Friday, January 10, 2014

"Academic bigotry"

Whenever I go to major scientific conferences, I'm always impressed by how well-represented Israel is. I have to stop and remind myself that Israel is tiny nation with a population of 8 million,  less than half of that of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. It's really amazing. Walk through the posters, go to the oral presentations: not only is Israel very well represented in quantity, but also quality. I don't like to generalize, but here goes: the Israeli scientists I meet are generally very talented and, equally important, they are nice, down to earth people. In terms of its contributions to science and medicine, including the number of Nobel prize winners who are connected in some way to Israel, the nation is pulling vastly more than its own weight, to the great benefit of all of us. Indeed, an immediate family member of mine who I feared would have been in a wheelchair years ago is still walking and active thanks to a medicine for MS developed in Israel.

I am fortunate to currently have a collaborator in Israel who has taken some of my findings and run with them, producing (so-far) exciting results that could, we hope, have a therapeutic application and help treat a major disease (although, as I have discussed previously, the odds of any particular therapeutic idea actually even making it as far as phase 1 trials--let alone into the clinic--are extremely low).

I don't know whether to be embarrassed or sickened or both by a small but vocal group of university faculty members--primarily in the humanities (which unsurprisingly is beset by a number of self-inflicted problems, including drastically falling numbers of undergraduates majoring in their area)--who, hopping from one trendy cause to the next, are now currently intent on badgering and trying to undermine the economy and safety of this small country surrounded by dysfunctional, violence-prone nations and by terrorist groups with truly genocidal intentions. They remain completely unable to provide a rational reason why, of all the nations in the world, they are singling out this one. Many people oppose the boycott idea on grounds that it is incompatible with academic freedom and the exchange of ideas. That is a valid reason, but there are other, more important and profound reasons to be disturbed by what these anti-Israel academics are up to. As Larry Summers put it, these boycott resolutions are  “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent."

I wish my writing were anywhere near as crisp and lucid as Charles Krauthammer's:
". . . the ASA boycott has nothing to do with human rights. It’s an exercise in radical chic, giving marginalized academics a frisson of pretend anti-colonialism, seasoned with a dose of edgy anti-Semitism."

1 comment:

  1. Great blog...don't know how you find the time to do it.

    ---a fellow grant slave, aka 'Zxyyx'