Panel Discussion (2011) - Panel Discussion 'Being a (Responsible) Scientist' (with Nobel Laureates Kroto, Fischer, Steitz and Negishi)

ADAM SMITH. Good morning everybody. It’s a hard act to follow. Welcome to this discussion session on the topic of what it takes to be a scientist. It’s a topic that unites pretty much everybody in this room and it’s a topic which I know many of the young people coming to the meeting are keen to quiz the Nobel Laureates here on. This is an interactive session, so most of the session will be devoted to you asking questions of the panellists. Let me just introduce the panellists, they are all known to you already I'm sure. Ei-ichi Negishi is the 2010 Nobel laureate in chemistry for his work on palladium-catalysed cross-coupling reactions. Edmond Fischer was awarded the 1992 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his part in the discovery of the reversible phosphorylation, Thomas Steitz was one of the 2009 Nobel laureates in chemistry for his work in elucidating the structure of the ribosome. And Harry Kroto 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his part in discovering the fullerene. The panellists are here to answer your questions on what it takes to be a scientist and also there’s that word ‘responsible’, perhaps we could spend a little time discussing what it takes to be a responsible scientist and what the responsibilities of scientists are. There are going to be three microphones circulating, so if you want to ask a question, all you need to do is put your hand up and a microphone will find you if we point you out, and then please stand and ask your question. And questioning is open to anybody, young people, Nobel laureates, whoever wants to ask. I would like to kick things off by getting straight to the heart of matter and asking how hard one has to work to be a scientist. Oliver Smithies raised this question in his talk on Monday when he discussed the problems of the weekend, so, Ed Fischer how hard to do you have to work to be a successful scientist? EDMOND FISCHER. I never found it work, I found it fun. When you are really excited on what you do, it is not work. You want to be in the lab, you want to be there. When you start a project, practically every day something new happens. So it’s very exciting. I never consider that work. THOMAS STEITZ. I certainly agree with that, and, certainly when I was a student, all my colleagues worked on most weekends and I did, worked at night. I remember when I went to Cambridge, at the LMB, I must say the American post-docs would stay and work in the evening, and when it came time for last calls, someone would go around and say it's time for last call, and we'd go off to the pub and have the last little beer and then come back to the lab for a bit. But I think there’s another side to that which was also brought up and that is, you know, you do have to have some time to relax and take off, and I’ve several examples of that. Fred Richards who was the exemplar at Yale and starting biophysics had this absolute dead rule that he would go off sailing for one month every summer, August he was sailing. That was it, he was out. And there are other approaches, I myself like gardening, so I take weekends off, when the weather is fine, for gardening. Well there’s some months where gardening isn’t so good in New Haven, Connecticut. But I think you have to have a balance, but I agree, it’s not hard work if that’s what you want to do. If you find it hard work to work after five o’clock you should find another job. HAROLD KROTO. Well, Ed has a funny definition of fun! Working hard is what we actually do and I think, for me fun is having a glass of wine and watching Wimbledon or something like that. But it’s something else, I don’t think fun really encapsulates it as well, it’s the fact that you get into something that interests you and everything else just disappears. You are prepared to work till midnight and further on, I think fun is too trivial a word for it, it is fun after you’ve discovered something and it’s pretty miserable if you’ve spent eighteen hours on a thing and nothing works. But it takes a certain type of resilience to keep on and do that for living. I often say that science for me is going into the ring with Muhammad Ali. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday he knocks you out in the first round. On Friday, if you are lucky, he knocks you out in the second round. If you are lucky once a year you get to the fifth or sixth round, and maybe if you are incredibly lucky, you might discover something and you get to the fifteenth round and you get the Nobel prize. But somehow people do go in and box, I don’t know why they do it because I think it’s really rather painful. But there’s something about the creative process which is the same in the sciences as it is in the arts and in other places, and that is there’s something in the human spirit is there which focuses on something. And everything else disappears, the hard work disappears, it’s no longer hard work and it’s fun when you win and you actually discover something new. But that fun is only for a short, very narrow period of time that you come down and you discover you are wrong. But you have to have that resilience and I think that’s what scientists have more than anything else, it’s fun, it’s only satisfied with really determined to find out what's going on. It’s all those things encapsulated. ADAM SMITH. Thank you, that answer raises the question of competition and how important competition is, can you talk a little bit about that? EI-ICHI NEGISHI. Well, if you think that all these Nobel Prize winners are telling you a bunch of lies, I happen to fully, almost fully agree with them. Please believe it. Now, Adam Smith just mentioned about the competition and I believe also in this element of competition, or significance of competition. In our life almost anything we do we do in a competitive way. Finding your mate, or getting a job, you know, usually there are more than one choices and then there is a competition. And I was recently asked about what is the odd of winning the Nobel Prize. I quickly calculated, then I came up with a magnitude number, one in ten million, ten to