Susan Greenfield at Hebrew University: Preventing research from being
done can cost people their lives,and it makes academics look small-minded.
(Photo: Sasson Tiram)
achievements "are absolutely mindboggling," according to the Baroness
Susan Greenfield, one of the world's most influential women and a leader
in brain research. Therefore, if efforts underway in some British academic
circles to boycott Israeli scientists succeed, ultimately lives will be
lost, she explained.
"During this trip, I've visited Hebrew University, the Technion, and the
Weizmann Institute, and they are all doing stellar work," the prominent
British neuroscientist and Oxford professor of pharmacology told Israel21c
during a visit to Israel last week.
When asked to select one scientific research project in Israel that particularly
impressed her, Greenfield hesitated, not wanting to slight any institution,
but finally said," I'd have to emphasize the research on a possible vaccine
for neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's Disease. Think of the scope of that!"
Greenfield was in the country as a guest of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem,
The director of Britain's oldest independent research body the Royal Institution.
Her lecture - "How the Brain Generates Consciousness," - was attended
by a standing-room-only crowd of 500 at the Los Angeles Building on the
Givat Ram campus.
Greenfield, who was named a life peer to the House of Lords in 2001 and
was included in The Guardianīs list of the 50 most powerful women in Britain,
first visited Israel as a volunteer in 1970 on Kibbutz Gesher Haziv in
the north of the country and in a Haifa old age home for four months.
She has visited the country a dozen times.
Besides working in her Oxford lab on brain chemicals that may be involved
in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases, Greenfield
has written books on science for a layman audience (Journey to the
Centres of the Mind, Private Life of the Brain and The Human Brain: A
Guided Tour), and created a TV series on the brain and how it works
Greenfield is also the first female director of the Royal Institution.
Presciently founded in 1799 by brilliant physicist and politician Count
Rumford as a place where the usefulness of science would be explored and
explained to the public, the RI employed a series of scientists famous
for both their research and lecturing skills and became a fashionable
place to go in Victorian London.
Greenfield is a vocal and active critic of recent British attempts to
boycott Israeli academia. Recently, she authored an article in the Times
newspaper stating her belief that the boycott efforts are not only immoral,
"The obvious implication of the boycott is that if this is stopping medical
research from being propagated, then the development of treatments and
people's lives could be affected," Greenfield said.
"It's hard to evaluate how effective the boycott Israel effort has been.
If an Israeli academic paper is rejected, how does one prove that it was
because it was Israeli?" Greenfield asked. "From talking to Israeli scientists,
there is a perception among them that there is an anti-Israel sentiment,
but these things are pernicious - it's difficult to prove it."
Former Israeli Science Foundation head Prof. Paul Zinger was quoted by
the Sunday Telegraph late last year as saying about 7,000 research
papers are sent abroad for reference by Israeli academics each year. "This
year, for the first time, we had people writing back - about 25 of them
- saying 'We refuse to look at these," he said.
The British boycott was triggered by two academics, Steven Rose, a professor
of biology at the Open University, and his wife, Hilary, a professor of
social policy at Bradford University. Last April they sent a letter with
the signatures of 123 other academics to the Guardian stating their intention
to boycott Israeli academics.
Three months later, two professors from Tel Aviv University and Bar-Ilan
University were fired from academic journals.
Greenfield expressed anger and puzzlement over the boycott movement, saying
that the world would be the only loser if the boycott achieved its aims.
"I don't know why this boycott movement is focused on Israel. It's one
of the things I use as an argument. Why aren't you boycotting American
academics for invading Afghanistan, or British academics for taking part
in the war on Iraq? It's strange that Israel was selected, it's seems
"Who is going to benefit from an academic boycott of Israel? Certainly
Arabs who conduct research with Israelis or benefit from Israeli medical
and other scientific discoveries will not. Preventing research from being
done can cost people their lives, and it makes academics look small-minded,"
One way that Greenfield hopes to combat the boycott efforts is to bolster
scientific cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors. She met
Jordanīs Queen Rania last year and discussed Israeli-Jordanian scientific
cooperation, and the original plans for her visit to the region involved
meetings in Jordan and Iraq.
"I had originally hoped to work with the British Embassy and bring other
scientists with me, and to also visit Jordan and Egypt to discuss joint
collaborations in the region. In Jordan in particular, there were positive
signals about meeting scientists there. That idea rapidly changed due
to the current situation with Iraq, and I ended up coming on my own on
a private visit upon an invitation from Hebrew University. The British
government felt that they couldn't be telling nationals to leave the region
on one hand, and sponsor a visit of scientists on the other hand," Greenfield
"There have been some contacts between Israeli scientists and scientists
from Jordan and Egypt, but there are great difficulties because of the
situation. For me, it's not how many there are, but getting them publicized
to show that Israel is not isolated. While politicians and diplomats are
facing regional difficulties, it's important to show that scientific contact
Despite the threat of impending war with Iraq and the implications for
Israel, Greenfield, who sits on the council of the Weizmann Institute
and the board of the Israel-British Business Council, didn't hesitate
to make the visit, and expressed no fear about being range of Iraqi Scuds.
"I had no apprehensions about coming here, and feel very strongly that
people like me should be coming here. With the wave of worldwide terror
over the last couple years between Bali, Moscow, the Twin Towers, one
can't guarantee being safe anywhere. I figure that as long as I don't
do something crazy like hitchhike through Ramallah, that I'm fine. The
world is no longer a safe place, but I refuse to live under the shadow
of terror. The best revenge against terrorists is to travel and not be