Nobel laureate warns politicians against pressuring scientists

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Dr. Richard R. Ernst.
Dr. Richard R. Ernst.


Decries tendency to put unreasonable demands on scientists

HYDERABAD: Nobel laureate Richard R. Ernst has cautioned politicians against putting pressure on scientists for achieving spectacular breakthroughs in the wake of the recent controversy in which claims of the South Korean scientist, Hwang Woo-suk, on cloning turned out to be fake.

Prof. Ernst, a scientist from Switzerland who is here to attend the 93rd Indian Science Congress, cited the disgraced South Korean scientist's episode and said that the President of that country, Roh Moo-Hyun, wanted to have Nobel laureates from his country. "If you have attitude like that then scientists would try to make such claims and cheat," he added.

Talking to The Hindu here on Monday, he said that it was good that it had happened as politicians and scientists might become more careful. The tendency to put pressure on scientists was widespread in many countries, including the USA. The South Korean incident was a good lesson for both politicians and scientists.

Speaking on a wide range of subjects, including the declining interest in science among school children, he stressed the need to provide hands-on experience and the "chance to do it yourself" to stimulate interest in young persons to do something. Besides, the universities should broaden the scope of education and science to incorporate societal problems to motivate scientists.

On the perception that biological and chemical sciences have a brighter future than physical sciences, he said "Yeah, at the moment that seems to be true." He said that there are waves and pointed out that physics was more important than biology 50 years ago. "Research is very difficult to predict," he said, adding that investment in one field should not be at the neglect of other areas.

Terrorism major problem

Prof. Ernst said that he did not think nuclear threat was a major issue. He said that terrorism in general was a problem and it was being addressed symptomatically without getting to the roots. He said that injustice, poverty, deprivation and inequality led to terrorism and it should be fought at that level and not just fight the symptoms. "Today the rich are getting rich and poor getting poor."

He said US President George Bush himself created thousands of terrorists since he came to office. "If you want to call somebody a terrorist, you might call Bush a terrorist," he added.

On his award-winning work on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, he said that he had never expected that it would turn out to be such an important tool in chemistry, physics, biology and particularly in "functional brain imaging. It is a marvellous tool for better understanding of brain," he observed.



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