The Frontal Cortex

Diversity and Science

I just got back from spending a few days with a neuroscientist friend who recently became a PI, in charge of his own lab. On one of the walls in his lab, there was a map of the world with little pins marking the birthplace of each lab member. (My friend is originally from Calcutta.) Needless to say, the world was well represented. One post-doc was from interior China, another was from Jamaica. India, Japan, Korea and, yes, America, were also represented.

This astonishing diversity is one of the reasons I love science. Although a few of the globalized post-docs had trouble expressing themselves in English, they always found ways to communicate with each other. The ensuing conversations tend to be littered with the awkward acronyms of molecular neuroscience, so that every sentence was full of kinase enzymes, funny mutant fly nicknames, and the experimental techniques that are a staple of every lab. (Sample: “I need use PCR to assay mutant for CREB 1″.)

There was something very wonderful about watching these people use science as a sort of universal language, an Esperanto of modernity. Although everyone in the lab came from such radically distinct places, they were all trying to solve the same scientific problem. Diversity was recognized as a virtue, not a stumbling block. People managed to transcend their dialects and cultural differences. I couldn’t help but think that the modern American science lab – this melting pot of talented people – is my model for society at large, a utopia of petri dishes, micropipettes and salt buffers.


  1. #1 matt
    July 3, 2007

    Clearly you don’t have to work with them on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, my international labmates (i.e. all of my labmates- I’m the only American out of 13!) are wonderful colleagues, and I do appreciate the diversity (India, Japan, Portugal, China of course). But it can also be incredibly frustrating when every conversation takes twice as long, plus I have to proofread every manuscript and grant proposal and I’m just a grad student trying to get my own stuff done!

  2. How much better it would have been if they all had SPOKEN Esperanto!

    vilchjo de Mesao Arizono, Usono

  3. Uzante La regulan, facilan kaj Internacian Lingvon ESPERANTO, komunikado inter sciencistoj estus multe pli facila, sen devigi homojn lerni malfacilajn kaj neregulajn naciajn lingvojn kiel la Angla.

  4. #4 Some Guy
    July 6, 2007

    “In the welter of conflicting fanaticisms, one of the few unifying forces is scientific truthfulness…” Bertrand Russell

  5. #5 Detlef Karthaus
    July 6, 2007

    Perhaps some of the participants of the conference will be interested in the International Academy of Sciences in San Marino which uses Esperanto as its official language.

  6. #6 Alvaro
    July 7, 2007

    Agreed. Science is a unique beautiful joint endeavor to improve humanity without artificial borders…most of the time.