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The future of biology


Reflections on George Snell - why he deserved the Nobel Prize
Jan Klein Scientist
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[Q] You mentioned earlier that you felt that George Snell particularly deserved his Nobel Prize and you said you might elaborate on it. I wonder, would you care to do so?

I believe that he did because I consider him a scientist the way a scientist should be. First he went after an interesting question not thinking about getting a prize.  I know scientists and you know scientists as well who investigated a particular problem with the idea to get a Nobel Prize. They put every effort only to this goal to get a Nobel Prize. I think that's absolutely the wrong... the worst way to do science, and Snell was just the opposite. I also know that whenever I go to a meeting and somebody comes to talk... let's talk and we sit down to a table and we start discussing something and then almost immediately the guy says, 'Oh let me tell you what we are doing' and then the rest of the, supposed to be, discussion or exchange of ideas tends to be an advertisement of what he is doing. He finishes and he leaves. I think that's also absolutely the wrong way of doing science. Snell again was just the opposite. We could sit down and we could talk endlessly about various problems that concerned us both and third that comes immediately to mind... to my mind is Snell was a person who pursued a project which he believed was, as I said before, interesting regardless of what award would be coming or not coming or whether it would be recognised or not recognised. That's my ideal of a scientist and I applaud the Nobel Committee that it didn't... that it recognises this fact, that he contributed a lot, although he did not advertise himself, although he did not lobby, which is not always the case. Many cases I know scientists actively lobby for being nominated for the Nobel Prize and visit often Stockholm to influence the Nobel Prize Committee. Snell would never think of doing something like that and yet he got the Nobel Prize. It's wonderful that he got. Incidentally I was the one who nominated him also.

Born in 1936, Jan Klein is a Czech-American immunologist who co-founded the modern science of immunogenetics – key to understanding illness and disease. He is the author or co-author of over 560 scientific publications and of seven books including 'Where Do We Come From?' which examines the molecular evolution of humans. He graduated from the Charles University at Prague in 1955, and received his MS in Botany from the same school in 1958. From 1977 to his retirement in 2004, he was the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biology at Tübingen, Germany.

Listeners: Colm O'hUigin

Colm O'hUigin is a senior staff scientist at the US National Cancer Institute. He received his BA, MSc and PhD at the Genetics Department of Trinity College, Dublin where he later returned as a lecturer. He has held appointments at the Center for Population and Demographic Genetics, UT Houston, and at the University of Cambridge. As an EMBO fellow, he moved in 1990 to the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany to work with Jan Klein and lead a research group studying the evolutionary origins of immune molecules, of teeth, trypanosomes and of species.

Tags: Nobel Prize, George Davis Snell

Duration: 3 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008