Nobel Week: science belongs in the limelight

It is Nobel Week here in Stockholm. A time to celebrate science and its achievements, as the Nobel laureates gather in the city to give lectures, answer questions, and last but not least, receive their awards and accolades.  

This year’s laureate in physiology or medicine is Professor Svante Pääbo. He has been at KI before, most notably when he was appointed honorary doctor at our university in 2012. KI is proud to host the Nobel lecture each year and personally I would like to once again extend my warmest congratulations to Professor Pääbo.

Science belongs in the limelight

Each year the Nobel Prize shines a spotlight on science and scientific achievements. And at no time is that light more dazzling than under the Nobel week, with its numerous festivities and events. More than ever do we need this spotlight on science. We have seen under the pandemic how evidence and experts are met with distrust, how vaccine hesitancy has impacted health, and how fake news and conspiration theories have taken hold. With the attention it brings to science and facts, the Nobel Prize serves as a welcome and necessary antidote to these developments. And let us not forget the sheer joy that science brings us when new breakthroughs enrich our minds. Like when Svante Pääbo – in his Nobel Lecture – explained how we as modern human beings carry imprints from our extinct relatives – the Neanderthals and Denisovans. Thanks to Nobel-recognised research we now have a better understanding of our past and a better grasp of what makes us unique.

It is essential to disseminate the joy of science to the next generation. We have to venture out of the ivory tower, as I was invited to do last Monday, at the very beginning of the Nobel week. I gave a lecture on science and academic collaboration at the Nobel Museum for students at Stockholm International School. Students had dressed up as Nobel Laureates and I enjoyed having the opportunity to speak to Albert Einstein and Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. I believe I also saw a glimpse of Marie Curie. A perfect start of the Nobel week.

I applaud initiatives like this. My thoughts go back to another initiative that successfully disseminates the value of research to the younger generation. A few weeks ago, I met students from class 6B at Elinsborgsskolan here at Karolinska Institutet following an invitation from Berättarministeriet. We discussed research priorities and knowledge gaps in the field of medicine. I hope the students enjoyed the meeting as much as I did. One cannot help but be impressed by the creativity that is unleashed when young students come to campus with their inquisitive minds.

The Nobel week is a celebration of select individuals that have pushed forward the frontiers of science. But it is much more than that. It is an opportunity to instil respect for facts and evidence, to inspire the young generation, and to make it abundantly clear that science is what has brought us to where we are today and to where we wish to be tomorrow.

Where the limelight is off  

When celebrating and rejoicing during the Nobel week we should not forget that many of our international colleagues are working under conditions that are in stark contrast to those we enjoy in our own country. There is a democratic backsliding in today´s world, implying that an increasing number of scientists and students are bound to cope with repressive regimes. For these scientists and colleagues, the contact with and support from international colleagues often serve as the oxygen they need to carry on. Right now, we see how Iranian universities, students and academics are targeted in the regime’s crackdown on freedom of speech and public protests. I have condemned this previously here on the blog and will continue to do so. Today we were reached by the news that a demonstrator had been executed after what was called a “show trial”. The signal to the Iranian regime must be strong and unequivocal: stop the violence, stop the killings, respect human rights and let your people lead normal lives.

Wherever courageous students and fellow academics raise their voices in a fight for freedom and against oppression, be it in Belarus, Hong Kong, Turkey, Afghanistan, or other countries, we must be there to listen, support them, and let the spotlight extend beyond the festive scene that we currently enjoy in Stockholm.

Back to Iran.                                                                                      

As we celebrate scientific achievements during the Nobel week, Ahmadreza Djalali remains incarcerated in Tehran. A global consortium of 153 Nobel Laureates has appealed directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, imploring him to personally intervene and ensure that Dr. Djalali is treated humanely and returned home to his wife and children, allowing him to resume his scholarly work for the benefit of mankind.

The message is clear: science belongs in the limelight, not in prison.


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