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Bronze-level article

Nobel disease

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The Nobel disease is a term used to describe the apparent tendency of Nobel Prize-winning scientists to endorse or perform "research" in pseudoscientific areas in their later years, generally (though not always) after having won the esteemed prize for some legitimate scientific achievement.

What makes the term special is the fact that you'd think Nobel laureates (of all people) would be the most resistant to crankery. On the contrary however, the Nobel "disease" underscores the fact that human beings simply aren't "immune" to falling for crank ideas — accomplished scientists included.

The Nobel disease also serves to demonstrate how being universally hailed as "right" would appear to bolster the individual laureate's confirmation bias more than it does his or her skepticism.

In a wider sense, the Nobel disease might be indicative of the fact that — just like with milk — even the greatest minds can have a "best before"-date of sorts. The longevity human beings enjoy today is a relatively new concept for Homo sapiens, and as such, more and more people live long enough for their brains to start showing various signs of deterioration.

Interestingly, scientists who make great discoveries usually do so before a certain age — formerly before age 30, but nowadays before approximately age 50.[1]

Furthermore, Nobel Prizes often aren't awarded until a relatively long period of additional research has been performed, after the initial discovery has been confirmed and its importance is more fully understood.

This can mean that by the time the prize is awarded, the recipients may well have descended into woo unrelated to their award-winning discovery of years (or even decades) past.

One thing is certain: creeping dementia — coupled with confidence, media attention and funding — rarely spells success in the end.

A meager upside to all this is that at least the existence of the Nobel disease cancels out the oft-repeated argument from authority:

If a Nobel prize-winning scientist supports X, it must be true!

(In)famous Victims of Disease[edit]

Inverted Nobel Disease[edit]

Here, we show a picture of Tu Youyou to you.

In a more bizarre case, Tu YouyouWikipedia's W.svg received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of artemisinin, a drug used to treat malaria and that is saving millions of lives. She discovered this while testing thousands of different herbs that were in her field of study: Traditional Chinese Medicine.

It should be noted that if the Scientific Method had not been developed yet, many parts of TCM would be considered proto-science rather than pseudoscience. Shamans, medicine men, cunning men, witch doctors, and the likes would often perceive an apparent correlation between administration of herb or practice X with the outcome of ailment Y, and would pass these hypotheses down through the generations.

Oftentimes, no correlation was actually present, of course, and a lot of superstitions were formed in this manner, but without things like rapid communication, peer review, an understanding of cognitive biases or access to well-equipped laboratories, any better form of acquiring knowledge was simply unavailable. Then when society did reach a point where a city could afford the resources for the labs, many early scientists began testing all the various herbal remedies that had been passed down from the shamans. What worked was carefully recorded and kept, such as aspirin from willow bark tea, while what didn't was discarded as proven ineffective stays in use to this day in the realm of alternative medicine.

Tu Youyou tested various herbal remedies and found another important drug, and for that we are thankful. Science works.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. The Stroke of Genius Strikes Later in Modern Life by Charles Q. Choi (November 7, 2011 03:01pm ET) Live Science.
  2. Pierre Curie bio
  3. John William Strutt bio
  4. The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914 by Janet Oppenheim (1988) Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052134767X.
  5. Lenard, Philipp (1936). Deutsche Physik in vier Bänden (in German). J.F. Lehmann.
  6. Recollections and reflections by J. J. Thomson (1937). Macmillan.
  7. God's Eugenicist: Alexis Carrel And the Sociobiology of Decline by Andrés Horacio Reggiani (2006) Berghahn Books. ISBN 1845451724.
  8. Charles Richet bio
  9. Albert Einstein Endorsed a Popular Psychic in 1932. This Is the Controversy that Ensued (March 8, 1932) The New Republic.
  10. The reputation of another famous scientist is dashed to the ground Pharyngula (2014/09/08) Free Though Blogs.
  11. My View of the World Erwin Schrödinger chapter iv. What Is life? the physical aspect of the living cell & Mind and matter — By Erwin Schrödinger
  12. The Observer (11 January 1931)
  13. Psychic Research (1931), Vol. 25, p. 91
  14. Psychoanalysis and the Paranormal: Lands of Darkness by Nick Totton (2003). Karnac Books. ISBN 1855759853. p. 122.
  15. Chain, 1971, “Social Responsibility and the Scientist in Modern Western Society,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Spring 1971, Vol. 14, No. 3, p. 368
  16. Wolfgang Pauli Wikiquote
  17. See the Wikipedia article on Pauli effect.
  18. Creativity and intuition : a physicist looks at East and West / by Hideki Yukawa ; translated by John Bester (1973)
  19. The Dark Side of Linus Pauling's Legacy by Stephen Barrett (revised on September 14, 2014) Quackwatch.
  20. Bill Shockley bio
  21. Fury at DNA Pioneer's Theory: Africans are Less Intelligent than Westerners, The Independent
  22. [1], where Watson clarifies he speaks as "people who have to deal with black employees".
  23. Eccles, John (1973). "6 'Brain, Speech, and Consciousness'". The Understanding of the Brain. McGraw-Hill Book Company. p. p. 189. ISBN 0-07-018863-7.
  24. Cold Fusion—Does It Have a Future? by Julian Schwinger (December 7, 1991) Talk given in Japan.
  25. Alfred Kastler, Cette étrange matière by J. Rosmorduc (1977) Revue d'histoire des sciences Année. Vol. 30, Num. 1 pp. 84-87.
  26. Hannes Alfvén, Cosmology—Myth or Science? J. Astrophysics and Astronomy, vol. 5, pp. 79-98, (1984).
  27. Ivar Giaevar, DeSmog Blog
  28. Pioneer of the Paranormal
  29. [2]
  30. John Benneth, Brian Josephson and an Absurd Talk at Cambridge by Andy Lewis (October 9, 2010) Quackometer.
  31. Brian Josephson's home page University of Cambridge
  32. Outside the Box or Around the Bend? Photon in the Darkness
  33. Beyond Kary Mullis: The Alien Conspiracy Theory of AIDS, Denying AIDS
  34. Kary Mullis — Personal ViewsWikipedia's W.svg, Wikipedia
  35. Walter Gilbert Wikiquote
  36. Creation Scientists Applaud Pa Judge's Ruling Against 'Intelligent Design' — Dressing Up Id Is No Substitute For Real Science Montana News Association (Apr 14, 2015, archived copy).
  37. Creation Scientists in Three-Way Debate with Intelligent Design, Evolution The Christian Post (Dec 22, 2005).
  38. Nobel Prize Winner Didn't Disclose Herbalife Contract (Update1) by David Evans (December 8, 2004 11:38 EST) Bloomberg (archived from 27 Nov 2013 20:01:52 UTC).
  39. Superdeterminism: the ultimate conspiracy theory (October 05, 2013) The Reference Frame
  40. ’t Hooft on Cellular Automata and String Theory by woit (August 13, 2012) Not Even Wrong.
  41. A. Zeilinger, Dance of the Photons, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010, p. 266.
  42. Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier hits a new low: Age of Autism rallies to defend him by Orac (June 27, 2012) ScienceBlogs.
  43. Dr. Luc Montagnier, HIV and AIDS truth exposed, Un-cuted[sic footage from "House of Numbers"] (Oct 15, 2012) YouTube.
  44. The Nobel disease meets DNA teleportation and homeopathy by Orac (January 14, 2011) ScienceBlogs.