Nobel Prize controversies

Nobel Prize controversies
Nobel Prize
Awarded for Outstanding contributions in physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and physiology or medicine.
The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, identified with the Nobel Prize, is awarded for outstanding contributions in Economics.
Presented by Swedish Academy
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Karolinska Institutet
Norwegian Nobel Committee
Country Sweden / Norway
First awarded 1901
Official website

Subsequent to his death in 1896, the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Prizes. Annual prizes are awarded for service to humanity in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. Similarly, the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is awarded along with the Nobel Prizes. Since the first award in 1901, the prizes have engendered criticism[1] and controversy.[2]

Nobel Prizes are not awarded in many scientific and cultural fields, most controversially, in mathematics.[3] An early theory that jealousy led Nobel to omit a prize to mathematician Gösta Mittag-Leffler[4][5] was refuted because of timing inaccuracies. Another possibility is that Nobel did not consider mathematics as a "practical" enough discipline.[6] Both the Fields Medal and the Abel Prize have been described as the "Nobel Prize of mathematics".[7][8]

Nobel sought to reward "those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind". One prize, he stated, should be given "to the person who shall have made the most important 'discovery' or 'invention' within the field of physics". Awards committees have historically rewarded discoveries over inventions: 77% of Nobel Prizes in physics have been given to discoveries, compared with only 23% to inventions.[9][10] In addition, the scientific prizes typically reward contributions over an entire career rather than a single year.

The most notorious controversies have been over prizes for Literature,[11][12][13][14] Peace[15] and Economics[16][17] Beyond disputes over which contributor's work is more worthy, critics have most often discerned political bias and Eurocentrism in the result.[18][19][20][21] The interpretation of Nobel's original words concerning the Literature prize have been repeatedly revised.


The 2008 prize was awarded to Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien for their work on green fluorescent protein or GFP. Douglas Prasher actually first cloned the gene for GFP and suggested its use as a biological tracer. Martin Chalfie stated, "(Douglas Prasher's) work was critical and essential for the work we did in our lab. They could've easily given the prize to Douglas and the other two and left me out." Dr. Prasher's accomplishments were not recognized and he lost his job. When the Nobel was awarded in 2008, Dr. Prasher was working as a courtesy shuttle bus driver in Huntsville Alabama.[22]

The 2000 prize "for the Discovery and Development of Conductive polymers"[23] to Alan J. Heeger, Alan MacDiarmid, and Hideki Shirakawa recognized the 1977 discovery of passive high-conductivity in oxidized iodine-doped polyacetylene black and related materials, as well as determining conduction mechanisms and developing devices, especially batteries. The citation alleges that this work led to present-day "active" devices, where a voltage or current controls electron flow. However, three years before the awarded discovery, an active organic polymer electronic device was reported in the journal Science[24][25]. Further, the "ON" state of this device showed almost metallic conductivity. This device is now on the "Smithsonian chips" list of key discoveries in semiconductor technology [2]. Moreover, 14 years earlier, Weiss and coworkers in Australia had reported equivalent high electrical conductivity in an almost identical compound—oxidized, iodine-doped polypyrrole black.[26][27][28] Eventually, the Australian group achieved resistances as low as 0.03 ohm/cm.[29][30] This is roughly equivalent to present-day efforts. Slightly later, DeSurville and coworkers reported high conductivity in a polyaniline.[27][28][31] This award also ignored the 1955 discovery of highly conductive organic charge transfer complexes. Some of these are even superconductive. The Nobel Prize information page omits these earlier discoveries and primarily emphasizes the importance of the Nobel laureates in launching the field.[32]