the seventh. Because presumably ten of the tenth people, close to ten billion people, live half a century and only 1.000 people got lucky to win a Nobel Prize. So there comes one in ten of the seventh. If you think this in terms of buying a lottery ticket and getting multimillion dollars, forget it. So then, how should we think about that. I think of this in terms of sort of competitively climb up the seven steps, seven step ladder, each competition is one in ten. If you are good in elementary school, you have climbed one step. Maybe if you are good in junior high, maybe another, or high school and so on. So I have been giving this to many young people in recent months. And being intellectual one in perhaps a thousand, by the time you graduate from college. I think most of you may well be, so a ten to the third, ten to the seventh, you only need to climb up four more steps. It took me half a century. But by the time I chose Professor Brown as my mentor, my lifetime mentor, by the way, this is yet another very important step beyond college level of education. Ten years ago I felt, oh, maybe I am in one in hundred, ten to the second, or maybe one in ten or beyond that. You don’t want to think about this, because winning the Nobel is not our major goal. Our major goal is to seek, you know, pursue a science and do what we like to do. Have the enjoyment of coming up with some major discoveries that will hook you. ADAM SMITH. Tom, you wanted to come in. THOMAS STEITZ. I think you are right that we all compete, whether it’s tennis or, I played the saxophone and I competed in music contests when I was in high school, that was fun. But I think of competition in a different way, as I look at my mentors and I say I want to make myself as good as they are, I want to look to them as an example and I always felt when I was in any environment, whether it was graduate school or post-doc or faculty, I wanted to be in the place where there were other people who I considered to be better than I was, because then they helped me set the standard. Do you want to be in a football team where everybody else is lousy and you are the best? No, you want to be in a football team where everybody is really good and you just have fun trying to reach the same level. But I don’t like competing with them directly. HAROLD KROTO. I want to deal with this competition thing, I don’t like competition at all. I think, as far as science is concerned, I’ve only ever done what I was interested in. And what's more, that’s an interesting aspect, if something is important, or people think it’s important, and there’s a hundred people working on it and the probability that you achieve it is one percent, so I’ve never been interested in what other people found was important, but I’ve been very lucky to be able to do just what I was interested in, and you are not going to do what you can do. if you are going to say, oh this is a very important field I'm going to do that because it's an important field. Stick to what you find interesting and it turns out that all the things, and particularly our big discovery, that basically I was the only one who wanted to do it, it was a very mundane experiment, it didn’t even look important. I knew the results and yet it turned out something so surprising that we got the Nobel Prize. And I think one can only say things from one’s own experience, so basically you are going to be the best at something that really you are passionate about, and don’t worry about the others. The other thing is that the competition is only with yourself and nature, not with other individuals. I'm not interested in competing with others, I already did that at tennis and lost, I wanted to go to Wimbledon but I kept losing. And so I had enough of that. In science it doesn’t work that way for me, it works for other people. Rick Smalley, my colleague, he loved competition, he was that sort of animal, and so there are many ways to do it. If competition is good for you, fine, go along, but as far as I concern, go the way you are interested, and certainly if you are in your own field, you are the only one doing it, and if you are lucky something incredible will turn up. ADAM SMITH. I suppose it’s much about choosing the right steps to try and climb, it’s the ones you are fascinating in, but if you are lucky they are also ones that… HAROLD KROTO. It has to be personal, you know, I never thought of getting the Nobel prize, I never even thought of getting an award. It was just not, it was a job, and it was a good job and I could teach and do all these other things and have the fun that Ed is talking about. There was not a lot of it, I’ll tell you, you have to have that personal resilience to say, wow, hard work is fun. That’s difficult to achieve. EI-ICHI NEGISHI. In my opinion our thinkings are not far different. I was synthesising the competition early on, to a certain point. EDMOND FISCHER. I never encountered the situation of competition from a scientific point of view, first of all I was involved in fundamental basic research as opposed to targeted or applied research, so there was no competition. The groups that were working in this area were the groups of the Coris and Earl Sutherland, and they were really friends. I showed this little video tape of Ed discussing when we sent the paper to JBC, we knew Carl Cori was one of the reviewers, he would see the paper, but we never doubted that he would take advantage of what he saw, on the contrary he was very happy. I never competed for grants, because when we started in the ‘50s NIH was very, very generous, there were very few demands. I never had a difficulties that the young guys encounter today, where they have to write their grants and rewrite them and rewrite them. You had a lousy score of three points, oh, and it was paid. So I never had this difficulty, I had it really enormously easy, plus the fact that I was working with Ed, side by side, pipettes were long like that, you put them in the mouth. Every morning we had a cup of coffee and we discussed what we would do next. It was wonderful. ADAM SMITH. We are moving from friendly competition into collaboration now, maybe that’s a subject that some of the people out there want to raise. May