The second Nobel afternoon on the Isle of Lindau offered the oppurtunity to participants to discuss with Ciechanover, Molina, Noyori, Neher and Rowland. Although this time five laureates (other than three on Monday) were available and the weather rather suggested a trip to the next swimming pool, I met at least 300 fellow young researchers who had the same idea as me. Some even didn’t get a seat in the hall “Bavaria”. He obviously managed to do some good advertisement for his own talk.

The discussion was different from Ertls in many ways. Before we were allowed to ask questions, Ciechanover held a short speech on aspects that he wasn’t able to mention in the morning because of a lack of time. After he outlined his vision of a personalized, genom-based medicine, he made clear which ethical and moral consequences we have to face. How should we handle the gene-based “total information” about ourselves and others? What do you do, if you know about your 80 percent to come down with breast cancer? Would you even sire offspring if you knew they would carry the same risks? Without a doubt that was a very philosophical introduction.

I especially liked the jejune way in which he presents those problems. Maybe he isn’t always as politically correct as one might wish and sometimes he’s pitiless but he is distinct and concise. He does not question scientific progress because of its implications, because you can’t stop it anyway. “We need this information desperately, but it is explosive!”. Therefore he demands a debate on those problems and admits not to know a solution himself.

His monologue was only interrupted by questions from the young researchers, though his answers turned out to be very long. One might say, he likes to talk. He did though decline some questions concerning predictions: “Prophecy is only given by fools.” What I found most interesting was a commentary he gave about the modern role of doctors: Once there were halfgods in white coats that carried all responsabilty – the patient was expected to shut up. With growing knowledge about the complexity of diseases and the increasing willingness to sue medical doctors, this responsability was assigned to the patient. The doctor advises, but it’s the patient, who decides. This also fits with the fact that he forbears the preventive consumption of Aspirin (the “miracle drug”) for young researchers. He himself uses it though and apparently every doctor he knows as well.

For the rest there were a couple of statements dignified to be quoted:

  • “Life is full of risk, you cannot help it.”
  • “… not a moral world, but a cynical one.”
  • “People are not mice.”
  • “In science you cannot jump […] take it like an onion, layer by layer.”
  • “Complication should not deterr us.”
  • “Information is a revolver: once you pull the trigger, you cannot take it back, it is not yours anymore!”

 » Oliver Schuster is normally a chemist and blogs here out of curiosity. i-cf74c23542cfc14867e9edf9231572c7-Oliver_Schuster_40.jpg

 » Jessica Riccò is the translator of this blog and would rather stay unaware of her cancer risks. i-b1d38961410ec576e2bf2c7411f43df3-Jessica_45.jpg