THE STORY OF A NOBEL PRIZE WINNER
The transformation of talent from potential to performance depends on the interaction of our genes, environment and experiences. One of the winners of 2015 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Aziz Sancar is a great example as to how one can attain extraordinary success through a desirable interaction of these factors.
Let’s examine this example through the classical seed-soil metaphor. Let’s assume that the genes represent the seed, the country you are born in is the climate, and the experiences are the maintenance of the soil.
Sancar’s genes are suitable to lay the foundations for a scientist, yet he is born in Turkey: The seeds are good, yet the climate is unfavorable because it is not very eligible for science work. There are gray clouds hovering over the seeds of science, yet it never rains around here. Education and science are undervalued in the nation’s policy, sitting at the bottom of the list of priorities. This is in fact geographical destiny. In a geography where human life is far from valuable, a scientist is shares the same fate. It is a geography where ignorance takes over knowledge.
Being a scientist is about asking questions. It is about questioning. Science knows no taboos, no sides, no fear.
A child is a little scientist by nature. She knows no taboos. She keeps asking why, she is curious. The way her curious questions are answered is what creates the difference. “Children don’t ask many questions”, “Stop asking nonsense questions”, “I am busy, go away”, “Are you going to save the world?” are answers that gradually kill the natural urge for questioning. What gets killed is the roots of scientific thinking.
Aziz Sancar is lucky in that regard, because despite the unfavorable climate, his family values education. The land is arid, yet the seed grows with utmost care and attention.
Sancar’s character and mentality is suitable for a scientist. He is diligent and determined…. His family may not be the best educated, yet they are open-minded people. They are not ridden with selfish thoughts of keeping their son by their side to take care of them at old age.
The seed sprouts with the support of the family… Where it never rains, it is fed with buckets of water to finally break through the soil and rise to the surface. Yet, temporary maintenance can only do so much. Doomed for a stunted growth in its home, the seed travels to a different land where it flourishes to yield its bountiful fruits.
That is why I questions why Turkey feels so proud for Aziz Sancar’s Nobel achievement. If someone is to take pride in this, it should be his family and Sancar himself. It should be the teachers that taught him all the way up to the university. But not Turkey.
If Sancar had won the Nobel Prize upon years of scientific work in Turkey, then we could have been proud. But what actually brought him the prize is the free and supportive scientific research climate in the US.
If we feel proud because he is born in this country, this is nothing to prance about; on the contrary, we should feel embarrassed by the source of our happiness: Everyone can be born anywhere. This is not an act of conscious selection. It is pure luck. To be born in Turkey is bad luck for a scientist. If that were not true, then we would not be witnessing the brain drain of our young and bright people to more promising lands.
I watched Aziz Sancar’s interview on a TV channel. His naïve remarks serve as a proof that he is a real scientist. He said, “I advise our youth abroad to come back to their country to raise scientists in Turkey. I regret not having done that.”
Mr. Sancar, it is never too late for anything. You could still come back here to raise young scientists. But please don’t! Just stay where you are to serve humanity!
Instead of coming back here to get cancer, stay there to find a cure for cancer.
Because we do not do science here, we just consume it. We consume those who try to do scientific work too.
For instance, Edison invents the light bulb; we consume all the electricity in the world, but when you ask those people what they think about Edison, they would most importantly label him as an “infidel” who is doomed to burn in hell. We live addicted to our mobile phones that are “inventions of the infidel”, as the saying goes. We watch the infidel invention of TV nonstop for hours, we use infidel invention of medication to treat our sick. We damn the infidel, while hypocritically making use of every single good science offers us.
Politicians enjoy this state of “non-thinking”, because it serves their interests. Scientific thinking does not serve their agenda. Why? Because at the very roots of scientific thinking, there is questioning. A brain that thinks may one day reach the point that questions their policies. What gives them power is non- questioning minds; it is the ignorant masses. That is why they pretend they value science in their daily discourse, yet they try to maintain an education system that keeps questioning at bay.
In other words, if you want to do scientific work, you need to fly to the Land of the Infidel! For Nobel Prize to come out of Turkey, the candidate for the Nobel Prize should first leave Turkey!
Do not get me wrong. I am not encouraging brain drain. I wish those who left came back. But I do understand those who had to leave. Instead of wasting their talent and energy in order to fight against the rough winds of politics over here, they are choosing to go to places where science is valued. I salute the migrating brains and wish them all the best. I hope they win the Nobel Prize one day, come up with brilliant inventions that make the world a better place.
And we will be feeling proud that “they were born in Turkey” as we watch them on TV, nibbling on our pop corn laying on our cozy couch.