Archive for November, 2017

Is a Nobel Prize really worth it?

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Glamorous. Your name will never be forgotten. You are in the “Hall of Fame”. Plus Money (well, not really a lot; approximately U$ 350K when you divide with two others and U$ 1.1 Million when you get it solo). Yes, winning a Nobel Proze gives you all of that. Everybody working in areas that are contemplated with a Nobel Prize, especially Scientists have as a Career goal to get this Prize. That is the “Oscars” of Research. Even I, a mere mortal though about it when I started my Career. How pretentious! My question now is: is it worth it? Just a little bit of history: since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been honoring men and women from all the globe for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and for work in peace. The Foundations for the Prize were laid in 1895 when Alfred Nobel wrote his last Will, leaving much of his wealth to the establishment of the Nobel Prize. Alfred Nobel was himself a scientist that has developed a “safer” explosive: the dynamite. Nobel was the holder of 355 patents and used his vast fortune to establish all the Nobel Prizes we see today. Since the Invention of the Prize, it became the main goal of Scientists, Economists, Mathematicians and other specialists. This year’s (2017) Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded jointly to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young “for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”. Interestingly, I was reading about the winners and one of them got my attention: Jeffrey C. Hall. He is a retired Professor at Brandeis University (see that this is not Harvard, Stanford or any other top 10 Universities in the United States). Hall said in an interview from his home in rural Maine that he collaborated with Roshbash because they shared common interests in “sports, rock and roll, beautiful substances and other stuff.” (check the article entitled “A 2017 Nobel laureate says he left science because he ran out of money and was fed up with Academia”). About half of Hall’s professional career, starting in the 1980s, was spent trying to unravel the mysteries of the biological clock. Then he left Science 10 years ago in 2007 angry and in a very bad mood. In a lengthy 2008 interview with the journal “Current Biology” (see the complete Interview here), he brought up some serious issues with how research Funding is allocated and how biases creep into Scientific Publications and in the Publishing System. He complained that some of the “Stars” in Science “have not really earned their status” yet they continued to receive massive amounts of Funding. He also said that these Stars have boasted to him that they almost never send their articles to “anywhere but Nature, Cell, or Science“ – among the three most prestigious scientific journals. “And they are nearly always published in one of those magazines – where, when you see something you know about, you realize that it’s not always so great…” Everything he said in the Interview is true  (check my previous post “Science is Broken: how, why and when?”) and the publishing System is biased and wrong. He also worries about young Scientists as he quotes: “one component of my last-gasp disquiet stems from pompously worrying about biologists who are starting out or are in mid-career.” He should be worried, and all of us should be too! Everything he said is true and nothing seems to be changing. Young scientists have difficulty to get a Job, to start establishing his/her own Laboratory and getting grants since the “Stars”, as he quotes, get it all. There are exceptions, obviously, and politics matters too. The bottom line is that he got fed up with this Broken System and left Science. Ten years after that, he is awarded with a Nobel Prize. He was surprised and with his reasons. After all the frustration he described in his piece about his Career of 3 decades and how the system not giving him more money for his research expelled him from what he liked to do most. The lesson here is that we need disruptions and disruptors to change the Scientific System right now! I talk to a lot of Entrepreneurs and one of these days I met a very interesting Start Up with some Ideas to disrupt parts of this broken Scientific System. I cannot disclose here about the Idea but I think we need more people to disrupt this Scientific System that is outdated and slow. Winning a Nobel Prize is important, no doubt, but the issues raised by this Scientist (now a Nobel Prize winner) reflect a System needing a 360 degrees change. We hope that happens soon! And my question is open to discussion: is it Worth it to win a Nobel Prize after decades dedicated to work with lots of frustration and disappointment with the current System?