Today Ruairí Quinn made an announcement about student bursaries and said they would be named after Ernest Walton, I don’t know the details of the bursaries, but I am assuming they are a good thing and I admire Walton and am all in favor of celebrating him. I admit I have mixed feelings about the lionization of Walton, first by SFI and now by the Department of Education when Ireland has poor support for fundamental science and is one of the few European countries not in CERN. As I said though, I admire Walton and it is nice to see our scientific heroes get a shout out. Unfortunately this is how Ruairí Quinn described Walton.
They will be named the Walton Bursaries after Ernest Walton - Ireland’s only Nobel laureate in science, and the man who, with John Cockcroft, became the first person to split the atom
This provoked an exchange on twitter between me (@conorjh A) and the Irish Labour Party (@labour B), C, D and E are other people I am friendly with on twitter.
A: Ruairi Quinn: “Walton, Ireland’s only Nobel Prize winner in science”. Schrödinger was here for 17 years and was an Irish citizen! It is insulting to scientists working in Ireland to elevate Walton over Schrödinger as “Irish” scientists.
C: RQ probably technically correct depending on phrasing, he wasn’t Irish when he won the Nobel.
A: ”Ernest Walton - Ireland’s only Nobel laureate in science” so no, not even technically correct!
C: Fair enough, no wriggle room there alright!
B: As C said said Schrödinger awarded Nobel prize in 1933 while living in Austria, where he was born. He moved to Ireland in 1940 and later naturalised. Walton was Waterford born and educated, then won scholarship to TCD, good inspiration for scholarship. Thanks for the feedback.
A: He was an Irish citizen, being born elsewhere doesn’t make him less Irish. Many Irish literature Nobel Prize winners lived abroad when they won, they are still counted. The fact is Schrödinger was an Irish Nobel Laureate and the quote was insultingly nativist, why not just apologize!
B: And we said that, he won the Nobel while an Austrian citizen
A: Ruairí Quinn said “Nobel Laureate”, Schrödinger was an Irish Nobel Laureate, is it really so hard to admit to a mistake. It would it have been hard to take the opportunity to acknowledge that Ireland has benefited from scientists coming there to work.
B: Conor we’ve tried to answer your questions and explain reasoning; thanks for the feedback!
A: But the statement was wrong and diminished the status of non-Irish born Irish people. Are you content with that!
E: Funny, SFI are already using Walton for their visiting fellows awards for the likes of Schrödinger.
A: The irony there is that Walton wouldn’t be SFI fundible!
B: We do not agree with that analysis in any way. And as we asked you earlier do you not think Walton an inspiration?
D: Isn’t the question of whether A finds Walton an inspiration dodging his question?
A: What don’t you agree with? Don’t you agree that Schrödinger was an Irish Nobel Laureate? I am happy about naming a scholarship after Walton, I even met him once, but Ruairi Quinn’s statement contained a mistake.
B: A this scholarship is a good thing, splitting hairs over a name isn’t.
A: It is an important point, Schrödinger was an Irish citizen, all citizens are equally Irish.
B: Which we have acknowledged; we’ve also said he was Austrian when he won it. Again thanks for feedback will pass onto Minister
A: What exactly have you acknowledged: that the speech contained an error, one that diminishes the Irishness of foreign born citizens? Ruairi Quinn said Nobel Laureate, he was still a Laureate when he became an Irish citizen. You accuse me of splitting hairs, would a nod to Schrodinger have been a problem for RQ without all the “he was what when”.
I guess what I found irksome is, first, the othering, the contrasting of the Austrian-born Schrödinger with the Waterford-born Walton and, second, the overall high-handed tone, the lack of engagement: “feedback”, I wasn’t providing “feedback”, I was opening a conversation! More important though is that we stop this Irish this and Irish that, Schrödinger was a great scientist who did a piece of significant work while he lived in Ireland, lets enjoy that!