Sir Arthur Lewis

Banquet speech

Sir Arthur Lewis’ speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1979

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The privilege of accepting the greetings of the students has been accorded to me, and I seize it gladly. On behalf of this year’s laureates I say – Welcome fellow students, the path is hard, and we cannot see very far ahead of us, but the fellowship is wonderful.

I gladly seize the opportunity because it recognizes that tonight’s laureates include two who were born and bred in the poorer parts of the world, that are now playing a larger part in world affairs. This Third World, as it is sometimes called, is experiencing revolutions of many kinds – political, economic, cultural – but none more fundamental than the scientific revolution, which is inherent in all the others. Science affects all our ways of thinking about the world, both the physical world which, if I may make so bold, is easy to understand because it is regular and follows simple laws, and also the social world, which is more baffling and less predictable.

Our countries are a couple of centuries late, and have a lot of catching up to do. We shall cross the same ground in a much shorter time. But it will not be exactly the same ground, not only in the sense that science throws off old skins as it grows, but also in the sense that geography alters the subject matter of some parts of science. This is obvious in relation to biology, or ecology, or economics, or sociology. But it applies even to physics, at the level of technology, where one can invent and choose between different ways of doing the same thing, some of which are more appropriate than others to the resources at hand. So we cannot in the Third World simply borrow or buy science from those ahead of us. Pure science we can take as it comes, but much of applied science we have to make for ourselves. Giant strides have been taken over the past thirty years inside the Third World, in building, equipping and managing new research institutes of every kind, and there is already a substantial pay-off.

Beyond such institutions, the strength of the scientific establishment in any country is related to its general level of education, not only in supplying large numbers of eager minds for further training, but also in ensuring a public opinion that holds science in esteem and approves financial support. Education is the great growth industry of the Third World. Since the second world war we have multiplied the number of children in school by four, with even larger multiples for secondary and university education. This is a turbulent process. We cannot give our students all that they expect, whether by way of the quality of their schooling, or by way of the jobs that they were hoping to get. Student frustration is a world wide phenomenon, pushing our societies into adjusting faster than they are used to.

I salute the student body of Sweden, and hope that its frustration will open up for it new and fruitful opportunities to serve the whole community.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1979, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1980

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1979

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