I invite some questions? QUESTION. My name is Sue, the title of this plenary panel discussion is being a responsible scientist, and what we heard, you are just saying you have to do what you like to do, you have to think, after 5pm I want to stay here and do only the work that’s interesting for you. But in the last lecture we saw what the mankind is going to face or are facing today, what kind of problems, so isn’t this a luxury for scientists really doing only what they like to do and only the things where they can have discoveries? So that’s my question. ADAM SMITH. Thank you nice question. So the question is, isn’t it a bit luxurious to think of doing science for fun in the face of the sort of scenario that has just been described by Christian Deduve. Ed, you mentioned the concept of fun and science, so may I pass that to you first? EDMOND FISCHER. I agree very, very much with what Christian Deduve said a moment ago. He mentioned, he outlined the big problems that we are facing, and he is absolutely correct. We have to use genetic engineering to get transgenic plants that will resist drought, that won’t need fertiliser or pesticides, which are extremely expensive and polluting the waterways. So of course… ADAM SMITH. But when one embarks on a research project, when one goes into the lab, I suppose the question is getting at the idea what is in your mind, is it that you are having fun or is it that you are trying to solve these problems, or both? EDMOND FISCHER. Well, you know, science builds on science. In other words, every experiment, every result you get suggests the next experiment and every experiment carried out will suggest the next question. So this is what in fact has attracted me towards science, the fact that you have to proceed in a sort of logical fashion. You have to follow what you obtain, you never know what the next big breakthrough will be. So we just follow, we did not invent anything, not what so ever. We just followed where nature took us. ADAM SMITH. Harry, the question also referred to your comment. HAROLD KROTO. This is a very interesting problem and is the fight between strategic science and fundamental science. We know historically that the most amazing discoveries have been made by basic science, with people just following their nose and discovering things which were just unbelievable. And they’ve made massive humanitarian contributions. The best example, that I think all Nobel laureates are aware of, is that, say we had Bill Gates here at the beginning and I think he’s got quite a lot of money. And, say he had a detached retina and he would basically spend every penny on being able to see again. So how would he use his money? Well, the obvious thing is to give it to all the top eye surgeons that he can find. But that’s not the solution. The solution was discovered by a physicist, Charlie Towns, who has been here several times, sitting on a park bench, thinking I want to build a high frequency amplifier. That high frequently amplifier became the laser, and when the laser was around, after about twenty years, some smart optician thought, I can use this for eye surgery. Now, I asked Charlie the last time he was here, about three years ago. I said what made him most satisfied about what he had done, he said, when a gentleman came up to him and thanked him for saving his eyesight. Now, there’s no way, you can take all the money in the universe and certainly of Bill Gates, you’ll never be able to find that solution. And I think we have to recognise that you can only do what you personally are good at. There are some people who are fantastic about doing strategic science, putting 64GB into something of the size of a cigarette, that is strategic science but the big breakthroughs in say molecular sciences, and maybe in malaria, maybe the malaria breakthrough will come from left field. We’ve got to ensure that the sciences and the way it’s funded, fund young people like Eddie and others, who go in there for fun, because they are going to produce the result that no one would have been expecting. And you can say this to politicians till you are blue in the face, they gradually cut the basic science budget from what it was in the USA around the ‘60s and ‘70s, and in the UK from about 15%, back down to 8%, and at a certain point it’s not going to be viable to actually keep that basic science going that is absolutely vital if we are going to create the totally unexpected discoveries, which are the ones that are important. THOMAS STEITZ. I entirely agree with that and I see this movement in the US towards what they call translational research, and I have to admit that the only translational research that I'm in favour of involves the ribosome. Because I agree, it all starts at the bottom. Think about what has happened in biotech industry, that was not top down science, that came from laboratories. And it’s a multibillion dollar industry now, developing all kinds of drugs and approaches to solving problems. HAROLD KROTO. Do politicians listen? THOMAS STEITZ. Politicians listen to anything! HAROLD KROTO. Of course it’s a necessary definition. THOMAS STEITZ. This is something we have to say over and over again, and try and make the point. And cite all the examples of major breakthroughs that have impacted our lives that have come from basic research. I mean, to some extent you could say that creating a better antibiotics is not going to solve the problem of population in the world, really what you want to do is let the bugs take over. But I would prefer to come up with a better solution than that, get rid of the bugs, get rid of disease and find another way which basically is birth control for heaven’s sake, to stop the population growth. EDMOND FISCHER. What Harry says is absolutely correct, think for instance Mendel, he was growing peas in the garden, one day he wondered why they came out with white flowers, yellow flowers, pink flowers. People probably had observed that for a million years, nobody wondered why, he wondered why. And he succeeded by separating the grains by keeping track and finding the laws of heredity. Roentgen, he was interested in what was happening in electricity going in vacuum tubes, one day he saw that