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Just How Biased Are the Nobels?

  1. Oct 6, 2008 #1

    GCT

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    It is managed by the Swedish - originally the Germans - a Nobel is deemed as the ultimate honor in science and medicine.

    Are there any of you that believe that the Nobel prize is partisan simply due to the fact that the people who hand out the prize are of a single nationality?

    Nicolas Tesla was disregarded in favor of a very annoying man by the name of Marconi simply because he had connections.

    How did it come about that the Nobel prize came to be such a prestigious award even in the United States , how is it that someone here who is awarded the Nobel prize by a bunch of outsiders becomes endowed with a lifetime guarantee of being in the scientific elite?

    EDIT - Swedish not Swiss
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2008
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  3. Oct 6, 2008 #2

    russ_watters

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    It was my understanding that the scientific prizes were generally pretty well regarded (certainly there is bias, but not too bad). It's just the non-scientific ones that are largely (mostly?) political/popularity based.
     
  4. Oct 6, 2008 #3

    cristo

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    I was under the impression that the Nobel prize was administered by Sweden??
     
  5. Oct 6, 2008 #4

    f95toli

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    Managed by the Swiss?

    The prizes are -and always have been- awarded by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, the exceptions are the Peace Prize which is awarded by the Norwegian parliament and the prize for Economy (which isn't really a "real" prize since it wasn't included in the will) which is awarded by the Swedish central bank.

    The academy is completely independent -i.e. the Swedish government/parliament etc have no influence whatsoever -and the Nobel Foundation is private (set up using the money from Alfred Nobels estate).

    The main reason why it is such a prestigious prize is because the first few prizes were awarded for discoveries that later turned out to be VERY important (e.g. Röntgen), i.e. the academy was (and is) simply doing a good job and have been able to identify important discoveries. It was also one of the first truly international prizes in science.
     
  6. Oct 6, 2008 #5

    GCT

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    The board that administrates the prize ... doesn't it consist of a singular nationality , besides the peace prize? I admit that there hasn't been any scandals with the exception of the Tesla-Marconi case - none that I know of - however I sense that they could be influenced by a number of factors since the representation is almost exclusively Swedish.

    America is under the Nobel spell , I truly wonder how this came about. My professor once lectured about a certain man who was awarded the prize in his 20s and was paid handsomely by MIT to simply have an office in the campus with his name on it.
     
  7. Oct 6, 2008 #6

    George Jones

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    I don't know about scandal, but I don't see how the record of such prestigious prizes can be devoid of controversy. See, for example the cases of Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin, and Jocelyn Bell (Burnell).
     
  8. Oct 6, 2008 #7

    GCT

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    Franklin ... forgot about her. What was the name of that guy that romaticized her for the purpose of taking the Nobel away from her - if my memory serves me correctly?
     
  9. Oct 6, 2008 #8

    mgb_phys

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    Franklin did rather disqualify herself by dying.

    Jocelyn Bell isn't that cut and dried. Hewish and Ryle got the prize for radio astronomy in general and aperture synthesis particularly. Not the discovery of pulsars. That isn't to say Bell wasn't treated badly by Cambridge at the time but it isn't as blatant as Meitner.

    Lise Meitner is much harder to dismiss given that she was workling at the stockholm insitute at the time of Hahns's prize. Even though her name was left off the original paper she was Jewish and trying to keep a low profile.
     
  10. Oct 6, 2008 #9
    Marconi deserved his nobel prize for his contribution to the wireless telegraph.

    From Wikipedia:
    It seems the controversy was not between Marconi and Tesla, but between Tesla and Edison...
     
  11. Oct 6, 2008 #10

    f95toli

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    No, about one third of the member of the academy are foreigners (although some of those are professors at Swedish Universities and have lived in Sweden for a long time).

    Here is a list of the members in the physics class
    http://www.kva.se/KVA_Root/eng/contact/classes/physics.asp

    Btw, Lisa Meitner did eventually become a member of the academy herself.
     
  12. Oct 6, 2008 #11

    GCT

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    My understanding is that the Nobel committee later acknowledged the invention on part of Tesla ... Marconi was the ******* who followed him around to copy his invention and apply it to advance his company which gave him great popularity by the way ; he pulled a few strings based on his wealthier status and connections to obtain the Nobel prize for furthering his company.
     
