Saturday, October 17, 2009

Science, Nationalism & View of a Nobel Laureate

I want to bring the following recent news to your kind attention. It is related to our earlier discussion on Mexico and Nationalism.

A little less nationalistic hero worship, please says Dr.Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Nobel laureate for Chemistry 2009:

"I am distressed by the reaction to my comment about being deluged by emails from India, and realize I have inadvertently hurt people, for which I apologize. I hope people realize that I have no personal secretary and use my email mainly for work, so finding important communications became very difficult.

I want to make it clear that I was delighted to hear from scientific colleagues and students whom I had met personally over the years in India and elsewhere, as well as close friends with whom I had lost touch. Unlike real celebrities like movie stars or people in sports, we scientists generally lead a quiet life, and are not psychologically equipped to handle publicity. So I found the barrage of emails from people whom I didn’t know or whom I only knew slightly almost 40 years ago (nearly all from Indians) difficult to deal with.

People have also taken offence at my comment about nationality being an accident of birth. However, they don’t seem to notice the first part of the sentence: We are all human beings. Accident or not, I remain grateful to all the dedicated teachers I had throughout my years. Others have said I have disowned my roots.

Since 2002, I have come almost every year to India. In these visits, I have spent time on institute campuses giving lectures or talking to colleagues and students about their work, and stayed in the campus guest house. I have not spent my time staying in fancy hotels and going sightseeing without them. The people I visited, e.g. at the ICGEB in Delhi, CCMB in Hyderabad, the University of Madras or the IISc in Bangalore can vouch for this. Finally, at a personal level, although I am westernized, many aspects of culture like a love for classical Indian music or South Indian or Gujarati food are simply a part of me.

The best way to take pleasure in someone’s achievement is to take an interest in their work and feel motivated to learn more about science. I remember reading about Gellman’s work as an undergraduate in Baroda, and, when he won the Nobel prize, rushing upstairs to tell my parents. It did not matter to me whether he was Indian or not. In my case, I am lucky to have had a combination of education, opportunities and a great team of co-workers to have made a contribution to an important problem. I am not personally that important. If I hadn’t existed, this work would still have been done. It is the work that is important, and that should be what excites people.

Finally, there are many excellent scientists in India and elsewhere who will never win a Nobel prize. But their work is no less interesting and people should find out about what they do. My visits to India confirm that it has great potential and bright young students. A little less nationalistic hero worship will go a long way to fulfil that potential".

I don’t know how many of you will be able to accept this viewpoint, but I am in total agreement. As usual I want to present and leave it for analysis and interpretation by each and every one of you.

For those interested to know related News, please read (I sincerely suggest all to read)


Alejandra Alvarado said...

Hasta parece casualidad. Me causa sorpresa haber leído esto justo ahora, mientras pensaba en un par de conversaciones sobre nacionalidades, culturas, idiomas y lo tanto que estos factores pueden afectar o ayudar a alguien que es “extranjero” cuando, digamos, pretende hacer una investigación o aprender fuera de casa…
Espero haber entendido las notas, si no, pues me dicen :D

Mi comentario:
Estoy de acuerdo con muchas de las palabras del doctor Venki. Sin embargo, tengo mis dudas sobre algunas otras. Ahora, yo creo que las naciones sí deben sentirse orgullosas o preocupadas (según sea el caso) de su “riqueza científica”, pero como el doctor dice (o bueno, el fellow), no es bueno pensar como si fuera un triunfo sobre alguien o de alguien. Porque en este caso nadie pierde, al contrario. De hecho esto lo relacioné con otro comentario (que casualmente escuché decir a otro doctor de la India) “cualquier nuevo invento, cualquier descubrimiento científico, no es realmente útil hasta que sus beneficios no han alcanzado al último hombre sobre la Tierra”. Así que finalmente, sí es cierto, qué más da si la idea salió de la India, de México, de dónde sea. Mientras personas tanto de la India o de México se beneficien con ello, qué bien! (se beneficien= desde aprender lo que es nuevo hasta poder usarlo, etc.)

Me gusta leer esto, las opiniones de gente que ha llegado alto alto, y que dicen que sí se puede, que ellos no son héroes o leyendas. Y pasa esto, cuando de vez en cuando uno no se siente tan lejos, y el camino no se ve tan duro.


Alejandra Alvarado said...

Rayos, el comentario es del tamaño del post... y a lo mejor ni entendí ¬¬

Aldin said...

well since we are territorial it is sometimes too much to ask a human not to be nationalist is like asking a bacteria to not produce glucosis enzymes. i agree in the concept that nationality is an accident, though thinking a little further is it really??is life a random array of choices done by everyone?or is it all part of a whole going to some place?? or both??... which ever, now i know that if i ever win a nobel prize i should make a different email special to recieving congratulation notes =)