Commentary: What Does Nat'l Academy of Sciences Election Mean for Oklahoma?

Article excerpt

On April 30, Charles Esmon, Lloyd Noble Chair in Cardiovascular Research and head of the Cardiovascular Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
The news was reported in the press, and OMRF had a gala party to celebrate the event. Esmon is a highly gifted scientist who has spent the better part of his entire scientific career in Oklahoma, most at OMRF. As such, he is the first "Oklahoman" elected to the National Academy in the arena of biomedical research. Two other OMRF scientists came to Oklahoma as members of the academy and Douglas Lilly, a geophysicist at OU, is also a member.
Founded by President Lincoln in 1863, the National Academy of Sciences is the most prestigious academic group in the nation. Short of the Nobel Prize (virtually every Nobel Laureate has been a member of the academy), there is no higher honor in biomedical science in the world.
Each year, about 50-70 scientists from around the country are elected to membership. Since there are about 900 members in the National Academy of Sciences, based on Oklahoma's population we should have nine members in the academy.
We have two.
There are few, if any, "poor scientists" in the National Academy of Sciences, but there are many very qualified scientists who do not get elected to the academy. Why?
Some of it is location, some politics, some style, some fashion. The easiest of these to discuss is location/ politics.
Since members are elected to the academy by the current members of the academy, knowing someone in the academy helps. In general, the best science wins. But often, institutional loyalty trumps when comparing two very comparable scientists. Thus, if an institution (say, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has 15 members of the academy, and one of their own is nominated, that nominee is likely to get the vast majority of the 15 votes, as they are far more likely to know the MIT scientist better than a scientist from another institution. …