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Viewpoint: Editor's efforts fall short of Nobel prize material


For me, 2009 will go down as a year of disappointment.

"You must never be satisfied with losing. You must get angry, terribly angry, about losing. But the mark of the good loser is that he takes his anger out on himself and not his victorious opponents or on his teammates."-Richard M. Nixon, 37th American President

"I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize."-Stephen Wright

My goal was to be the second ophthalmologist to receive the Nobel Prize, but to do so in literature. Many would consider this an ambitious goal, considering that writing is only a hobby for me (plus, there's the absence-of-talent issue), but in my Jan. 1, 2009 column I clearly laid out my winning strategy. This included a write-in campaign by ophthalmologists that would overcome the usual preference for authors who write about people doing terrible things to each other. Also, I relied on the instinctual affection for Irishmen, like Bono and me.

This fall the announcements began and my ambitions seemed well-founded. One of my fellow department chairpersons here in Baltimore, Carol Greider, PhD, shared the prize in medicine for studying the way chromosomes are protected and for discovering the enzyme telomerase that some have called "the immortality enzyme." Controlling telomerase might alter how our cells age and how we treat cancer cells that have lost the normal restraints on proliferation.

Then just a week later, another prize was awarded to an American living 45 minutes away in Washington, DC. President Obama won the peace prize, having been nominated 2 weeks after his inauguration. He commented: "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments . . . but rather . . . of aspirations held by people in all nations."

Realizing that the selection committees in Stockholm favored candidates from the mid-Atlantic states, and emboldened by knowledge that actual achievement is not a criterion, I naturally considered the announcement of my own prize a foregone conclusion. Browsing my closet for clothing that would keep me comfortable during my trip to Sweden this winter, my thoughts revolved around whether to invite all ophthalmologists to my celebration party or just the ones with subscriptions to Ophthalmology Times.

So imagine my bitter disappointment upon learning that Herta Müller received the 2009 prize in literature. The Romanian-born German writer was cited as someone "who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed." The New York Times called one of her works "a novel of graphically observed detail in which the author seeks to create a sort of poetry out of the spiritual and material ugliness of life in Communist Romania."

Bono, himself passed over for the peace prize, chose to be mature and credited President Obama with helping to "rebrand America." In contrast, my reaction is one of bitterness and resentment. I mean come on-do hard-working ophthalmologists want to read about "spiritual and material ugliness" in OT? What's funny about that?


By Peter J. McDonnell, MD director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times

He can be reached at 727 Maumenee Building 600 N. Wolfe St. Baltimore, MD 21287-9278 Phone: 443/287-1511 Fax: 443/287-1514 E-mail: pmcdonn1@jhmi.edu

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