Nobel women

aloisia schmid a-schmi at uiuc.edu
Tue Sep 30 22:13:42 EST 1997


In article <34312390.41C6 at picard.niehs.nih.gov>, "Rachelle J. Bienstock"
<rachelle at picard.niehs.nih.gov> wrote:

> I have met both Getrude Elion (she lives here in Chapel Hill), 
> Rosalyn Yalow, George Hitchings, Martin Rodbell, Al Gilman and many
> other Nobel Laureates in my time...  As you can see from the comments
> made concerning James Watson, Nobel Laureates are just
> people...Sometimes they can be as narrowminded and foolish as the rest
> of us..Al Gilman smokes like a chimney (something which you would least
> expect a medical researcher to do!) and Getrude Elion loves the
> opera...They shouldn't be deified...they are human just like the rest of
> us!
> Although I have never met him, I am told that the fellow who won the
> Nobel Prize for PCR(Mullis?) (at a rather young age) just spends his
> time surfing now ...
> 
> Nobel Laureates are just a group of people who happened to be recognized
> for a contribution.  They are selected by other people who have
> subjective criteria, and so their selection is not absolute...Many would
> argue that there have been people whose work was more deserving of a
> Nobel and that they were overlooked.


I agree.  There are loads of stories of how some of these people got kind
of lucky or were self-promoting (a charge frequently (and maybe not
unfairly!) leveled at Rita Levi-Montalcini) etc., but the thing about that
book ---the women who won that prize all had to persevere against really
tough odds!  There may be others who have been even greater champions, but
not one of them, Nobel Prize winning or not, got anything handed to them. 
This is not to say they are goddesses, but merely that in the final
analysis they had the guts to stick it out, and who can't find something
in such a story to admire?  Especially here, after we have been talking
about how discouraging this all is.....

Maybe the whole point of this thread is that ESPECIALLY for women,
recognition comes rarely and even more rarely the opportunity to earn the
recognition!  The Kerry Mullis story about how he took the money and
surfed is becoming mythic in its proportions---but how many of these women
got to such a point in their lives and were that casual about their
work?   That they owuld have tossed it aside to  go screw around?  I can't
picture any of them doing that---mainly because I think the investment
they had in it was far too great.  They had to put everything in to it,
and it was not something they felt to be beneath them in any way.  I
always get the feeling there is a sort of gonzo machismo attached to
someone like Kerry Ellis who seems to think, "Suckers!  I am smarter than
you and so now I get to be a playboy, because that is what all the other
guys will envy!  They will all wish THEY had been smart enough to work out
the bugs of PCR and get to go play on the beach...  " The women we have
been mentioning were just alot different and I think they were simply
dedicated and believed in the value of what they were doing.  

This is not to say they weren't human and didn't have flaws like all the
rest of us, but I also do not think it is a mistake to admire them for
what they DID achieve in the face of tremendous adversity----certainly
they experienced science alot differently from the Kerry Mullisses of the
world.

I also just wanted to add my own little anecdote.  I had a committe member
in graduate school who used to go to the Genetics meetings (or maybe it
was a Cold Spring Harbor meeting?)  when they were still small and she
said Barbara McClintock used to sit in the back of the room wearing
something pretty out-landish and smoking enough cigarettes to generate her
own blue cloud of smoke!  I do enjoy that image!

                                    Alice



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