The 1993 prize credited winner Kary Mullis with the development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, a central technique in molecular biology which allows for the amplification of specified DNA sequences. However, others disputed that he 'invented' the technique:[citation needed] claiming that Norwegian scientist Kjell Kleppe, together with 1968 Nobel Prize laureate H. Gobind Khorana, had an earlier and better claim to it in 1969.[33] His co-workers at that time also denied that Mullis was solely responsible for the idea of using Taq polymerase in the PCR process.[citation needed] In addition, a 1996 history of the PCR method[34] raised the issue of whether or not Mullis "invented" PCR or "merely" came up with the concept of it. However, other scientists have said that "the full potential [of PCR] was not realized" until Mullis' work in 1983.[35]

The 1961 prize for the carbon assimilation in plants awarded to Melvin Calvin is controversial because the fundamental contributions of Andrew Benson were completely ignored, as were contributions from James Bassham. While originally named the Calvin cycle, many biologists and botanists now refer to the Calvin-Benson, Benson-Calvin, or Calvin-Benson-Bassham (CBB) cycle. Three decades after winning the Nobel, Calvin published an autobiography titled "Following the trail of light" about his scientific journey which doesn't mention Benson once.

Fritz Haber's 1918 prize for developing an industrial process of producing ammonia was controversial because of his leadership of Germany's World War I chemical warfare program.[citation needed]

Henry Eyring (1901–1981) allegedly failed to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry because of his religion (he was a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).[36]

Dmitri Mendeleyev, who originated the periodic table of the elements, never received a Nobel Prize. His first periodic table was completed in 1869. However, a year earlier, another chemist, Julius Lothar Meyer, had also reported a somewhat similar table. and in 1866 John Alexander Reina Newlands, presented a paper that first proposed a periodic law. However, none of these tables were correct—the 19th century tables arranged the elements in order of increasing atomic weight (or atomic mass). It was left to Henry Moseley to base the periodic table on the atomic number (the number of protons). Mendeleyev died in 1907, six years after the first Nobel Prizes were awarded. He came within one vote of winning the prize in 1906, but died the next year. Some had also pointed out that Mendeleyev's failure to land a Nobel Prize was due to behind-the-scenes machinations of one dissenter on the Nobel Committee who disagreed with his work.[37]


The Prize in Economics was not part of Alfred Nobel's will; rather, it was created in 1969 by the Bank of Sweden. Although governed by the same rules as the other prizes, the Prize in Economics has been criticized by many, including members of the Nobel Family, as being outside Nobel's original intent. As of 2010, faculty of the University of Chicago have garnered nine Prizes—far more than any other university. This has been interpreted by some[who?] as a bias against candidates with alternative or heterodox views.

The 2008 prize went to Paul Krugman "for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity". Krugman was a fierce critic of George W. Bush. The award produced charges of a left-wing bias to the award, with headlines such as "Bush critic wins 2008 Nobel for economics", prompting the prize committee to deny "the committee has ever taken a political stance."[38]

The 2005 prize to Robert Aumann "for having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis", was criticized by European press due to his alleged use of his research of game theory to oppose the dismantling of Israeli settlements from occupied territories.[39]

The 1994 prize to John Forbes Nash and others "for their pioneering analysis of equilibria in the theory of non-cooperative games" caused controversy within the prize's selection committee because of Nash' history of mental illness and alleged anti-Semitism.[40] The controversy resulted in a change to the governing committee: members of the Economics Prize Committee no longer serve without limit but only for three years[41] as well as a redefinition of the Prize for work in social science available to researchers in political science, psychology, and sociology.[41][42]

The 1976 prize was awarded to Milton Friedman "for his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilisation policy". The award caused international protests, mostly by the radical left,[43] stemming primarily from Friedman's brief association with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. During March 1975 Friedman visited Chile and gave lectures on inflation, meeting with Pinochet and other government officials.[44]


The Prize in Literature has a history of controversial awards and notorious snubs. More indisputably major authors have been ignored by the Nobel Committee than have been honored by it, including Marcel Proust, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, Gertrude Stein, August Strindberg, John Updike, Arthur Miller, Yannis Ritsos, and others, often for political or extra-literary reasons.[45] Conversely, many writers whom contemporary and subsequent criticism regard as minor, inconsequential or transitional won the prize.