electrons bouncing against it could light up a fluorescent screen and he discovered the x-rays. Now, if Mendel and Roentgen had applied for NIH grants, supposing it existed, there’s not a chance in a million that they would have received a cent, they would say, what does growing peas and playing with electricity have to do with medicine. And yet they made the greatest discovery. They observed them, Roentgen was not the first to observe x-rays. Crookes, he designed superb vacuum tubes and he used to run them, and one day one of his students came running to him and said: So not only must you make an observation but you have to realize that it is important. HAROLD KROTO. Eddie, two groups had actually seen C60 before us and published it. EDMOND FISCHER. What did you say? HAROLD KROTO. Two groups had already published the C60 structure, people aren’t aware. It was already in the literature before us. I think they screwed up big time! EDMOND FISCHER. But it is true that those observations, as Harry said, you cannot buy a discovery at whatever cost. Because you never know when it will come and from where it will come. That’s the beauty of science, you know, where you start from on a research project, you absolutely never know where you will end up. ADAM SMITH. Thank you, I think that question is answered. Next question? QUESTION. As a young researcher, how can I make sure whether or not I'm doing good science? ADAM SMITH. How do you know when your science is good science as a young researcher? Prof. Negishi. EI-ICHI NEGISHI. Well, I have to continue along this line, you know, of which I'm pretty much agreeable. And I think today there are many problems in this world, food problems, health problems, energy problems and so on. I think we scientists, especially chemists, including myself, feel that we are heavily responsible. And any major solutions towards these goals would be a very, very useful thing. No one can argue, I hope. Then the question is how to go about, we good scientists all know that we have to come up with scientifically fundamentally, you know, healthy important major discoveries. So now here is of course a very interesting question, how to go about, and I think there is no single answer, and I think it’s up to each of us to find the link between these two things. But I do believe that major solution comes in the form of fundamentally significant scientific discovery. When you discover something important, you get hooked. ADAM SMITH. But how do you spot whether the science you are doing, as a graduate student, for instance, or a young researcher, is good science whatever that is? EI-ICHI NEGISHI. With this sort of thing in mind, constantly one should seek in his or her own way what the recipe for that person should be. ADAM SMITH. Is there a definition of good science? EDMOND FISCHER. It depends, you know, for a young scientist his success will depend a lot on his imagination and on his intuition. Very much like an artist, who finds himself in front of a blank canvas, he must see things that don’t yet exist. I think his success will depend a hell of a lot on that. I think it was Ed Wilson, the Harvard entomologist, who said, you know, to the inept hunter the forests are always empty. So he has to look at that, but this is where arts and the science go apart from one another, because in science every experiment done has to be repeated and repeated, and every result obtained has to be carried out again, until you are sure with it. And even at that very few discoveries are acquired for good, there’s always a chance that you might be wrong. Einstein said it beautifully when he said “No experiment will ever prove that I'm right, but one experiment at any time can prove that I'm wrong”. ADAM SMITH. What science is good science? THOMAS STEITZ. To the question of how should a student or post-doc, or for that matter a faculty member, know whether he or she is doing good science. I think the only way you can really tell is to be having conversations with your colleagues constantly. I remember this over the years, particularly at Cambridge but also at Yale, sitting around the table talking about the experiments that you were going to do or you had just done, and somebody looks at you and says “Well, you know, I don’t think that’s very interesting for the following reasons”, or “Oh, this is already known”, or “That’s really exciting, don’t you think you ought to do this next experiment”. It’s really feedback and helping you feel that you are part of the community of developing new ideas that is very exciting. ADAM SMITH. That emphasizes the importance of openness, because those conversations, I mean, you have to talk about what you are doing with everybody and be free with information. THOMAS STEITZ. Absolutely, you know, I’ve never kept my research secret, which some people say was a mistake. I’d go out and talk about the ribosome approaches we were taking long before we published it, and some of this did turn up elsewhere. But, you know, I enjoy talking with people about my science, and I get feedback, and it’s knowing whether people think it’s a good idea or not, and getting that sense of what is a good idea. And, more importantly, getting additional ideas as to how you could do your experiment better. That’s what makes for good science. HAROLD KROTO. It all depends what you mean by ‘good’. And if with ‘good’ you mean winning a Nobel Prize, think again. Because, as far as I'm concerned, the science that I'm most proud but satisfied with you’ve never heard of. It turns out the experiment that uncovered the Nobel Prize was a very mundane experiment that really was a starter experiment. It didn’t look very interesting, As far as I'm concerned, some early work is much more satisfying personally, and had we not done this other mundane experiment that turned up the C60 molecule and led to the Nobel Prize, I would have been at least as happy as I am now. Because it was personally satisfying to actually make, as it was, the first carbon phosphorous double bond. I consider that to be perhaps intellectually, well, certainly better science. It’s a question of whether ‘good’ and the ‘important’ are the same thing. I think you have to personally say ‘this is