Go to contents

[Opinion] Korea’s Nobel Prize Complex

Posted October. 17, 2004 23:06,   


The 2004 Nobel Prizes have been announced, but as expected, no Korean was included on the list. Former president Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize, but we still seem to have a long way to go before receiving a Nobel Prize in science, literature, or economics. Korea has become the world’s 11th largest economy in a very short period of time, and has won gold medals at the Olympic games. We, however, are agitating ourselves over winning a Nobel Prize.

No matter how desperate we are, there is no shortcut to a prize. Impatient and hasty Koreans, however, are still looking for it. Some flock to Sweden, saying we should have connections with members of the Nobel Committee. Some even argue that we should establish a special institute to train talent for the Nobel Prize, like that of the Olympic national squad. One Nobel laureate, who visited Korea, said upon seeing Koreans’ over-obsession with the Nobel Prize, “You cannot have good results in research while just setting receiving a Nobel Prize as the goal. Even if a Korean wins a Nobel, I wonder how much it would contribute to Korean science and technology, which does not have a solid and strong base.”

The laureate was absolutely right, but he failed to notice one thing. Winning a Nobel Prize will be of help for Koreans to overcome the so-called “Nobel Prize Complex,” which is deeply rooted. We can see such the origins of such a complex everywhere in society. First of all, foreign scholarship and knowledge is given higher regard than that of Korea. Degrees taken overseas are favored in appointing professors at colleges. Foreign experts have a more influential voice on the Korean economy than their counterparts in Korea. A case in point will be responses to the recent World Economic Forum (WEF)’s evaluation on national competitiveness.

Although we did not win a Nobel Prize, there is no need to feel dispirited and inferior to foreigners. A complex, in medical terms, is a mixture of latent emotions that cause abnormal responses. We need to overcome the complex and face up to reality.

Oh Se-jeong, Guest Editor, Professor of Physics at Seoul National University, sjoh@plaza.snu.ac.kr