Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Fall of an Idol?

Raul Cuero. (Photo; El Espectador)
It was a wonderful, inspiring life story: An AfroColombian child of Buenaventura, one of Colombia's poorest cities, overcame innumerable obstacles to become a star researcher and inventor in the United States, even working for NASA.

Unfortunately, the story seems to be untrue, or at least inflated.

Raul Cuero was the son of illiterate parents. From an early age he showed an interest in research, and his botany work moved a foreign visitor to help Cuero travel overseas to study. Today, at age 65, he teaches in a small United States agricultural university, works on inventions and does contract research. He's published research papers and has several U.S. patents to his name.

Cuero's life story is unquestionably impressive. But being good was evidently not good enough for him: he wanted to be great. And the Colombian media played along. Colombian newspapers, magazines and television celebrated Cuero as a great inventor and award-winning NASA researcher.

El Tiempo columnist Maria Isabel Rueda recently even asked Cuero whether he dreamed of winning the Nobel Prize. (To his credit, Cuero said that awards weren't important.)

But Rodrigo Bernal, an ex-professor of agricultural engineering of the National University, decided to dig deeper into Cuero's story. It turned out, as Bernal wrote in a cover story in El Espectador, that Cuero's dozens of 'scientific papers' were mostly news reports about himself, that the NASA awards were rather routine recognitions and that Bernal had only two minor patents to his name. Bernal added many other details which Cuero appeared to have exaggerated or distorted to add to his own legend. Cuero has worked for NASA, for example, but only as a contractor.

One of Cuero's recent books even describes him as 'One of the world's most important scientists.'

In his response, Cuero did not directly deny Bernal's affirmations. 'I'm not an orthodox scientist," he wrote. "In essence, I'm an inventor...I'm an inventor and my purpose is to create things which serve humanity and create economic impact.'

Give Cuero credit for accepting the criticisms gracefully. In fact, Cuero is a very impressive guy. How many of us have even one invention or scientific article to our names? How many of us overcame a dirt-poor background and racial discrimination to become university professors and do work for NASA?

Cuero is rightly an inspiration for many poor youth. But he inflated his impressive life history into a legend, and paid the price when the exaggerations were inevitably uncovered. Sadly, those distortions will leave a lasting stain on his exceptional accomplishments.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


rojito said...
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Gerardo Moreno said...

Mike, i respecfully disagree with some of the content in this article. Cuero is was born in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, not Choco. How can you question Cuero's credentials just because this guy came out of the blue?

Miguel said...

Hi Gerardo,

Thanks for your feedback and correction. I'll change the place of his birth.

As far as Cuero's accomplishments - even he doesn't seem to have disputed the critiques of his claimed accomplishments.

Even Bernal acknowledges that Cuero has made lots of admirable accomplishments. He is an impressive man. But he seems to have inflated those accomplishments, which unfortunately doesn't say good thinigs about his honesty.