an interesting thing’, and be satisfied personally with the breakthrough. I actually don’t often talk to other people about whether it’s important, because it turns out, I think, if other people think it’s important, then they are already doing something like this. So you have to do the science for your own personal benefit. I honestly assure that I certainly would have been as happy without having done the C60 experiment as I am today. And there are many things of this nature, so it has to be something ‘this is interesting to me, wow, I made this breakthrough, maybe others don’t appreciate it’. And we all have a chip on our shoulder that they never appreciate the things that we do, that’s how you do it. It has to be a personal thing, rather than what other people think. Of course you have to get some funding occasionally and things of this nature, but you have to do that. But don’t look to Nobel prizes, because, as you said, it’s one in zillions and I never thought about it. After we made the discovery, we felt ‘maybe we are in the one in a hundred or one in ten’, but before of it just focus on what’s interesting. It might be malaria, go into that area, or it might be genes, a funny little problem here, I’ve seen this paper, I don’t understand it, which is the way I work. It’s personal, not what other people think is good, and I think then, if you are personally standing you’ll be pretty happy. ADAM SMITH. Thank you, yes, please come back. EI-ICHI NEGISHI. I just want to add one brief statement to my answer to this question. When you are in doubt, when you are lost, seek a fine mentor. I think in your twenties or early thirties, I think that may do a lot of good things. ADAM SMITH. Finding a mentor is a big topic but, yeah, maybe we’ll move to that. Next question? QUESTION. My name is Walid, I’m from Egypt. As the topic of this meeting is regarding the global health and we are, maybe in the future, as professor Christian said, we are facing a lot of problems that will threaten the humanity as a whole. Maybe we are facing extinction in the next week. Do you think it’s now time to put up a global lab from where all the scientists from the whole world just collaborate together, try to solve, try to save the humanity. And maybe, professor Kroto said that, will the politicians let you do this, so of course there are many conflicts, but we are the scientists, and if we didn’t take care of the humanity who will? ADAM SMITH. Global health is a topic for this meeting, but this session is on being a scientist. So would you give me permission to change your question a little bit and ask about collaboration in general, and ask about how wide one can take collaborations. Would that be okay? QUESTION. Yes sure. ADAM SMITH. Thank you, okay, so when one thinks of collaboration. HAROLD KROTO. I have no idea what he said (laughing). We were listening to the original question. ADAM SMITH. You can answer that if you like (laughing). Let’s think of the topic of collaboration and how widely one should collaborate, the question was about the formation of a global lab breaking down all barriers and creating a sort of limitless extension to collaboration, but let’s talk about the limits of collaboration a bit. Tom. THOMAS STEITZ. Well, I don’t know what the limits are, but I think collaboration is very, very important. I have my lab collaborate with other labs, mostly at Yale, it’s true, but occasionally in other places. And the reason I do that is because A: we can’t know everything in our own lab, that’s necessary to do an experiment and B: it helps the students and post-docs learn new areas and integrate branches of science that aren’t available in just my laboratory. ADAM SMITH. (laughing)…I’ve got a side show but never mind. THOMAS STEITZ. It’s so important to get things right. That’s one very important thing about science, getting it right. And we were supposed to talk about the responsibility of science as one of our topics. And I think one of the responsibilities I find is to get things correct. And, you know, I find it increasingly becoming politically incorrect to point out that somebody has made a mistake, a colleague or somebody else has published the wrong thing. Because, well, it’s not nice. Well, it isn’t nice to tell somebody that they just screwed up. But, you know, in the end I feel that our mission as scientists is to get to the truth. And if somebody published something that’s incorrect or puts the name on that’s incorrect, we need to get it right. ADAM SMITH. That’s a very nice topic. I remember being in a session once, where there was a discussion between some scientists that should have been contentious, it was very polite, and as we walked out one of them said: So the question of politeness. EDMOND FISCHER. I just want to answer the question about collaboration. In the biomedical sciences the amount of, in fact in any science, the amount of information that we are getting is so enormous that it is inconceivable now that scientists would work alone in a vacuum just by themselves. This is why collaboration amongst colleagues and amongst institutes, countries, continents is absolutely indispensible if you want science to develop. And in this respect you play a very important role, you are the people who have to collaborate with us, you know, with your youthful imagination, your enthusiasm and one day carry the ball when we’ll stop. So that’s your position in the collaboration in science. HAROLD KROTO. I think that point also, collaboration is absolutely vital now, you cannot make any breakthroughs, I think, without having the expertise from a wide range. I’ve not sought collaboration, it’s just that, well, this guy has got some brilliant apparatus, let’s do this experiment. And that’s work for me. The other point you’ve just made is the most vital thing for scientists, you will make mistakes, that’s the human nature. You will make mistakes. I remember the first time I got this paper, my own paper by myself. A colleague said “Harry, that sign, you are the first person to get it negative, everybody else has got it positive”. I looked at it, my hair stood on end, I felt a big weight, I would never make a scientist. I went and then wrote that I had made