Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Margie Profet's Unfinished Symphony

If you've come here seeking "Margie Profet's Unfinished Symphony," please see the May-June 2012 issue of Psychology Today, which purchased the 3-year-old story and updated it significantly:

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Genius

Margie Profet sent shockwaves through academia by generating solutions to seemingly intractable puzzles of biology. Then she disappeared.


On May 18, Karen Profet -- Margie's mother -- emailed me after I inquired about rumors following the Psychology Today story.   She gave me permission to share this news: 

Dear Mike:

At the time of your email, Margie’s sister and I had already been in Boston for a day and were making reservations to bring her home with us. 

At 6 AM the following morning, we were on a plane to California. 

Margie had called us on Monday, after someone who knew her Googled her name and found from your article that she was being sought by family and former colleagues. She had not known that people were looking for her and deeply regrets giving anyone cause for concern on her account.

At the time we lost track of her, Margie was in severe physical pain. Not wanting to trouble anyone else, she did not disclose the fact to us or to her friends, but moved to a new location in which she thought the pain would soon diminish. Instead, it persisted for many years.   Unable to work because of it and subsequent injuries, she had long lived in poverty, sustained largely by the religion she had come to early in the decade. 

Margie is finally home now, recovering from her long ordeal and hoping to find work in the near future. She is very happy to be reunited with her family, and we are overjoyed to have her back. 

We had a small but lovely celebration yesterday. Margie's brother rose at 3 AM and drove 200 miles to await us at the bottom of the LAX escalator for passengers arriving on United.

After he drove us home, Margie's brother-in-law, five nieces and nephews, and one little grand-nephew joined us for a celebratory lunch.

Another brother-in-law, in L.A. on business from the east coast, came for dinner. Margie also met her new step-Dad.

Margie is extremely grateful to all the people who were kind to her during her years of distress. If you wish to release the definitive (though sparse) news about Margie, you have her permission to do so. As one might expect, she is not open to interviews at the present time.

She and all her family thank you immensely for your help in reuniting us.


Karen Profet

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekly Scientist story leads to major turning point in Army homicide case

TACOMA, Wa. 11/17/13 (Weekly Scientist) --  Our series Unfriendly Fire, about a mass murder in Iraq, led to a major turning point in the Army's case against Sgt. John Russell, say prosecutors involved in the case. 

Russell pled guilty to the 2009 crimes this spring and -- despite a vigorous and dramatic defense -- received life in prison with no possibility of parole

Exclusive to Weekly Scientist, Unfriendly Fire tells the story of the homicides -- during which Russell shot and killed five Army soldiers at a base psychiatric clinic in Iraq -- from the viewpoint of the Army psychologist, Lt. Col. Michael Jones, Russell had come to kill.  Jones had briefly treated Russell just before the attacks, which he survived.  

Prior to our story, defense attorneys had been trying to paint Jones -- and Russell's treatment -- in a negative light, using the media, press releases, and a concerted PR campaign.   After the story ran, a mythology the defense team had been building about Russell's motives and state of mind fell apart. 

Read the series starting here

True crime author defends serial killer in little-known essay about Zodiac case

A Unabomber-style manifesto for the Zodiac Killer

SEATTLE, 11/17/13 (Weekly Scientist) -- To stop bombing attacks that killed three people and injured over a dozen others between 1978-95, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski famously demanded the New York Times and other periodicals publish a 35,000-word essay -- dubbed the "Unabomber manifesto" -- that laid out his case for killing.

Now, a similarly-themed, 3,500 word "manifesto" has turned up in a hard-to-find book about California's infamous Zodiac serial killings. Both the Zodiac and Unabomber manifestoes blame society to justify the homicides, while praising the criminals.

"The failure of law enforcement to deal with this criminal isn't due to his manifestly superior intelligence," insists Zodiac Manifesto author Gareth Penn.  "It is due to major failings of our society."

An appendix, the Zodiac Manifesto starts on pg. 347 of Penn's nearly 400-page book, a densely-written analysis of the Zodiac murders entitled Times 17.   It's been hiding in plain sight since the book's publication nearly 30 years ago.

Best known for ciphers, mathematical puzzles, and literary clues he used to taunt police and local newspapers, the Zodiac Killer is blamed for at least 5 murders in the Vallejo-San Francisco area.  The case remains unsolved 45 years later.

Considered the second most well-known book on the Zodiac case -- next to Robert Graysmith's Zodiac -- Times 17 is also among the least read.  Penn, 72, a retired NOAA librarian and Seattle resident, self-published the book in the mid-1980's, printing copies he distributed mostly by mail order.   At the time, he lived in Napa, Calif.

