Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Post-America Depression"

An admittedly belated congratulations to Profs. Gurdon and Yamanaka, winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Though multiple media outlets covered the announcement, this time around I was primarily informed by blogs and coverage by the New York Times.

A commenter on Twitter alerted me that the Times, perhaps facing bad press in light of this huge multinational story, had removed certain lines from their article, sans correction. The quote, from Prof. Yamanaka, spoke of his tongue-in-cheek disorder "P.A.D.: Post-America Depression" (Yamanaka had worked at the Gladstone Institute in CA for three years, then returned to Japan). 

While originally cast as a witty aside, a bit of 'Google-fu' indicates he might have actually been feeling physical symptoms of depression upon returning to Japan's research culture in 1996.

Prof. Shinya Yamanaka, 2012 Nobelist
Credits: Chris Goodfellow, Gladstone | nobel.se
iCeMS Crosstalk Transcript - "[Yamanaka] couldn't wake up in the morning, and even thought of quitting research and going back to the clinical practice"

NY Times Bay Area Blog (2009) - "I almost died as a scientist"

NIH Record (2010) - "Non-existent were funds to hire. Yamanaka was virtually alone in the lab, cleaning cages"

Kyoto Prize lecture (2010) - "What was even more trying was that there were few people around me who understood what I was doing. I was working hard on the research of mouse ES cells at a university medical department, when my senior researchers suggested that I should try something different that would be of some value to medical science, even though they too found my research interesting. Then I began to feel down, eventually reaching the point where I began to think that I should give up my career as a researcher and return to a job as a surgeon where, even if I were clumsy, I could still be of some help"

Am I the only one who finds this intriguing, and even instructive for younger scientists? Here's an internationally-recognized researcher, winning a huge scientific prize, and he's baring his soul about nearly giving up his future success due to an unsupportive, intellectually unstimulating environment! 

In the Times' scrubbed quote, I see flashbacks: Einstein, sitting bored in his patent office. Feynman's near burnout at Cornell. Kary Mullis managing a bakery. Nobelists may be recognized for their acumen, but it's the emotional connections we workaday scientists imprint on to "muddle through" tough lab hurdles. By removing Yamanaka's quote, one removes that tiny bit of tarnish on the shiny gold prize medal - the human connection - making him less "real" for researchers everywhere.

1 comment:

  1. Good point. Again reinforces the fact that doing groundbreaking research is as much about not giving up and reinventing yourself as anything else.