Readings: “How to Win the Nobel Prize”

A friend of mine, who was a fellow grad student at UC Berkeley, gave me as a gift Michael Bishop’s How to Win the Nobel Prize [Harvad Univ Press 2003]. “In 1989 Micheal Bishop and Harold Varmus were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery tha normal genes under certain conditions can cause cancer”. I’d like to quote from the chapter, People and Pestilence, because it is relevant to my obsession with India’s population problem.

The disruption wrought by microbes have repeatedly changed the course of human history. It was probably pestilence as much as any other single factor that accounted for the European conquest of the Western Hemisphere in teh sixteenth century…

On the other hand, the Black Death may have fueled the burst of human creativity known as the Renaissance. At the time plague struck, medieval society had fallen into economic stasis, caused in large part by the “Malthusian deadlock” of dense population. The plague broke that deadlock by decimating the population, liberating land for diverse uses, creating the need for laborsaving devices, and unleashing the ingenuity of Renaissance society. The catastrophe of pestilence “gave to Europeans the chance to rebuild their society along much different lines … It assured that the Middle Ages would be the middle, not the final, phase in Western development. …

Even our success in besting microbes can bring untoward consequences. Chief among these is a distrubance of population balance. For example, elimination of malaria from Mauritius led to a doubling of the population within a decade, even though the birthrate remained constant. Stated more broadly, relief from pestilence is a major factor in the population explosion that has threatened human welfare and for which no satisfactory remedy has yet been established. For the moment, the global epidemic of AIDS may provide a macabre counterbalance: the population of Africa faces decimation; and still emerging, but vast and largely unchartered epidemics of the disease are threatening India and China. [Emphasis mine.]

For now I will pass on without any further comment on the population problem, and move on to the other big concern of mine: education. Again from Michael Bishop from the chapter Paradoxical Strife:

… our nation has allowed the means of primary and secondary education to deteriorate. In doing so, we have incurred great risk, described seventy years ago by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead:

The art of education is never easy. To surmount its difficulties, especially those of elementary education, is a task worthy of the highest genius … [But] when one considers … the importance of this question of the education of a nation’s young, the broken lives, the defeated hopes, the national failures, which result from the frivolous inertia with which it is treated, it is difficult to restrain within oneself a savage rage. In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute, … [a country] that does not value trained intelligence is doomed.”

We have not heeded Whitehead’s warning and it has retained all its original prescience. Our elementary and secondary teachers are reglected, disrespected, inadequately compensated, and improperly prepared. Many of our children attempt to study in the midst of physical squalor and personal decay. We can expect little improvement in how our youth learn until we have changed all of that. The change will require great resolve: we have allowed the deterioration to run very deep.

What is true for the US, holds with even greater force for India when it comes to primary and secondary education. When are the so-called leaders of this nation ever going to wake up to the fact that India is today what it is because it has “not valued trained intelligence”?

Author: Atanu Dey


2 thoughts on “Readings: “How to Win the Nobel Prize””

  1. Hi Atanu,
    Some time back you said the problems of India cannot be solved without keeping in mind the religions in India and thinking accordingly. It seems recently some population figures according to religions are released. I believe all problems of India are because of population problem. Now how do you consider these population figures based on religions and what is your analysis?


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