an error. I had learnt a very important lesson and I remember when we had C60, we made a very bold suggestion that it was a soccer bowl, and then six papers said we were wrong, six papers from three different major groups in the field. And I remember thinking for me, I'm going to spend five years of my life finding the evidence, the four out of five pieces of evidence that would indicate that we were right. One by one they fell down. And I also had the feeling that if it were wrong, because we really did stick our necks out, I said ‘I want to be the guy who proves it wrong, more than I want to be the guy who proves it right’. I thought that was the ethical position, I do not like scientists who make hypothesis and they let other people try to prove them. I’ve had an uphill battle against Fred Hoyle who just threw out stupid ideas and said “Just prove me wrong”. Proving people wrong is very, very difficult, if you are going to do science or if you are going to do anything, you make a proposal, it’s your responsibility to ensure that it is right. It is only in the sciences that you can actually be right. Everything else is garbage. Science is the one thing where the universe will be the final arbiter, and as Max Perutz said, in science the universe always wins. EDMOND FISCHER. The truth will always come out. HAROLD KROTO. And there’s only truth, ‘science’ is too small a word for truth. It’s the method of deciding what is correct and it’s not what’s in your head, it’s correct to you, but not correct to anybody else. Once you get that in your head you realize that science is definitely the most wonderful profession to be involved with, with people throughout the whole world, and you collaborate with students, the best students are undergraduates who don’t know anything and they do stupid experiments. And you tell them this is a stupid experiment, as long as they don’t blow themselves up that’s fine. But the nice stupid experiment, the tenth one turns out to be something that shows that you are stupid, because youngsters don’t have our hang-ups. You collaborate with people who have crazy ideas. EDMOND FISCHER. I don’t know what this guy is saying when he speaks about mistakes. I never made any mistakes. HAROLD KROTO. Come on Eddie, you’ve opened up a paper and “Oh my god, have I written that!” You must have felt it. EDMOND FISCHER. But this element of doubt he brought up is a very, very important one in science. In fact I remember that once, at one of those Lindau meetings, a student got up and said And I told him on the contrary, this is one of the finest qualities of science, this element of doubt. Science teaches you that you might always be wrong. It’s always a possibility, and if everybody could agree to this premise, if everybody could agree that they might be wrong, it would be the end of fanaticism, all kinds of fanaticism. Political, moral, ethnic, racial and particularly the end of religious fanaticism which is the thing I can the least accept. THOMAS STEITZ. My PhD mentor Lipscomb said... that his PhD mentor always told him “If you never make mistakes, you will never make an important discovery.” Not that you should do it too much. HAROLD KROTO. But admit it. THOMAS STEITZ. Yes, admit it, you absolutely have to admit it. ADAM SMITH. I just want to pick up on that interesting point you raised about pointing out other peoples’ mistakes though, it’s easy enough when you are a Nobel laureate, people will listen to you, but when you are young it’s hard to be the mirror to people. THOMAS STEITZ. I think it’s hard to point to other peoples mistakes, no matter what your position is, because it’s not considered politically correct. And I’ve had a number of experiences where I or colleagues in my laboratory have found errors in other laboratories. And it can be very unpopular with them, and I think it’s unfortunate, because we really have to get the right answer. I don’t know quite how to handle that when it’s deemed a not nice thing to say somebody else is wrong. HAROLD KROTO. Truman said “Give me a one-armed scientist”, why is that? ADAM SMITH. Next question, please. QUESTION. I would like to go back to connecting fun and competition. So I think the motto ‘publish or perish’ is now more prominent than ever, so sometimes I feel that you have to let go of something you really like, just because good science takes a lot of time. How do you feel about that development that you actually are forced to publish within your PhD, like x number of first author publications? ADAM SMITH. So how do you feel about the pressure to publish that young scientists in particular are under, and how that means that they have to drop long term goals in favour of getting results they can publish quickly? THOMAS STEITZ. I think it’s a reality that everybody is on a four to five year timescale, plus minus, whether you are a professor trying to get a grant renewed, or a student trying to get a thesis. And you have to do that, which is doable during that timeframe, something. And I’ve worked on many problems in the laboratory that have taken a decade in between the idea starting and the finishing. You can’t have one person do that. So I think you do have to keep in mind ‘I’ve got to get something’. I always suggest that we have to have on the side what I call a ‘bread and butter project’, maybe not the most fascinating thing out there, good, hopefully interesting, but you’ve got to do something. I point to the aminoacyl tRNA synthetase complex that I wanted to worked on, which I thought was the most exciting thing that could possibly have been done in the late ‘60s, dumb idea in terms of the executability. But I think there’s always something else to carry on with, but keep in mind that problem you want to work on, because something will change in terms of the technology or the availability of other people to work with, which will make it possible, and then do it. ADAM SMITH. Do you have different levels of operation? EDMOND FISCHER. When you say publication, publish or perish, it depends what kind of paper you write. It’s not a question of quantity, it’s not a matter of body count. One very good paper is worth ten lousy papers, and so don’t try to accumulate the number but