SCIENCE --- WITH  A SOCIAL  TWIST
 

MANILA, FEBRUARY 8, 2008 (STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Eduardo A. Padlan, PhD - Alexander Dent was a postdoc at the (US) National Cancer Institute in the ’90s who often drew cartoons for the NIH Catalyst, an in-house publication of the (US) National Institutes of Health (which he once called the “National Institutes of Hysteria”). One of my favorites is a cartoon in which he listed nine possible reasons people become scientists (with appropriate caricatures, of course). The cartoon was an attempt at humor, but there is some truth to his musings. He listed: (1) The Humanitarian — acquires knowledge to help mankind; (2) The Academic — acquires knowledge as a pure intellectual pursuit; (3) The Mentor — acquires knowledge to pass it on to future generations; (4) The Capitalist — acquires knowledge to design a product to make money; (5) The Competitor — acquires knowledge to be the first to publish; (6) The Empire Builder — acquires knowledge in a quest for scientific hegemony; (7) The Regretter — became a scientist because he thought it was a prestigious, money-making career; (8) The Pragmatist — acquires knowledge to pay the bills; and (9) The Geek — acquires knowledge because he thinks it is really neat!

There are other reasons for pursuing a career in science, of course. And the categories that Alexander Dent had listed are not mutually exclusive. A Geek would appear to have the right attitude to be an Academic and a Competitor might very well end up being an Empire Builder. Likewise, a Capitalist who fails could become a Regretter or, accepting failure, may become a Pragmatist.

The scientists whom we admire the most are the Humanitarian, the Academic, and the Mentor types because they embody the virtues of pure, unselfish science.

There are individuals who actually deserve to be tagged with all three designations. One of them is Dr. Lourdes J. Cruz, a professor in the Marine Science Institute at UP Diliman.

Luly (as her friends and colleagues affectionately call Dr. Cruz) started out as a pure scientist, working on several topics, including the biochemistry of the Conus snail in collaboration with Dr. Baldomero Olivera of the University of Utah. She has written quite a number of scientific papers (128 as of this writing) and has been granted several patents (12 so far) on the results of her research. For her work, Luly has won many international and national awards, the most recent of which is being named a National Scientist, the highest award given to a scientist in the Philippines. All the while, Luly has been teaching university courses and advising thesis students (eight PhD and 16 MS so far). In the last few years, Luly has turned to the more social aspects of science. Her research work has always had medical, nutritional and other social implications, but her new pursuit is producing immediate and tangible effects on the lives of people. She is currently helping indigenous people improve their lives through science.

Luly’s current emphasis on the humanitarian aspects of her science stands in marked contrast to the tendency of many others to pursue science for science’s sake — without regard for possible consequences. I am reminded of the story told of a well-known physicist, who participated in the development of the atomic bomb. When asked if he felt any remorse having helped develop a device that killed so many people, the physicist replied: “… but it was beautiful Physics!” Obviously, Luly agrees with Mahatma Gandhi, who includes among his Seven Deadly Sins: “Science without Humanity.”

So, Dr. Lourdes J. Cruz, National Scientist, NAST Academician, professor, scientist extraordinaire, multiple awardee, mentor… (and other accolades)… is also a humanitarian. Let us hope that many more will be like her.

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Eduardo A. Padlan is a corresponding member of NAST and is an adjunct professor of the Marine Science Institute, College of Science, University of the Philippines Diliman. He can be reached at edpadlan@aol.com.


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