Prasher and the end of America

October 9, 2008 at 12:09 pm | | science and the public, science community

There’s a lot of buzz about Doug Prasher not winning the 2008 Nobel in Chemistry with Tsien, Chalfie, and Shimomura. Prasher was the first to discover and clone the gene for GFP, which made most of the subsequent work possible. Here’s an NPR story about Doug Prasher and his story.

In my view, the main story is not that Prasher didn’t win the prize (the Nobel committee had to make a decision), but that he is now a bus driver because he cannot get a job in science! What country is this!?! The country that funded great scientific and technological advances (from the atomic bomb to the internet, from the semiconductor transistor to the Hubble telescope).

Where is America going when we don’t fund our best scientists (to say nothing of the mediocre ones like me)?


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  1. Holy shit. Is this serious? The guy can do something no-one else managed in genetics/proteonomics and he drives a bus?
    I truly despair, and then get really f**king angry.

    Comment by Jim — October 9, 2008 #

  2. I have a really hard time believing the hard luck leads to bus driver is the whole story here. It does make for a good NPR narrative, I’ll give you that. I just don’t believe that there isn’t more to it.

    Comment by excimer — October 9, 2008 #

  3. It’s ok though, Jim Tour has all the funding he needs for his nanoworms

    Comment by excimer — October 9, 2008 #

  4. I tend to agree that there’s more to the story, but the NPR overview is below. I think it’s the “failed to find a job in science” part that I find unlikely.

    Prasher doesn’t have any regrets about giving away the gene. Tsien and Chalfie did great work, he says, which he probably couldn’t have done because the National Institutes of Health had rejected his funding proposals.

    “At that time, I knew I was going to get out of it; my funding had already run out,” Prasher says.

    He went to work for a laboratory run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, then took a job with a NASA contractor in Huntsville. But two-and-a-half years ago, NASA cut his project and Prasher lost his job.

    He tried to find a job in science but failed. So he went to work at the car dealership.

    Comment by Klug — October 11, 2008 #

  5. My collaborators tend to ask for shit and never do anything with it. I’d rather they do something and—God willing—win a fucking Nobel prize instead of sitting on their asses wasting my fucking time. goddammit.

    Comment by jo — October 11, 2008 #

  6. My impression is that it was Shimomura that discovered the protein , it was simply in Prasher’s interest to inform Tsien of its existence.

    Still , one wonders why he is not able to get a job. Outsourcing? Industry prefers someone more eager to do some of its dirty work and not someone is excitable about science? He claims that he wants a job in research , after all of this publicity , he just may be able to do so.

    Comment by GCT — October 14, 2008 #

  7. I believe the story 100%. It is a very sad story for a devoted scientist. I know lots of smart previous scientists are “working” at fields unrelated to science anymore. They are now realtors, brokers and sales person. Some of them do go back to their original field by luck. As we all know, to be a successful scientist nowadays has to be a good politian and sales person to get grant to fund the project so he/she can hire other people to help relizing his/her ideas. If you have lots of idea but no money, what you can do to support your family? You have to do something like Prasher is doing. Hopefully he will find something suitable and can support him finacially.

    Comment by cha — October 15, 2008 #

  8. Not just the USA – it is same in UK. I am told repeatedly that I am over-qualified for almost every job I have applied for. Mine is just a batchelor’s degree in Physics and a couple of Diplomas (one Marketing and the other in Accountancy). So, nothing great but any technical or managerial job I go to, I am told I am over qualified.

    Agencies have provided driving or manual labour kind of jobs with a short spell in telemarketing. It is really crazy. I have even lowered my salary band by 60% but still they think I am overqualified.

    So, country is quite happy to let my talent go to waste because there is no room up there for the educated. Amazing! Isn’t it. In the meantime they are quite happy getting overqualified people from overseas. I have seen overseas graduates doing clerical and administrative jobs. I know the pay is low but they won’t give me even this job. It is inredible but true.

    Comment by Prav — November 8, 2009 #

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