really the quality. ADAM SMITH. Professor Negishi, do you have a comment on this, how do you handle the publish or perish? EI-ICHI NEGISHI. Well, I agree with what Professor Steitz said. We have to have a balance. I have fifty-year type project, long ranging, on the other hand I have today’s plan, weekly plan, monthly plan and a seasonal plan. Yearly, three-year, five-year, ten-year plan. And when you plan this way- and this fifty-year grand plan- I feel I have to complete some projects and then send it somewhere. So we have to have a good balance between these two things. HAROLD KROTO. This is certainly something all young people have to address and it bothers me that it’s getting worse. It really is getting worse. I was very fortunate that I was tenured six months after I got to the University of Sussex. The professor there, John Morrel, said “Look, just publish two or three papers a year”. He didn’t say they had to be good papers, that was all that was required. And I thought, well, I could do that. But I thought, I'd give myself five years at research, and if it didn’t work and things weren’t going I'd get out and go to a nice school because graphics was coming and I got this other string to my bow. That was always there as the fallback position. But what I discovered was that no experiment - you shouldn't estimate how important an experiment is until you actually do it. Do the experiment, and as I said, the C60 was probably the most mundane least interesting experiment or at least, from the point of view of how much use it might be, so you can never tell. But what I found most interesting is this having something on the back-burner. And it turns out that if you do go to university and certainly in the US and the UK, you are always getting undergraduates to come in for a year, into the lab to work with you. I’ve always put them together with a graduate student. And I’ve done that back-burner experiment. That doesn’t look very exciting and amazingly, at least 50% of it turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. And so it turns out, I didn’t know I was going to be any good at science. I mean, I don’t claim to be any smarter, I found some fantastically clever people, but somehow you work within your own capabilities, and, you know, like Clint Eastwood’s “a man’s got to know his limitations”. And women’s limitations as well, of course. But it turns out that it’s not as hard as you think. It’s going to be hard and very difficult to get funding, that’s a big problem, and one thing that worries me in the States, that if you are on a tenure track, you get a certain amount of money. If a group of people within the department decide you’ve really not made it, then you don’t stay, you don’t get tenure. That bothers me because I didn’t have that, I really didn’t have that, I was tenured and I didn’t have that added pressure. That added pressure is something that is there now, you are going to have to face it, if you’ve got the resilience, okay, that’s fine. A lot of people get through that, but at the end of the day, I loved the back-burner, always have something on the side. And there’s always a student who will say ‘I want to work on this’, the undergraduates, you know, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter with the undergraduate. Well, it’s probably a good thing, because you don’t want them to think that research is easy. But what happens is they are in the lab, they’ve learnt some techniques, they work as a student or post-grad or graduate student learns how to be a mentor, and there’s lots of other things that are going on there within this whole academic regime, which we are very fortunate, very fortunate, first to be able to do it and also to have been so successful. THOMAS STEITZ. I remember Frank Westheimer at Harvard always saying to know that experiment papers successfully completed was impossible.” ADAM SMITH. There’s a lady behind you. If you could turn. QUESTION. Hello, I would like to ask you how would you define a ‘responsible scientist’, and have you ever come across irresponsible scientists in your careers? ADAM SMITH. Oh, surely that would be telling! But how would you define a ‘responsible scientist’ and have you come across irresponsible scientists during your career. EDMOND FISCHER. Very few, at least in basic research. There have been some classical cases of real frauds, and fraud is when you know that you have something wrong and you continue with it and continue to publish. But really, the proportion has been really very, very low. ADAM SMITH. And how would you define a responsible scientists? EDMOND FISCHER. Well, it’s not a fraud when you make an error, there are classical cases of Pons and Fleischmann, for instance, who announced that they had made cell fusion in a test tube. ADAM SMITH. But thinking not of the irresponsibility but the responsible, if you had to define what a responsible scientists is, what would you say the responsibilities of a scientist were? EDMOND FISCHER. I don’t know, it’s so obvious that I don’t know. It’s absolutely obvious, I don’t see the problem there. EI-ICHI NEGISHI. First of all, I think we scientists should be dead honest. There are some issues going around all over the world in this respect. And secondly, I believe most of us should stay within the reasonable range of accountability for a certain period of time. But then I'd like to think that we all should be far beyond that. Then we must be responsible scientists. ADAM SMITH. You wanted to say something there. HAROLD KROTO. The greatest man that I ever knew personally was Joseph Rotblat. He was a fantastic physicist. I can’t tell you what he did but it was brilliant work. He spent all his time, last fifty years of his life, working with Pugwash to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I think the greatest achievement of the human race, and in Christian Deduve’s lecture we saw, I think our greatest achievement is humanity. That’s not to be seen, that’s the recognition that we are at one with not only other groups, but also with animals. And I thought we saw a fantastic example of humanity in that lecture before us. But also a rational analysis that you have to be pragmatic if the human race has to