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EDITORIAL: Nobel-winning Research

When the news came that physicist-turned-molecular biologist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan shared this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Indians all over the world went wild with joy.

A perfectly understandable sentiment, but the media hoopla surrounding his admittedly remarkable achievement very quickly showed flaws all too familiar in Indian journalism — instead of the substantive issue of what is it that Ramakrishnan has done, most of the stuff was in the style of celibrity lifestyle magazines like People — his friends, teachers, acquaintances and family members were all tracked down and they said the same thing ad nauseam — they were thrilled and proud.

So are we.

But the fact of the matter is, this prize is about a stellar achievement in science. And given India’s pride in its scientific and technological prowess, it’s a disgrace that the scientific breakthrough that brought an Indian such glory has been largely ignored.

The cover story in Siliconeer dispenses with the celebrity fluff and focuses on the remarkable advance in molecular biology that garnered three scientists this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

As is often the case, the stirring story has many actors, of which Ramakrishnan is only one. It is, at the end of the day, a fascinating story of scientists building on each other’s work to pry open one of the more enduring mysteries of life.

You can’t find anyone more all-American than Matthew P. Hoh. A former Marine, he worked for the U.S. State Department in a turbulent province in Afghanistan after a stint in Iraq.

In September he decided to quit. His resignation letter has set the Internet on fire, and the press has not been reticent either. A cause celebre now, he is the darling of anti-war protesters and a bete noire for those who support a robust U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan.

In his passionate letter of resignation, Hoh lays out an impressively well informed and cogent argument about why he thinks the U.S. enterprise in Afghanistan will fail.

The odd thing is that on one level what he has to say is unremarkable. His basic premise, that the insurgency is essentially a Pashtun fight against foreign occupiers, is precisely what many who are familiar with the region have been saying.

Rather it is who is saying it that’s more significant than what he is saying. This is a mainstream American with a ringside view of the action in Afghanistan who is making a powerful case that the U.S. stance in Afghanistan is morally bankrupt. In the jingoistic fever that inevitably afflicts the nation’s policymakers at a time of war, it is unclear how seriously Hoh’s compelling argument will be taken, but U.S. policymakers ignore him at their peril.

Like many young desis, Sapna Shahani came to the U.S. for college. But after working for Berkeley Community Media, she went back to Mumbai.

Now she has designed a project with her partner Angana Jhaveri, a documentary filmmaker, that has won a $107,000 grant from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

It’s no mean feat.

Their proposed project, Women Aloud: Videoblogging for Empowerment — WAVE — is as innovative as it is fascinating.

The WAVE project was among 19 projects selected from a pool of 700 applicants from the U.S. and four other countries. This is the first time that proposals were invited from India for grants towards innovation in participatory learning using new digital media technologies.

The goal of the project is to train one woman from every state in India to become community journalists. These women, armed with video equipment, will create videos about issues that affect their lives directly, and create something that you will be hard pressed to find in Indian commercial television cluttered with the detritus of celebrity worship and sensationalism.

Shahani was raised in Mumbai and moved to the U.S. for media studies. After she returned to India, she worked in corporate production houses, creating non-fiction TV shows, managing VFX staff and editing. Then she turned to her true love, community media, working with a pioneering organization, Video Volunteers.

“WAVE India is looking forward to an exciting year ahead as they launch India’s first all-women network of videobloggers from every state in the country, expressing views on development, at a critical stage in India’s modern history,” she said recently.

These videos will then be viewed online on a first-of-its-kind national women’s video blog at www.WomenAloud.org launching in January.

Good luck, Sapna and Angana.


Click here to read the Current Issue in PDF Format

The Holy Grail of Biology

The science behind Venkatraman Ramakrishnan’s Nobel Prize

Goodbye, Afghanistan:
A U.S. Official Quits

In a searing resignation letter, Mathew P. Hoh, senior U.S. civilian representative in Afghanistan’s Zabul Province, drew a grim, bleak picture of the futility of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.

Women Aloud!
The WAVE Project
Sapna Shahani and Angana Jhaveri are have won a $107,000 grant to train one woman from every state in India to create videos about development issues.
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