Nobel Prize

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Barack Obama with his Nobel Prize medal and diploma
Poetry of reality
Icon science.svg
We must know.
We will know.
A view from the
shoulders of giants.
I feel I've done very well out of not getting a Nobel prize. If you get a Nobel prize you have this fantastic week and then nobody gives you anything else. If you don't get a Nobel prize you get everything that moves. Almost every year there's been some sort of party because I've got another award. That's much more fun.
—Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars but whose supervisor won the Nobel[1]

A Nobel Prize is a really cool thing you get for being a scientist, a humanitarian, or someone else who adds significantly to the lives and knowledge of humanity — unless you're a mathematician or computer scientist.[note 1]

The prize was founded by the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel.[2] After reading an obituary of himself, prematurely published by a French newspaper in 1884 and terming him a "merchant of death," he had a mild attack of conscience and sought to make amends. No, not by giving up the dynamite business, but instead using his wealth earned from manufacturing dynamite to endow the creation of the prizes upon his death in 1896.[3]

There are prizes for chemistry, physics, medicine, economics, and the controversial Peace Prize.

Notably, no young earth creationist "scientist" has ever managed to get any of these. However, hated liberals Al Gore (the only person ever to win an Oscar, a Presidential election and a Nobel Peace Prize) and Jimmy Carter have.

People tainted by the foul aroma of nefarious deeds have also received Nobel Prizes: Henry Kissinger (a long list of war crimes, overthrowing of democratically elected governments, and complicity in various genocides and other crimes against humanity), Aung San Suu Kyi (Rohingya genocide), Mother Teresa (various), Yasser ArafatWikipedia (terrorism) and Peter Handke (genocide denialism) also got them. The Nobel Peace Prize can be viewed as something of an insult, no matter who you are.

In 2009, United States President Barack Obama was randomly selected from among just under seven billion people to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which was being awarded that year to anyone who was not George W. Bush.

Current Prizes[edit]

The 5 prizes were established by Alfred Nobel in 1895 and first awarded 1901. The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was created only in 1969.

  • Nobel Prize in Chemistry — Awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
  • Nobel Prize in Physics — Awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine — Awarded by the Karolinska Institutet (the top-ranking medical university in Sweden)
  • Nobel Prize in Literature — Awarded by the Swedish Academy (but not "of Sciences")
  • Nobel Peace Prize — Awarded by a committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament.[4] The last point is often missed.
  • Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences - Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences — The Nobel Prize in Economics was established only in 1969, almost 70 years after the others. As a result, some people that adhere to fringe ideologies and economic denialism claim that it isn't an actual Nobel Prize. Nonetheless, the laureates are selected by the The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (the same institution that selects the Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry[5]) according to the same principles as for the Nobel Prizes that have been awarded since 1901,[6] and the Nobel Foundation recognizes it as a Nobel Prize.[7]
  • Nobel Prize in Mathematics[note 2]

Presumably the Norwegians got saddled with the task because, at the time Nobel came up with the peace prize, Norway was not a sovereign state and the Norwegian parliament was less likely to be entangled in foreign policy affairs that could influence the vote than the Swedish would have been. This is of course not the case anymore today and cries about "political" votes are almost as common as Nobel prizes themselves. Since 2012,[8] each prize is worth +7,500,000 Swedish kronor (1,100,000 USD).

Only controversial when your brain isn't engaged[edit]

A black and white photo of a bearded man in his fifties sitting in a chair.

The Nobel Prizes in the natural sciences, particularly who are and who are not awarded one, sometimes generate controversy. The science prize panels are accused of sexism because Jocelyn Bell and Rosalind Franklin didn't receive a prize (although accusers won't mention Dorothy Hodgkin), and the fact that Charles Darwin never received the award is often used by creationists to question the validity of evolution by natural selection.

Even though the Prize is often awarded many years after the event or the original research was done, it cannot be awarded posthumously. Thus, both Franklin and Darwin didn't receive a Nobel Prize on account of being a corpse at the time, rather than a woman or wrong, respectively. In the case of Jocelyn Bell, who certainly was alive at the time, she had made observations of pulsars (and was credited as a second author of the relevant paper) but it was her academic supervisors who had put in the great amount of work in developing the aperture-synthesis technique. Prizes in the natural sciences are often given to individuals with the broadest scope of contributions, rather than just initial discoveries, so while Bell's lack of a prize was controversial and widely criticized by the astronomy community, it wasn't due to the assumptions at play among those who simply want to attack science.

Nominations and the fringe[edit]

The fact that the nomination process is pretty free and easy has led to some rather strange nominations, particularly for the Peace Prize. These include Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Fidel Castro,[9] Hugo Chávez, and Vladimir Putin.[10] Oh, and Donald Trump.

The secretive nature of the nomination process[11] has also opened up for willing cranks[12] to fraudulently claim that they've been nominated, when clearly, they have not been.

Nevertheless, some deserving nominees never received the Prize, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jorge Luis Borges. However, note that, in Gandhi's case, the Nobel Committee's decision to not award a prize in 1948, as "there was no suitable living candidate," was, in effect, an award for Gandhi, as the prize is generally not given posthumously.[13]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Mathematicians get the Fields Medal instead. As long as they're under 40. Computer scientists get the Turing Award.
  2. Sometimes cited as a reason for the lack of a Prize in mathematics is a story about Nobel's wife having an affair with a mathematician. It's just a story. Snopes says so. And Nobel never married.