From 1901 to 1912, the committee's work reflected an interpretation of the "ideal direction" stated in Nobel's will as "a lofty and sound idealism", which caused Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, Émile Zola and Mark Twain to be rejected. Sweden's historic antipathy towards Russia was cited as the reason neither Tolstoy nor Anton Chekhov took the prize. During World War I and its immediate aftermath, the committee adopted a policy of neutrality, favoring writers from non-combatant countries.[46]

The heavy focus on European authors, and Swedes in particular, has been the subject of mounting criticism, even from major Swedish newspapers.[47] An absolute majority of the laureates have been European. Swedes received more prizes than all of Asia. In 2008, Horace Engdahl, then the permanent secretary of the Academy, declared that "Europe still is the center of the literary world" and that "the US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature."[48] In 2009, Engdahl's replacement, Peter Englund, rejected this sentiment ("In most language areas ... there are authors that really deserve and could get the Nobel Prize and that goes for the United States and the Americas, as well,") and acknowledged the Eurocentric nature of the award, saying that, "I think that is a problem. We tend to relate more easily to literature written in Europe and in the European tradition."[49]

Orhan Pamuk

The 2009 prize was awarded to Herta Müller also generated some criticism. According to The Washington Post many US literary critics and professors had never heard of Müller before.[50] This reignited criticism that Nobel Prizes are too Eurocentric.[51][52]

The 2005 prize went to Harold Pinter "who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms".. The award was delayed for some days, apparently due to Ahnlund's resignation. In turn, this led to renewed speculations about a "political element" existing in the Swedish Academy's awarding of the Prize.[53] Although Pinter was unable to give his controversial Nobel Lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics", in person, due to ill health, he delivered it from a television studio on video projected on three large screens and it was simultaneously transmitted on Britain's Channel Four, on the evening of 7 December 2005. The 46-minute television transmission was introduced by friend and fellow playwright David Hare. Subsequently, the full text and streaming video formats were posted for the public on the Nobel Prize and Swedish Academy official website.[54] The issue of "political stance" was also raised in response to Orhan Pamuk and Doris Lessing, prizewinners in 2006 and 2007, respectively.[55]

The 2004 prize was awarded to Elfriede Jelinek . A member of the Swedish Academy, Knut Ahnlund, who had not played an active role in the Academy since 1996, resigned, alleging that selecting Jelinek had caused "irreparable damage" to the reputation of the award.[56][57]

The 1997 prize went to Italian performance artist Dario Fo and was initially considered "rather lightweight" by some critics, as he was seen primarily as a performer and had previously been censured by the Roman Catholic Church.[58] Salman Rushdie and Arthur Miller had been strongly favored to receive the Prize, but a committee member was later quoted as saying that they would have been "too predictable, too popular."[59]

The 1974 prize was denied to Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, and Saul Bellow in favor of a joint award for Swedish authors Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson—both Nobel judges—and unknown outside their home country. Bellow won in 1976; neither Greene nor Nabokov took home the prize.[60]

The 1970 prize was awarded to Soviet dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who did not attend the ceremony in Stockholm for fear that the Soviet Union would prevent his return (his works there circulated in Samizdat-published, clandestine form). After the Swedish government refused to hold the public award ceremony and lecture at its Moscow embassy, Solzhenitsyn refused the award altogether, commenting that the conditions set by the Swedes (who preferred a private ceremony) were "an insult to the Nobel Prize itself." Solzhenitsyn later accepted the award on 10 December 1974, after the Soviet Union banished him.[61]

Czech writer Karel Čapek's "War With the Newts" was considered too offensive to the German government, and he declined to suggest a non-controversial publication that could be cited in its stead ("Thank you for the good will, but I have already written my doctoral dissertation").[62] He was thus denied a Nobel Prize.