Times 17 has become an underground "cult" favorite, partly because it is the only book that pins the murders on a living person by name, a UC Berkeley public policy professor named Michael Henry O'Hare.   Today, copies are so rare they fetch as much as $200 on eBay and Amazon.

The Zodiac Manifesto -- which Penn titled "What Went Wrong" -- departs remarkably from the rest of the book, much of which is notoriously hard to follow.   Clear and pointed, the manifesto praises the killer while chastising enemies he attacked in his own letters, including law enforcement officials and the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

Society's "first major defect is a widespread and profound contempt for humanistic education, particularly prominent in law enforcement," Penn writes.  Dumb cops, he says, couldn't solve the case because they knew nothing about literature, while "nearly all the evidence in the Zodiac case is literary."

The Zodiac's famous letters referenced literary classics such as The Mikado, a comic opera, and The Most Dangerous Game, a short story.

Penn has even harsher words for the media, which he calls society's "second major

"The function of the free press is supposed to be rooting out corruption.  But how can it perform this task when it is fundamentally corrupt itself?    In the interest of keeping hefty revenues flowing, newspapers, magazines, and electronic media pander to the lowest common denominator."

The Zodiac Killer famously sparred with Chronicle editors and reporters, for which the Zodiac Manifesto reserves its harshest criticism.

"In the particular case of the Zodiac, false reporting...has characterized media coverage, especially that of the San Francisco Chronicle, which is surely one of the ethically and intellectually most corrupt newspapers in the world," Penn writes.

"The Zodiac was perfectly aware of the Chronicle's penchant for sensationalism...And so he played the newspaper the way Yizhak Perlman plays the fiddle."

"I, meanwhile, have suggested that the most important evidence related to the detection of the Zodiac's identity is his literary legacy," the Times 17 author explains in the manifesto. "How can that legacy be evaluated intelligently when it has been trivialized and bowdlerized by the Chronicle?  How can anyone form an intelligent opinion about the facts when the Chronicle consistently reports them wrong?"

Publication of the Unabomber's manifesto ultimately led to his identification and capture.  So is Gareth Penn the Zodiac Killer?   His suggestive writings and long-time relationship with the case -- which he describes at length in Times 17 -- have led some armchair gumshoes to that conclusion.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Unfriendly Fire

A U.S. Army psychiatrist remembers a notorious mass murder on the front lines in Iraq

by Michael J. Martin

Before Friday, May 8, 2009, Michael Jones had never heard of John Russell.   

A U.S. Army sergeant growing old without promotion, Russell, charges allege, killed five fellow soldiers with an M-16 rifle just 30 hours later.  Cries of “oh god, oh my god,” echoed with the bullets, testimony reads, throughout a small mental health clinic in Baghdad, Iraq. 

The dead (left):  psychiatrist Matthew Houseal, 54; psychiatric social worker Charles “Keith”  Springle, 52; engineering specialist Jacob Barton, 20; and two infantrymen, Christian Bueno-Galdos, 25, and Michael Yates, Jr., 19

Among the survivors:  Matthew Keener, a U.S. Navy psychologist who wrote a 2012 journal article on combat psychology ethics;  and Lt. Col. Jones, then an Army reserve psychiatrist at the Camp Liberty Combat Stress Center and the last mental health professional John Russell saw before he went berserk.  

Russell will face the death penalty, military prosecutors announced in May.  His defense team—led by a bombastic, high-profile Texas lawyer named James Culp—has floated a narrative their client was not to blame and may be innocent by reason of insanity.    

“Sgt. John Russell is facing death because the Army's mental health system failed him,” Culp wrote in a March 2012 memorandum about the case.    

With three military defense attorneys, the U.S. Army veteran and former paratrooper has publicly branded Russell’s care “mental health mistreatment” and “a significant causal factor” in the massacre, which occurred as a long offensive against the Iraqi regime was winding down, and a mundane march toward peacetime realities began.

Among caregivers Culp has labeled “borderline criminal,” Dr. Jones, who believes the peacetime reality John Russell saw looming contributed more to the massacre than anything else:  discharge just shy of retirement pay; and loss of health care, and other Veteran's benefits, from base shopping privileges to military discounts.  

Russell wanted another way out that would preserve his benefits, believes Jones, who counseled the sergeant for all of one hour “and change.”  The sergeant grew enraged when Jones and the other mental health professionals couldn't deliver a one-way ticket back home.

