Latin America Without Representation Among Nobel Prize Winners in Science – Diario La Hora

The Argentine-American mathematician Luis Caffarelli, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1948, received the 2023 Abel Prize, considered the ‘Nobel Prize in Mathematics’, for his contributions to the solution of the so-called free boundary problems, the ones he describes as the interface of a dynamical system consisting of of two phases, such as a water-ice or atmospheric front. The Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters announced the prize, which has a value of 676,500 euros, on Wednesday.

This award, the mathematics profession’s highest recognition, is “highly deserved, and very just. It relates to important mathematical paradigms of fundamental physics, and represents a major step forward in problems that have been entrenched for centuries, some since the Enlightenment.” An example of Caffarelli’s study is the observation of the mixture of water and ice, to understand the shape of the interface between the solid and liquid phases. There will be a contact area in which the membrane conforms to the obstacle, while outside its shape it must satisfy the equations of elasticity, so how is the contact area boundary curve?

Unknown limits

“This is where his contributions are fundamental, he marked the before and after, and he built a remarkable building. He deeply understood the geometry of nonlinear problems,” Alberto Cordova, university professor.
And all this, what is it for? “When this question is asked in mathematics, one must always be very careful, because long-term results can modify habits and ways of living, or perhaps nothing happens.

In these more than 100 years since the establishment of the Nobel Prize, South America has humbly contributed to this scenario of wisdom, with five laureates in all, distributed in the field of chemistry and physiology.

Luis Caffarelli became the first Latin American to be awarded the Abel Prize, which has been awarded annually since 2003 to one or two mathematicians. So far, 26 researchers have obtained it, including only one woman, Karen Uhlenbeck, in 2019.

The Nobel Prize is not for Latin America
The Nobel Prize is the most prestigious award in the scientific field. Winning this award is usually the dream of thousands of young scientists, and the ultimate goal of prestigious researchers around the world.

Each year, during the first weeks of October, the Nobel Prize Committee announces the names of the laureates, who have been selected according to the impact and relevance of their contributions in the fields of medicine or physiology, physics, chemistry, literature, and peace. In addition, the Swedish Central Bank awards the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics.

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After remembering the trend in recent years, I have several questions in my mind: Why are there no researchers from developing countries? More specifically, why are there no Latin Americans among the winners? In the past 30 years, only one Latino has won a Nobel Prize. Of the six laureates, only two have received an award for research conducted within the region: Hosay for his contributions to the understanding of carbohydrate metabolism in the pituitary gland; and Leloir, a student of Houssay, to learn about sugar nucleotides and their role in carbohydrate metabolism. Both obtained their results mostly in laboratories in Argentina.

On the other hand, most of Milstein’s work on monoclonal antibodies was developed at the University of Cambridge (UK), and Mario Molina’s work on the effect of CFCs on the ozone layer was developed at various universities in the United States.

Ben Sarraf discovered the genes for the major histocompatibility complex while working in his laboratory in New York. While Medawar immigrated to the UK at a young age and his work in Immunology was conducted at the University of Cambridge. Renouncing even Brazilian citizenship to avoid compulsory military service.

Now in that context, my question was: Why have only six Latin Americans won a Nobel Prize?

Alfred Nobel’s original ideal embodied in his will indicated that laureates should be chosen on the merit of their contributions, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or gender. Unfortunately, the statistics do not reflect this ideal.

The vast majority of the 119 winners of the Nobel Prize can be classified as “white men”.

From the first edition in 1901 to 2019, the Nobel Prize has been awarded to a woman only 54 times out of a total of 950 laureates (5.6% of the total).
The Nobel Prize is a highly prestigious award that is usually reserved for researchers with long professional experience, who are established in leadership positions in a reputable university or research center. These features significantly reduce the number of people eligible for the award.

Women awardees are less likely to marry (63% vs. 97%) and/or have children (55% vs. 86%) than their male counterparts. Additionally, women have fewer resources to post, which is reflected in the fact that the winners have a lower posting rate (219 vs. 358).

