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Nobel Prize Reversal

  1. Feb 24, 2016 #1
    Please mention the cases where the basis for the Nobel Prize was incorrect.. if so, were they reversed?

    For example. Born was awarded the Nobel Prize for his probability interpretation.. that amplitude square is the probability of the say electron appearing there. But a person Neumaier claimed they were really the say charge density. In his QFT version.. the amplitude square is composed of the QFT component of the electron. In case he was proven right. Would Born Nobel Prize be reversed and given to Neumaier instead? This is just example. I'd like to know other examples of Nobel Prize reversal not just in physics but also in say chemistry, biology or non-sciences. Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 24, 2016 #2
    The Nobel committee refuses to rescind awarded Nobel prizes. See: inventor of the lobotomy.
  4. Feb 24, 2016 #3

    You can only hope to be the "rightest" guy of your time.
  5. Feb 24, 2016 #4


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    That's it. You can't judge the knowledge of decades ago (or years ago!) by the standards of what is known now. If that were the case, almost every paper ever published would have to be retracted, let alone Nobel Prizes!
  6. Feb 24, 2016 #5
    I think there is some validity in this attitude. It's kind of like an "Erratum" in publishing. It would be very easy for online journals to simply electronically correct typos and other screwups after the fact--after an issue of the journal was officially published online, but I think this is not good and may even be dangerous. Once something is published, it should be set in stone and you can point out mistakes in later issues.

    I think the same should probably hold for prizes. If you issue a prize, and realize later you messed up, too bad. It's fine to put an asterix next to that personas name in the record books, etc., but rescinding prizes is embarrassing for everyone and sets a bad precedent. There are certain notable cases, though, that strain this definition. For instance, the Cosby medal of freedom case and the Steve Harvey Miss Universe incident. In the first there was no rescision, in the second there was. What are your thoughts?


    As far as Egas Moniz and the 1949 Nobel prize for the Lobotomy, knowing what I know about the brain I think this was a major screwup. However, as e.bar.goum pointed out, hindsight is 20-20 and we can't busy ourselves with wasting time trying to right past wrongs. As the guy from No country for old men said, "All the time you spend trying to get back what's been took from you, more's going out the door." Ain't that the truth!

    Fast forward to 1:35

    As far as the lobotomy thing is concerned, it's important to remember that Walter Freeman, the popular public "face" or posterboy for the lobotomy through the 40's and beyond never acquiesced that the lobotomy was anything but a great thing until the day he died. He would travel the US in a van he called his "lobotomobile" and advance the technique decades after Moniz won the prize. Although it was a barbaric technique, it really was the only medical solution for a number of psychiatric problems until the advent of neurotransmitter agonists and antagonists which didn't arrive until much later. A good book that documents this history is Great and desperate cures by Elliot Valenstein:


    As an interesting postscript, it should be noted that lobotomies are still performed with some frequency worldwide. The main difference between the modern lobotomy and the classic lobotomy is that the modern one focuses on selectively severing "orbito-frontal" connections, whereas the classic lobotomy or "leucotomy" severed the lateral-frontal connections to the lateral thalamus, which is the main center for cognitive and "self" related processes in the human brain.
  7. Feb 25, 2016 #6
    In these days of hypertext you can eat your cake and have it too. I would correct the text and have a visible hyperlink to the error.

    Erratum are very ineffective and strictly stone age, as far as I'm concerned. Being able to correct errors in texts is a big advantage.

    In general I think that hypertext is greatly underutilized. It's a major advance of which little advantage has been taken.
  8. Feb 25, 2016 #7
    I'd have to see an example of this to make a better determination. Can you direct me to a link where an article has been annotated in this manner? I guess I'm kind of old school or "stone age" in my position on the subject because I (generally) abhor the idea of changing the historical record in any way, shape or form. Of course, these days in the digital age we may need to make some adjustments. However, I'm on the extreme conservative side when it comes to this.

    This topic does bring up some interesting issues in publication ethics, however. Take the case of Hendrik Schon, who faked a number of studies that a number of reputable journals published. Should instances of published fraud be eradicated from the official scientific record? I think there is an argument for this, but how should it be handled? The publisher who messed up in the peer review screening should not be able to just sweep that mistake under the electronic publishing rug. At the same time, we don't really want fraudulent papers sitting around in an otherwise well peer-reviewed issue of a publication. The mess up itself is a part of the historical record, so you can't just erase it. I think a good compromise might be to remove the article from the electronic version of the publication but also remove the page numbers from the issue, and put in an annotation to a separate "Erratum" webpage that actually displays the contested article as well as a discussion of the evidence that led to it's eradication. Just an idea.

    Contrary to that, I don't think erratums should be corrected in text in electronic publications. I think the initial goof should stand in the article, but with an annotation in the text, again, to refer the reader to the corrected form on the same or separate webpage and the date at which the correction was approved. I think this is a good compromise. It's a lot better than not having any indication at all in the actual paper-bound version that there was a mistake in a given article, which is how it's been for ages.
  9. Feb 25, 2016 #8


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  10. Feb 25, 2016 #9
    Since I brought up Hendrik Schon, I did a little deeper digging and found out that, not only was he fired from Bell labs, he also had his Ph.D. revoked from the University of Konstanz "Although a university investigation turned up no evidence that Schön had committed misconduct while at the university."