Pre-trial defense posturing, meanwhile, has made the psychiatrist—already reeling from survivor’s guilt and the loss of his friends—the prime target of a blame game that includes allegations meant to discredit his 30-year career and accusations of negligence.

Houseal and Springle were close friends, Jones explains.   He roomed with Houseal and returned to an empty bunk a few feet away the night of the murders.   He has survived the shootings only to see his named splashed across the media as the “real reason” Russell shot his good friends and three other soldiers in cold blood.    

Buenos Galdos
Jones first saw Russell’s name on an appointment calendar late Friday afternoon.  Russell had seen Springle earlier that week, and the psychiatric social worker wanted a second opinion from a psychiatrist who could prescribe medication if needed.   He scheduled Russell for an appointment with Jones on Sunday, May 10. 

An “astute clinician who called a spade a spade,” Springle—a career Navy commander—left minimal comments in his progress notes about what, if anything, troubled Russell, Jones explains. 

“Had Charlie thought anything was seriously wrong, his notes would have been a detailed mix of clinical algorithms and gut instincts,” explains Jones. 

“If Charlie thought Sgt. Russell was a danger to himself or anyone else, we all would have known about it.   He would have notified Russell’s commander, recommended a buddy watch, and insisted on continual disarmament.”

Instead, Springle wrote a “brief, unalarming note” after his session with Russell, Jones says.  It followed an earlier session Russell had with psychologist Hrysso Fernbach, a major at nearby Camp Stryker, the sergeant's home base.   

Jones never had the opportunity to review Fernbach’s notes:  they were locked down permanently after the massacre. 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Saturday, August 18, 2012

C-Path: Updating the Art of Pathology

An 84-year-old scoring technique pathologists use to diagnose and stage breast cancer is getting a 21st-century update from a computer model called Computational Pathologist (C-Path), which uses digital imagery and computer software to analyze more than 6,000 cell and tissue features faster and in more depth than the pathologist’s eye peering through a microscope. 

“It would not replace human pathologists, but there are things a computer can do easier than a human,” said radiation oncologist Frances Wong, M.D., chief physician for the Fraser Valley (British Columbia) Cancer Centres. Wong did not participate in C-Path’s development, but she reviewed a study about it from research teams at Stanford, Harvard, the University of British Columbia (UBC), and the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam. 

According to a study in the November 2011 Science Translational Medicine, C-path generated prognostic scores that were “strongly associated with overall survival” in 576 patients from the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) and Vancouver General Hospital (VGH). 

The best histological predictors of patient survival are not from the carcinoma itself, but from adjacent stromal connective tissue. Women with worse breast cancer outcomes tended to have inflammatory and epithelial cells in distinct, thin cords infiltrating the stroma.

Click here for full story.

Researchers Hope New Database Becomes Universal Cancer Genomics Tool

Swiss scientists hope that a new online database called “arrayMap” will bring cancer genomics to the desktop, laptop, and tablet computers of pathologists and researchers everywhere. 

The database combines genomic information from three sources: large repositories such as the NCBI Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) and Cancer Genome Atlas (CGA); journal literature; and submissions from individual investigators. It incorporates more than 42,000 genomic copy number arrays—normal and abnormal DNA comparisons—from 195 cancer types. 

“arrayMap includes a wider range of human cancer copy number samples than any single repository,” said principal investigator Michael Baudis, M.D. Ease of access, visualization, and data manipulation, he added, are top priorities in its ongoing development. 

A product of the University of Zurich Institute for Molecular Life Sciences, where Baudis researches bioinformatics and oncogenomics, arrayMap illustrates the importance of copy number abnormalities (CNA)—dysfunctional DNA gains or losses that visibly lengthen or shorten certain chromosomes—in the diagnosis, staging, and treatment of various malignancies.

Click here for full story.

Research Reinforces Potential Allergies-Glioma Connection

By Mike Martin for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute

Research reported in 2011 from several American and European universities supports the decades-old hypothesis that people with allergies have a low incidence of glioma: up to four times lower than that of non-allergy sufferers in some studies. 

First identified two decades ago, the inverse relationship between allergies and glioma “is one of the most consistent associations in the brain tumor literature,” wrote Darrell Bigner, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Duke University Tisch Brain Tumor Center, in a February 2011 Cancer Epidemiology paper. 

Although past studies have failed to confirm the inverse allergy association in meningioma and acoustic neuroma, they have confirmed it for glial cells.

Click here for full story.