  13. Oct 6, 2008 #12

    Moonbear

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    Or this year's prize in Physiology & Medicine. Actually, the controversy helps reassure that the well-connected egomaniacs aren't being automatically rewarded for their own self-promotion. (For those not following, this year's prize was split between the discoverers of the AIDS virus and the papilloma virus. An American scientist was claiming to be the discoverer of the AIDS virus, but in the end, the French team who really discovered it and sent the sample to the American scientist prevailed as the original discovers.)

    There will always be some bias, basically because someone is subjectively determining what qualifies as a groundbreaking enough discovery of high enough significance to earn the prize. But, I don't think that has anything to do with their country of origin.
     
  14. Oct 6, 2008 #13

    GCT

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    Wow... did not know that.
     
  15. Oct 6, 2008 #14
    I wonder if I can get a Nobel if I make a movie about global cooling?
     
  16. Oct 6, 2008 #15

    George Jones

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    Because there is a maximum of three winners per prize, Freeman Dyson didn't win a Nobel. Leonard Susskind writes "In 1965 Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomanaga received the Nobel Prize for their work. But the modern way of thinking about Quantum Field Theory owes as much to Dyson as to the others." Dyson, so smart that didn't have to get a Ph.D., has been at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study for mant decades.
     
  17. Oct 6, 2008 #16
    I think of the Nobel Prize (at least in physics) as a total crapshoot more than anything.

    A lot of these ideas are simply stumbled upon, and whether or not you are even able to win a Nobel Prize depends on what your research is on. Someone doing research on sand, although very important for people who live in sandy earthquake zones, is not likely to ever get the prize.

    Someone who is doing something with a direct application is a lot more likely to figure out something life-changing.

    That's not to say that people get the Nobel Prize by pure luck. Everybody who's won a Nobel Prize has worked very hard. But, if you work hard you just have a better shot of being lucky than someone who doesn't work hard, is all. At the end of the day you can't compensate for luck by working even harder, or being smarter.

    Honestly, the people who discovered the CMB radiation? They flat out fell onto it. And it's not like anybody else had a better shot at it, either. They were at the right place at the right time.
     
  18. Oct 7, 2008 #17

    George Jones

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    While it is true that Penzias and Wilson "flat out fell onto" the cosmic microwave background radiation, if they hadn't, Robert Dicke and his team were about to start actively looking for the CMB produced by the Big Bang. In my opinion, finding the Big Bang CMB was one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time, and definitely deserving of a Nobel prize.

    From

    http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/bb_tests_cmb.html,

    "The existence of the CMB radiation was first predicted by George Gamow in 1948, and by Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman in 1950. It was first observed inadvertently in 1965 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. The radiation was acting as a source of excess noise in a radio receiver they were building. Coincidentally, researchers at nearby Princeton University, led by Robert Dicke and including Dave Wilkinson of the WMAP science team, were devising an experiment to find the CMB. When they heard about the Bell Labs result they immediately realized that the CMB had been found. The result was a pair of papers in the Physical Review: one by Penzias and Wilson detailing the observations, and one by Dicke, Peebles, Roll, and Wilkinson giving the cosmological interpretation. Penzias and Wilson shared the 1978 Nobel prize in physics for their discovery."
     
  19. Oct 7, 2008 #18

    vanesch

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    The Nobel isn't to indicate who's the best, or the smartest, or whatever. It is about who did something and they have criteria for what thing is considered more "Nobelish" than other things. This is not about fairness, it is about who succeeded in doing something, finding something out. Whether or not his/her possibilities of doing that were "fairly attributed according to some or other a priori fairness key", such as being the smartest, or being in the right place at the right time, doesn't matter at all. If you are a chess player, you won't win a soccer reward.
     
  20. Oct 7, 2008 #19
    Then they should be interpreted as such, and people who win Nobel Prizes shouldn't automatically be heralded as somehow better than anybody else like they currently are.
     
  21. Oct 7, 2008 #20

    Borek

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    Same can be said about 99% of the science.
     
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