new trials to fulfill fair and impartial justice. The representative went on to say that it is something that will have to be corrected for a very long time.

Image result for jail I personally think the real burden that should be focused on is that of those wrongfully convicted because of this woman, those that have lost precious moments with loved ones or missed important milestones in family members’ lives. Thinking about this huge load to bear, I think the next question that may come up in someone’s mind is “why?”. Why would Dookhan do something like this? According to evidence through e-mails and conversations between Dookhan and prosecutors, she had a very close relationship with them and was very willing to assist them with different cases. A prosecutor communicating with Dookhan stated not only that he needed an evidence sample of marijuana to weigh 50 pounds at the minimum, but also the reason why. This prosecutor actually explained to a lab worker that his goal was to place a trafficking charge on the defendants and that this was the only way, The prosecutor concluded his e-mail by saying that any assistance she could give him was extremely helpful and made sure to add an abundant amount of exclamation points and thank you’s. Dookhan later responded with a simple OK and a sample measurement of over 70 pounds; well over what the prosecutor needed. Other prosecutors have been seen begging for her testimony at trial even after she explained she was not qualified enough to provide it because they felt they could not win without it. It could have been a combination of wanting to be accepted, a heavy and stressful workload, and maybe other factors that caused Dookhan to commit these crimes.

I think this is a perfect example of what science with no scientific process can cause. Because of this was a state-run facility that looked like it was doing a good and productive job, nobody questioned it. It was fulfilling a societal role and pushing a political agenda which is keeping “bad” people in jail. In reality, Annie Dookhan was putting innocent men and women in prison on the whim of the prosecution by falsifying evidence and tampering with data. She is in such a serious and important position I would have hoped that she had people checking over her work not affiliated with the cases or the department overall that could approve the amount of data she goes through or compare it to other labs her size, or even the variability of the results she was producing. Unfortunately though, when you look like you’re doing a “good job”, people don’t seem to question that. I think it’s important to remember who the real victims of this tragic crime are; not the labs or the reputation of the courts, but the people who were put in prison or jail off of this terrible forensic work that was unjust and incorrect. Do I think 3-5 years is enough for falsely imprisoning 40,000 people? Absolutely not, but I would typically leave that up to the discretion of the courts…but after researching about this, I think I will respectively not feel as comfortable with trusting our justice system.


Government Chemist Tampered With 40,000 Cases, Locking Countless Innocent Americans in Prison

Annie Dookhan pleads guilty in drug lab scandal

Annie Dookhan Photo

Jail Photo

Racial Divides: Who actually feels them?

Racial tension is something that has been a prominent topic of discussion, especially with so many black men and women dying at the hands of police. Although these topics can be debated until the end of time, one fact that does stand is the fact that a lot of African Americans feel racial divides in society today and it is affecting the way they act in different social situations. Although African Americans feel this divide, White people feel not only that there is no divide, my question is why? What do these differences in numbers actually mean?

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In a poll taken of African Americans and Whites, an average of 30% of Whites feel that blacks are treated less fairly when it comes to dealing with police, in the courts, applying for funding through banks, in their jobs, when dining in food establishments, and when voting. This 30% average compared to an average of 63.5% of African Americans that feel Blacks are treated less fairly. The difference is almost double, which is extremely surprising because we are all seeing the same things right? How is it that there are such huge disparities. One big answer is that we actually are not all looking at the same things going on, news outlets are one of the main ways we get our information and different outlets have different interests and report on different things. So one of the most popular outlets, like The Associated Press and The New York Times may focus on other topics than an outlet not as popular, like The Washington Post or TMZ. These outlets are also attempting to appeal to certain audiences and political points of view, so there is definitely a certain bias to keep in mind when watching certain channels.

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I think another aspect as to why these percentages are so different has to do with age. According to this study conducted by the American Press,  of Americans over the age of 60 years old, 93% for them actively keep up with news. Compared to Americans aged 18-29 that are only 59% likely to keep up with the news.  One thing to keep in mind when reading these statistics is the overall age demographic of our country. About 20% of our population is between the ages of 18-29 while only 1.8% are 85 or older, so although the percent of people that watch the news are high, the actual amount is not very big. I think  Media plays such a huge role in the way we send and receive information, so the amount of people that are taking in this information connects to how informed our general population is about these issues.

Looking at the data for topics like this really interest me because I like to think about why the numbers look like this. I think there are so many confounding variables that could come up for a topic like this. Something like financial background, education, and home life are just a few that come up on the top of my head. I think talking about not only these topics but also personal experiences can help us collect more accurate data on the specific topic of racial divides and others.



Influential News Outlets

Demographic Differences

US Demographic Differences

Why does my skin do that?

