Happy New Year to everyone. And while many countries celebrated the coming year, not in every country is the New Year based on the Gregorian Calendar. And not in every country was the New Year’s break a happy time.
The example that I would like to bring forth is that of the State of Israel, a country that I adopted many eons ago, and unfortunately with which I have become somewhat disenchanted.
There are many wonderful people in Israel, in particular my own scientific mentors and teachers. In fact, Israel has a very strong scientific tradition, and it’s easy to appreciate this from the Nobel prize winners for figuring out the ubiquitin proteasome pathway (Ciechanover and Hershko, 2004) and the ribosomal structure (Yonath 2009) in recent years.
Although it’s now very difficult to find paper journals to flip through (with the exception of Cromercrox’s weekly starting with the letter N and a few others), virtually flipping through tables of contents of any journal dredges up a host of Israeli authors. Perhaps non-Israelis may not easily pick out the Israeli names. And indeed many names, such as my own, do not have an “Israeli ring” to them. But amazingly, there will often be an entire list of 6-7 Israeli-named authors, including the senior author, with the correspondence address listed as “Harvard” or “UCLA” or some other university in the US (or elsewhere in the world). Not necessarily in Israel. In fact, statistics show that there are actually more Israeli scientists who are employed in Academia (not postdocs—that’s obvious—but actual lab heads) in US universities than in all the universities in Israel.
By now, some of you may be wondering where this commentary is headed, so its time to move on to the point. So while the world was celebrating New Year’s, in Israel, where the New Year is celebrated according to the Hebrew lunar calendar, the wheels of justice churned forward. And those wheels of justice convicted Israel’s former President (a ceremonial figure, as opposed to the Prime Minister), Moshe Katzav, of two counts of rape and another for sexual assault.
While this is a victory for the Israeli judicial system (and for the victims and their families), proving that no one is above the law, it is a sad day for a country whose first president was Chaim Weizmann, a chemist who is considered to be one of the developers of industrial fermentation, and who helped create the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as well as found the Weizmann Institute in Rehovoth. The second presidency was offered, after Weizmann’s death, to Albert Einstein, who turned down the opportunity. And yet, the 8th president, Katzav, has sunk the country to a new low.
It is clear that the opportunities for Israeli scientists outside Israel are a major factor in the so-called “brain-drain”. However, it is also clear that a pervasive atmosphere where a rapist can climb up to the esteemed position of President reflects a much deeper problem, and that the “brain-drain” is the outcome of more than just an imbalance in opportunities for scientists.
Here’s to a better 2011.