survive. I think that, as I mentioned in my talk, there are organisations for young scientists like INES, the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Ethical Responsibility, those issues. And we should recognise that. I personally try to avoid military funding. Now, I'm aware of the pros and cons of these, and my parents were refugees from Germany in 1937, and I was born in England in 1939, so basically Hitler is my godfather. And I think you have to think of these issues. We should, if we have a science for creating something, we should hopefully do that and hope that it will be for the benefit of the human race. We cannot tell, but I think if we do discover something, we have a responsibility to ensure as best we can that it will be for the benefit of humanity. But that’s a tricky one as well, no one denies that. ADAM SMITH. Thank you, we started about fifteen minutes late or a little more, so I hope people won’t mind if I just steal five extra minutes for this session. We have one question at the back there. QUESTION. Thank you for giving me the chance. Actually I'm not going to ask a question because I'm afraid that the question direction is going to be vacillated by Adam to another part. So I want to give my impression about what kind of responsible scientists should we be for future. As the guy from Egypt mentioned that we have to be thinking more about the global health, which is the main part of global health we have to be doing, science is more for the preventative cases than more on curing something. But unfortunately our evolution of the brain came to a point that we mostly want to be in the frontier, not in the goalkeeper part of the field. So I would like to actually hear the opinions of the laureates: How can we evaluate our brains against the natural selection to be back in the goalkeeper part of the research, I mean science and global health. ADAM SMITH. I think that’s an interesting question but it’s really I think a question for another day and another session, because it’s not particularly on the topic of this session. So if you don’t mind, we have to make a boundary somewhere, so another question please on being a scientist. QUESTION. From your experience, can you share with us how do you balance your time between careers as scientists and family? ADAM SMITH. How do you balance career versus family? The question is how do you balance your time as a scientist against time spent with family? THOMAS STEITZ. I suspect this is particularly an issue that is of concern to the women, should be also equivalently a concern of the men, I might say. But I think this is a very, very important concern for everybody and I think the partners have to work out how the two of them are going to address the family part, because increasingly these days, and certainly in science, both partners are usually doing science. When we are hiring faculty we have what we call the two-body problem, how are we going to be able to get both the members of the family that join the faculty, and then the problems they face is how are they going to carry out their home work, so to speak, as well as their lab work. I would point out that what you can do is hire help, I think it’s very, very important to do that, to give assistance. The other thing that is important is all tasks at home should be shared by both partners, with the exception of course of first step. EDMOND FISCHER. I think it’s a very, very important question, particularly when the scientist is a lady. I have had several of my post-doctorate fellows who got married, got the family. How did they deal? It’s an enormously complicated problem. When they go, for instance, some post-doctoral, if they want to go abroad, what do they do with their husband if he has a job? When they apply for a job at, for instance, our university and they have a husband who’s also in the field, how can you hire two persons? It’s an enormously difficult, I don’t know what the solution is. So we have had two or three times a situation, one case is that the person, a lady to whom we offered the job, she couldn't accept it because we couldn't find another department or another job for the husband. So I don’t know how to solve that problem. THOMAS STEITZ. Actually Dan Engel had a great plan which I'm sure will never be implemented, that is he said then at least 50% of the faculty would be super-outstanding”. Then we would be better than we are doing on average anyhow. By the way, that’s what Colorado did when they hired the Cechs, Tom Cech was the one that was hired as the add-on and he did all right. ADAM SMITH. These high powered partnership like yours. HAROLD KROTO. I think this is a massive problem, I wouldn't be where I am without the support of my wife. I couldn't do it. I think it’s an issue that I feel pretty bad about. I don’t think, I think women have a very tough job, because by and large the way things have worked, men do one thing and women are involved with children and stuff of this nature. And I don’t know, I think each individual couple has to solve it in their own way. Recognise it’s a big problem, and if the woman is the scientist and the man, there are people who have solved it internally. But we had our own different interests, my wife was a careers advisor, she probably should have advised me better on my career, it would have been good. But, you know, it’s a very difficult problem, you are going to face it, try and work it out with your partner and split the jobs around the house. I must admit I haven’t done, I'm not that bad on the gardening, I must admit. THOMAS STEITZ. I do all the gardening, I do at least half of the cooking. HAROLD KROTO. My wife would love you. ADAM SMITH. Swap for a while! Thank you for raising the question, thank you to all of you who have raised questions and sorry to those who didn’t get to ask their questions, and thank you very much to the panellists.

Panel Discussion (2011)

Panel Discussion "Being a (Responsible) Scientist" (with Nobel Laureates Kroto, Fischer, Steitz and Negishi)

Panel Discussion (2011)

Panel Discussion "Being a (Responsible) Scientist" (with Nobel Laureates Kroto, Fischer, Steitz and Negishi)

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