When I was younger, Claire’s Accessory Store was all the rage. Whether you were there to buy a necklace, earrings, or get your ears pierced, it was the staple  of every preteen’s trip to the mall. The first time I went to Claire’s, I was in awe at the amazing array of chunky jewelry in multitude of colors, I thought I had found my happy place. I purchased a necklace with matching earrings and a very cute ring, I couldn’t wait to go to school and wow everyone with my bling. After about two days though, I noticed that my finger started turning green, I was so confused as to why my mom made me throw out the ring, but later on I learned that your finger turning green was a sign that you were wearing fake jewelry. To this day though, I still don’t understand WHY this happens.

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Turns out, the idea of only cheap jewelry causing the alarming green color is untrue. According to Chemistry expert Anne Marie, the discoloration can happen with sterling silver and gold rings as well, the chances are just a lot lower. The main culprit with finer jewelry is sweat, the mixing of sweat with the metal over time causes a faint discoloration of the finger. The metals that typically cause the biggest problem are silver and copper, which also happen to be among some of the cheapest metals. The reason behind the actual color change can be explained by a chemical reaction between your skin and the metal of the ring. Other factors, like lotion use or sweat, can also explain the change of color. The oxidization through contact with oxygen of the materials on the ring is what causes the discoloration on the skin, and although the color can be alarming there are no real health hazards that arise.

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So now the question that comes up is can you stop this from happening? And if so, how? Preventing oxidization is probably a bust because well…oxygen is all around us. And even expensive authentic jewelry can cause some discoloration, so what’s the solution? The answer is that although there is no way to completely avoid this, there are ways you can greatly reduce your chances. One piece of advice is to minimize as many liquids from touching your ring as possible, try to remove rings when washing your hands with soap, using lotion, or swimming. Some people repeatedly apply a coating of nail polish on the inside of their rings to prevent the metal from touching their skin.

Whatever you decide to do, just remember that your finger turning green because of a ring is not the end of the world. Wear what you want and what makes you feel good, but following some of these tips can keep you from encountering this problem.


Why Does Your Finger Turn Green (Chemistry)

What Causes the Color Change?

Metal Prices

Define Oxidize

Do friends actually improve your health?

Strong friendships comes with so many benefits; companionship, attention, and affection to name a few. Friends are there to talk, listen, to spend time with you and help you when you need it, but are there actual health benefits that emerge from having friends? I thought this was an interesting question to research after hearing my cousin talk about how she feels physically better when she is hanging out with her friends, now granted she is only nine years old,  but it did get me thinking…could she be on to something? Could something that seems strictly emotional affect people physically?

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According to a study conducted by the Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS), having friends has a positive effect on young people when they are faced with a stressful or negative event. The study focused on kids in 5th and 6th grade and measured their stress levels by looking at a hormone called cortisol. The study showed that when the students with friends were faced with a negative event, there was no increase in their cortisol levels. The results show the positive support that friends can give are able to effect physical factors. I think the study is a good starting point, and could open the door to more intricacies. Maybe study the different forms of support techniques offered by each friend to see what is the best technique to combat stressful and traumatic events? Is it more personality based or is one approach better than another? Other studies show that having friends can actually improve your life span by an extensive amount. According to an observational study of over 300,000 people for 7.5 years, the participants with strong social relationships through social media and personal friendships had increased their chances of survival over the given time period by almost 50 percent. That percentage is equivalent to people that quit smoking AND nearly twice as beneficial as exercising. 

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Now the question that arises is, how do having friends bring abut these health benefits? Data shows that friends help people from doing things that are bad for their physical well being like smoking or self harming in other ways. Friends have also been proven to ward off depression, boost happiness, and provide support through trying times. Although this data is very reassuring to someone like me that strives off of making new connections and friends, is important to understand that testing data like this is very difficult. How does one measure happiness and well being? Could these people in these percentages just be in great physical shape? The answer to that is yes, and there could be a random correlation with this data, but like the experiment in class we read about, the perceived benefits greatly outweigh the risks. So go hang out with your friends and have a good time, extend your life a little bit why don’t you?


Human Stress

Define Cortisol

Friendships and Living Longer

Science and Instruments…two things I can’t do

Hey everyone, my name is Beza Yoseph and I am a sophomore from a Annandale, VA (about 5 minutes outside of DC). I’m currently pursuing an Economics major with a CAS minor in hopes of becoming a Lawyer, but I’ve changed my major four times already so we will see if Econ is the right fit soon enough. As my title shows, playing an instrument and science were just two things that I never got the hang of, BUT I can juggle so that sort of makes up for it…right?Image result for juggling

I tried the viola, saxophone, and the trumpet and hated every second of it. Same goes for physics, chemistry, and natural science. All I really wanted to do was make things explode and play with beakers and test tubes like this. I read the description for this class and it had me very interested because of the idea of talking about how science is displayed in media when it comes to alien sightings and stuff. My passion lies with having constant physical contact and communication with people, and the world of science just doesn’t do it for me.