Despite the efforts made, there is still a long way to go to achieve true gender equality. Nobel Prize thing
Of white…men

The Nobel Foundation has come under fire in recent years for its lack of diversity in awards. Which is based on the fact that Asia, Africa and Latin America contributed only 10.4% of the laureates even though they account for 84% of the world’s population, and an important part of global scientific production.

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In all of history, only one black scientist has received the prize in academic fields: William Arthur Lewis of St. Lucia who won the prize in economics in 1979. In fact, no black scientist has ever won a Nobel Prize in the disciplines of medicine, physiology, physics or chemistry. A disproportionate number of winners are of European and American descent, 91.7% of the total, and 92.5% of the winners. The United States leads this list in terms of nationality, with 380, followed by the United Kingdom, with 132, and Germany, with 108. Only six Latin Americans have won the Nobel Prize: three Argentines, one Mexican, one Brazilian, and a Venezuelan. In addition, the low number of winners from China, India and other Asian countries is remarkable. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany are countries with long traditions in science and technology. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom have existed for more than 900 years, which is older than all present-day Latin American countries.
Universities and research centers in this elite have greater resources and infrastructure compared to institutions in developing countries. We must turn around and see what we are doing wrong in our country.

Latin America and Nobel Prize Winners in Science
The underrepresentation of Hispanics among the winners in the science categories responds to factors such as insufficient support for research, the lack of a solid science culture, and the poor visibility of research being conducted at the region’s universities. It could be argued that for most of the past century our countries have been too busy trying to survive political instability, military dictatorships, and numerous coups. This left them with little time and resources to focus on scientific development. Against this thesis, it must be remembered that European countries, the United States and Japan continued to practice science in times of world wars.

Weak technical education system
Despite the fact that there is tremendous human talent in the region, the fact that science and technology is not and never has been a priority for the governments of the region. Public and private investment in research and development has remained steady in the region, and only Brazil has had investments of more than 1% of its GDP over the past decade. In addition to the lack of public investment, it is rare for companies in the region to invest heavily in research, development, and innovation, in part because of the high stakes involved in these activities. In terms of infrastructure, we have a severe lag compared to developed countries. Unfortunately, this situation is not likely to change anytime soon.

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To achieve discoveries worthy of the Nobel Prize, an educational and industrial system conducive to innovation is necessary; Make a sustainable investment over several years to achieve results beyond persistent political problems. Researchers in Latin America face many barriers not seen in developed countries, such as long waiting times and high costs of importing reagents, limited availability of state-of-the-art equipment, and complex bureaucratic procedures for obtaining them. government funding.

Therefore, we are facing a problem in which multiple factors are involved:
1. Weak or no vision of the work of scientists from developing countries, which translates into ignorance of their work.
2. Little or no support for scientific and technological research in developing countries. Governments prefer to invest in propaganda or political propaganda and, in certain cases, in its own corruption.
3. Other economic, political and social factors

What should we do to change this situation?

realistic change

Today we live in a more connected world, with more opportunities for international cooperation. Unlike the science of 100 years ago, projects today involve dozens of researchers, making it difficult, if not impossible, to give proper credit to all involved in research and discoveries.

The basic solution is for our governments to commit to investing at least 1% of GDP in research and development, innovation, communication and science education; In addition to facilitating procedures, reducing taxes on importing equipment and reagents, simplifying research financing procedures, investing in manufacturing research supplies, encouraging investment from the private sector and employing young scientists.

In this sense, the first step is to strengthen cooperation at the regional level and to find permanent exchanges between the countries of the region.

Let’s remember that unlike Europe, where there are many languages ​​and languages, in America the dominant languages ​​are bilingual and this is a huge advantage.

If we put half the effort we put into finding “the best soccer player in the world” into finding and supporting the next researchers and scientists, we would soon be able to get more Nobel Prizes and the dream of thousands of girls and young researchers would cease to be an impossible dream.

Myrtle Frost

"Reader. Evil problem solver. Typical analyst. Unapologetic internet ninja."

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