As I wrote in a recent article, competition is reflected often in the Bible, as is the awarding of prizes and benefits to those who perform well.
Our society follows these natural tendencies and give awards to people who excel in a wide range of fields, according to their "talents". In Australia, the most prestigious awards are announced on Australia Day, 26th January. This year, I was pleased to note the increasing inclusion of two groups who seem to have been rather left-out in the past: scientists featured prominently, and women made up one-third of the awards.
Scientist awarded Australian of the Year for 2017
The Australian of the Year is Emeritus Alan Mackay-Sim, a biomedical scientist whose research has led to the treatment of spinal cord injuries. According to my scientist contacts he a great researcher as well as being a kind, humane person.
The sense of smell is intimately linked biologically and physically with the brain. Professor Mackay-Sims' early work on nerve cells (neurons) in the nose led him to the idea that the stem cells that regenerate nasal neurons "all the time" might also be able to help regenerate nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, where regeneration is not so usual.
Stem cells are naturally part of the renewal process of every cell in our body – as old cells die, they are replaced by new ones that are formed from embryonic-type cells called stem cells, that have not yet been programmed for a particular purpose.
Professor Mackay-Sim's main research area from then on has been on stem cells, and he results of his work on nerve stem cells has enabled the international community to use the technique in a clinical setting 10 years after he proved it was safe in animals. Due to extension of the technique by British and Polish scientists and doctors, a variation of his process has helped a paralysed man in Poland to have some mobility with the aid of a walking frame, after several years of physiotherapy.
The controversy surrounding the announcement of who actually was responsible has been exaggerated by the press; the scientists and medical researchers and doctors involved all respect each other's contribution, and know that this has been a slow and small step in the process of using stem cells in spinal therapy, and none of those involved has any interest in claiming their research was more important than any others. It has been a true international collaboration, with people using the ideas of those doing prior experiments to develop new and better technques.
Showing his innate fairness and his distress at the misconceptions, Professor Mackay-Sim sent an email in which he: "... apologised to the Polish-British scientists for the widely circulated claims of the Australia Day Council that he was central to Mr Fidyka's case and told them he would correct the error and promote their work during his public speeches in his role as Australian of the Year." But it's unclear if Professor Raisman was aware of what Professor Mackay-Sim was being credited for before his death on Friday, the day after Australia Day.
In a cruel twist of fate, Professor Mackay-Sim was diagnosed with multiple myeloma some years ago, and one of his treatments was a stem cell therapy that resulted in part from his work – this is now known as bone marrow transplant. At present, he is in remission.
We congratulate Professor Mackay-Sim with all our hearts, and we hope to see more results of his research (still ongoing in his retirement and despite of his illness), and also hear his ideas and views about science in the community during his year's commitments as Australian of the Year.
Other notable scientists' receive Australia Day honours
To give a flavour of the increasing community awareness of the importance of science, I have compiled a list of some of the other scientists (excluding medical personnel) who have received some of the top four levels of awards this year. Note that Professor Blackman (below) is also a theologian and stalward of the Anglican Church.
Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) (max. 35 awards)
- Professor Andrew Holmes, Research chemist who returned to Australia in 2004 from Cambridge under a Queen Elizabeth II fellowship, and has continued a stellar career. Among his many achievements and awards, he is currently President of the Australian Academy of Science, Fellow of the Royal Society (London), and recipient of the Royal Medal of that society.
Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) (max. 140 awards)
- Professor Graeme Blackman (OAM) who is a research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry, and has been prominent in theological education, the Anglican Church particularly with respect to Aged Care, and is also currently a director of the Australian Youth Orchestra and chair of the National Stem Cell foundation.
- Ms Roberta Brazil, Chancellor of the University of Southern Queensland, who is chairman of the research organisation Land and Water, Australia.
Member of the Order of Australia (AM) (max. 350 awards)
I counted twelve research scientists in this category of awards, again not including medical personnel. These are people doing great work in areas as diverse as neuroscience and genomics; astronomy and Australian native plants; astrobiology and the operation of mass spectrometers in chemistry; science education and cardiovascular research; astronomy; research into animal nutrition and investigation of sustainable resources and others.
Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) (unlimited recipients)
I did not read through the more than 900 recipients of this category, but a quick perusal showed that the recognition of scientists in our community is on an up-and-up trajectory.
For example, one of my science advisers tells me that there were eight members of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute who gained awards (some of them included in the list above).
You too can nominate someone for 2018
All these awards, as well as many others in our community, begin with a community member nominating someone they think is worthy. Otherwise, no-one knows about them or their work.
So if you know of someone whose work is outstanding - whether in social, religious, musical, sporting, medical or scientific areas - then download a form or contact your local Member of Parliament to find out how to nominate them for the most suitable award. And please do not neglect those you know who may think that "doing" their research is more important than "publicising" it. This year, scientists still only numbered about one in every fifty awards (if you don't include medical professionals).
Remember James, chapter 1 verse 12: "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html