    I'd like to hear how the PF community stands on this issue. I think this is still on topic of the OP's question as it deal with the revocation of honors and titles. My initial reaction is that if Schon earned his Ph.D. in good faith and they can find no misconduct, then they shouldn't be able to revoke his Ph.D. just because he became an SOB later on. Maybe he fell and hit his head or something, but the degree is supposed to be for work done up until a certain moment in time. The revocation is clearly a punitive measure and perhaps designed to make sure he never works in science again. I can understand this sentiment, but is it really necessary or appropriate to revoke his Ph.D.? Your comments...


    Btw, since the above article was published in 2011, the appeals courts have since upheld this revocation, so now it seems to be a done deal.

    "Schön appealed the ruling, but on October 28, 2009 it was upheld by the University.[10] In response, Schön sued the University, and appeared in court to testify on September 23, 2010. The court overturned the University's decision on September 27, 2010. However, in November 2010 the University moved to appeal the court's ruling.[11] The state court ruled in September 2011 that the university was correct in revoking his doctorate.[12] The Federal Administrative Court upheld the state court's decision on 31 July 2013,[13] and the Federal Constitutional Court confirmed it on September 3, 2014."

  11. Feb 25, 2016 #10
    It isn't done. I say it should be. Computer programmers do this all the time with "source code control systems." The technology already exists.

    A note should appear at the beginning of such articles declaring them fraudulent.

    That would be certainly be an improvement. I think the great majority of readers are more interested in the correct text, so I would give that priority. Errors may be historical interest so there is value in preserving them in secondary media.

    I have had articles published online. I corrected them after publication. My typos certainly are not of historical interest.
  12. Feb 25, 2016 #11


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    Wikipedia basically does what you want, @Hornbein, doesn't it? You can get a list of edits and view older versions if you want. Obviously you'd limit allowed editors and have a process for edits for a journal, but the basic tech is Wikipedia, I think.
  13. Feb 25, 2016 #12
    Yes. You could have the changed sections indicated in some way: typeface, color, whatever. If some sentence has been edited ten times then I might not want to put much weight on that.
  14. Feb 25, 2016 #13


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    The Schon case is a completely DIFFERENT circumstance. That is a case of FRAUD.

    There is nothing that says that everything that has been published and accepted is the FINAL word. The Nobel prize in physics is given to discoveries made that were deemed significant enough to be recognized at that level. Yet, I have routinely violated Einstein's photoelectric effect model, and you don't hear me yelling to revoke his Nobel prize and give it to me, do you?

    If the work was done ethically and honestly, then it is what it is. Whether it get surpassed by something else does NOT diminish its importance at the time, and in fact, it may be an impetus into other things or other areas. Just because that giant you are standing on was not so "giant" after all does not detract from the fact that you ARE standing on his or her shoulder to be able to see beyond what he/she could see and gain a clearer perspective on things he/she could not. This is not fraud. This is call a progression of knowledge!

  15. Feb 25, 2016 #14
    You're saying that there is no evidence he committed fraud to get his Ph.D., so why revoke his Ph.D. due to fraud he committed later in his career. I'll stipulate for the sake of argument that their logic in punishing him this way is not completely airtight. What, in your estimation, would the punishment be whose logic actually is completely airtight?
  16. Feb 25, 2016 #15
    I'm not sure what you mean by this statement. You need to explain what "airtight" means in this instance. The whole ambiguity in the dilemma is that nothing is airtight. For the sake of argument, let's just assume that he earned his Ph.D. in good faith and committed no fraud, but years later on a whim just decided to be a crook and start submitting fraudulent papers.
  17. Feb 25, 2016 #16
    Im really surprised nobody said Obama. What did he do again?
  18. Feb 25, 2016 #17
    In this instance it means logical in your, DiracPool's, mind. I'm asking for you to conceive of that punishment for him that you, yourself, would find no logical fault with.
  19. Feb 25, 2016 #18
    Well, in this instance I disagree with the University and the appeals courts. I think that, if they can't find any evidence of fraud in his earning his Ph.D., then they should not strip him of that degree. His scandal is going to follow him wherever he goes and into whatever job he applies for. So, if his potential employer is willing to hire him knowing full well of the history of the scandal, I don't think that the fact of whether or not he has a Ph.D. is going to make much of a difference.

    What do you think?
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
  20. Feb 25, 2016 #19
    That was a farce. Why did the Nobel committee go to such lengths to destroy its own credibility?

    But it was nothing compared with the Kissinger Peace Prize. So maybe there was no credibility to lose.

    Prizes should not be revoked because the committee made an absurd decision. It's not the recipient's fault.
  21. Feb 25, 2016 #20
    There was no logical case for revoking his PhD. The University was taking revenge for damage to their prestige. It was political.

    Should a PhD be revoked if the holder suffers brain damage and no longer has the knowledge?
  22. Feb 25, 2016 #21
    I don't have any objection to their revoking his Ph.D. It's obviously a symbolic gesture only; he retains the knowledge that earned him the degree, but it has the psychological effect of shunning, of saying to him, "You are no longer recognized as a scientist." I think people who commit fraud in science merit something like that.
  23. Feb 26, 2016 #22


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    Neumaier? You probably mean John von Neumann? Born was not wrong. His interpretation is completely correct in nonrelativistic Quantum mechanics. The important point was the realization that this is a probabilistic statement. The extension to the relativistic realm was certainly important, but maybe not worth a nobel prize.
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