Monday, October 2, 2023

Why am I Outraged Today

I think I should do a weekly post about what has recently pissed me off. This could be the inaugural post. 

Two developers of the mRNA vaccine have won a Nobel prize in medicine.  Dr. Kariko spent many years of her life working on a new delivery method for vaccines using mRNA.

Wired magazine has written an article about her journey to BioNTech.  I will excerpt a couple of paragraphs which will elucidate my outrage.

With an mRNA boom taking place on the other side of the Atlantic, Karikó decided it was time to leave Hungary and head for the US. So in 1985, she accepted a job at Temple University and moved to Philadelphia along with her husband, two year old daughter, and a teddy bear with £900 sewn into it – the proceeds from the sale of their car on the black market. (The boom was the discovery of mRNA.)

It did not take long for the American dream to sour. After four years, she was forced to leave Temple University for neighboring UPenn after a dispute with her boss, who then attempted to have her deported. There she began working on mRNA therapies which could be used to improve blood vessel transplants, by producing proteins to keep the newly transplanted vessels alive.

But many other scientists were turning away from the field, and her bosses at UPenn felt mRNA had shown itself to be impractical and she was wasting her time. They issued an ultimatum, if she wanted to continue working with mRNA she would lose her prestigious faculty position, and face a substantial pay cut.

Karikó has been at the helm of BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine development. In 2013, she accepted an offer to become Senior Vice President at BioNTech after UPenn refused to reinstate her to the faculty position she had been demoted from in 1995. “They told me that they’d had a meeting and concluded that I was not of faculty quality,” she said. ”When I told them I was leaving, they laughed at me and said, ‘BioNTech doesn’t even have a website.’”

Do read the entire article, it's a good read and isn't all that long. 

So, UPenn behaved badly towards Dr. Kariko.  It's not unusual for male academics to be dismissive of female academics' work.  But now, Dr. Kariko has a Nobel prize, for the very work they told her she needed to stop doing.  Let that sink in for a moment.

UPenn has an article up in which they try to claim Dr. Kariko as one of their own, where they supported her research and provided a supportive environment for her. If this were true, she'd be a tenured full professor there, but she's not.  They also have a video which is narrated by Dr. Weissman, Dr. Kariko's name receives a full two seconds of recognition.  There's revisionist history going on here.

Glamour Magazine ran a very good article on Dr. Kariko, which you can read here.  It was written before the Nobel, but it's a good read.  WBUR has an article written by one of the lab rats who used to work with Dr. Kariko, it shows what being a researcher is like, particularly the part about raising your own money.

So, it's good that Dr. Kariko got the Nobel and some recognition.   Too often women in science do not.  I give you Rosalind Franklin, the X-ray crystallographer who recognized the structure of DNA as a double helix.  Watson and Crick got credit for that.

More from Dr. Kariko on how to support marginalized scientists.


  1. Any Woman, in any Field of Work, has to do it better than any Man, period. You will likely not get the recognition, respect or pay and promotions Men get. It's only slightly better than it used to be. As a Retired Corporate Executive from an Era when you were usually the first to shatter Glass Ceilings, and had much to content with in a Man's Dominated World, sadly, many Women felt the only way to get ahead was to Sleep their way to the top. Those of us who could do the Job as good as or better than any Man were typically Ball Breakers... I was not just "A" Bitch, I was "The" Bitch and that was Mrs. Bitch to any Man who wanted to square off with me. I still recall in Executive Meetings I'd often be the only Young Female in a Boardroom of Old White Men... and some Misogynistic Old Fart would ask me to get him some Coffee "Honey"... to which I'd respond that my Uterus was no Tracking Device for his Liquid Refreshments, so get his Secretary to get him his Coffee. *winks* So, yeah, it pisses you off when it's not a level playing field for many marginalized groups in Society... so, we must protect whatever ground we've claimed and not allow this Country to go backwards like the Far Right would have it.

    1. Ooops, contend with, sorry for the typo... I was typing in a fury... LOL

  2. So many discoveries and hard work by women has been belittled and / or hijacked by men.

  3. Thanks for sharing this information. I wasn't aware, but am not surprised.
    My initial take from this award was that mRNA has long been researched and the covidiots who screamed about experimental vaccines should eat their words.
    Dr. Kariko's treatment throughout her career is disgusting, and those who wish to rewriting history even more so.

  4. Woman gets fucked over by men, a story as old as time. Thanks for letting me know about this. This woman obviously has a core strength that kept her going.

  5. for the last 5,000 years women have been denied education, opportunity, and recognition. in the patriarchy's mind women are little more than grown children capable only of raising more children. and when they do succeed beyond all expectations they are rarely given recognition. women's works in science, art, music, invention have all been attributed to husbands, fathers, brothers, colleagues, and even slaves (as in the cotton gin) because they were not allowed by law to publish, apply for patents, etc. fuck the patriarchy.

  6. And so it always has been and probably will be until women have grasped more power in all fields.

  7. I don't know if you read fiction but there's a very good book with a similar story, "Lessons in Chemistry" by Bonnie Garmus.

    1. An excellent read, and definitely reflects reality.

  8. I'd say that tweet from Michael Eisen (whoever he is) hits the nail on the head.

    My first thought when she and Weissman won the prize was how the right-wing anti-vaxxers would react!