French novelist and intellectual André Malraux was considered for the Literature prize in the 1950s, according to Swedish Academy archives studied by newspaper Le Monde on their opening in 2008. Malraux was competing with Albert Camus, but was rejected several times, especially in 1954 and 1955, "so long as he does not come back to novel", while Camus won the prize in 1957.[63]

W. H. Auden's missing prize was attributed to errors in his translation of 1961 Peace Prize winner Dag Hammarskjöld's Vägmärken (Markings)[64] and to statements that Auden made during a Scandinavian lecture tour suggesting that Hammarskjöld was, like Auden, homosexual.[65]

Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was nominated several times but lost, as Edwin Williamson, Borges's biographer, states, most likely because of his support of Argentine and Chilean right-wing military dictators, including Pinochet, which, according to Tóibín's review of Williamson's Borges: A Life, had complex social and personal contexts.[66] Borges' failure to win the Nobel Prize contrasts with the awards to writers who openly supported left-wing dictatorships, including Joseph Stalin, in the case of Jean Paul Sartre and Pablo Neruda.[67][68]

The academy's refusal to express support for Salman Rushdie in 1989, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwā on his life drew criticism, leading two members of the Academy to resign.[69][70]


Nobel Peace Prize controversies often reach beyond the academic community that surrounds them. Awards have been called politically motivated, premature, or guided by a faulty definition of what constitutes work for peace.[71]

M K Gandhi – "a role model for the generations to come" (Albert Einstein on Gandhi)

Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize, although he was nominated five times[72] between 1937 and 1948. A decades-later Nobel Committee publicly declared its regret for the omission. Geir Lundestad, Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2006 said, "The greatest omission in our 106 year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question".[73] The Nobel Committee of the time may have tacitly acknowledged its error, however, when in 1948 (the year of his death), it made no award, stating "there was no suitable living candidate". A later committee awarded the prize posthumously to Scandinavian Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961, who died after being nominated.[74]

The 2010 prize went to Liu Xiaobo "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China". Liu was imprisoned in his country at the time of the award and neither he nor his family were allowed to attend the ceremony. The prize was viewed negatively in China, with some in the government arguing that Liu did not promote "international friendship, disarmament, and peace meetings", the stated goal of the Nobel Peace Prize.[75] Further, some suggest that Liu Xiabo received funding from NED, which some claim is supported by the CIA,[76][77][78] which they claim brings his status, and in fact the Nobel Peace Prize, into question. China's human rights groups also criticized Liu's selection due to his low profile and obscurity within China and among Chinese youth. In the west, the selection of Liu was criticized due to his long support of American invasions of other nations, particularly in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq. Liu's selection was also criticized due to his support of the George W Bush administrations in the United States and the Ariel Sharon government in Israel and his ideological alignment with the neoconservative movement.[79][80] A rival award was created by the People's Republic of China—the Confucius Peace Prize.

The 2009 prize was awarded to Barack Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". The award, given in the first year of Obama's presidency, received criticism that it was undeserved, premature and politically motivated. Obama himself said that he felt "surprised" by the win and did not consider himself worthy of the award, but nonetheless accepted it.[81][82][83][84][85] Obama's peace prize was called a "stunning surprise" by The New York Times.[86] Much of the surprise arose from the fact that nominations for the award had been due by 1 February 2009, only 12 days after Obama took office.[87] In an October 2011 interview. Thorbjørn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, defended the award on narrow grounds:[88]

[President Obama] "paved the way for new negotiations with the Russian Federation about nuclear arms. If you look at the will of Alfred Nobel that goes directly to what he said that the prize should go to the person that has worked for—he called it reduction of standing armies but in today's terms it means arm control and disarmament."

The 2007 prize went to Al Gore and the IPCC, "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change". The award received criticism on the grounds of political motivation and because the winners' work was not directly related to ending conflict.[89] Al Gore's victory over prize candidate Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker known as the "female Oskar Schindler" for her efforts to save Jewish children during the Holocaust,[90] attracted criticism from the humanitarian agency International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW).[91]

The 2004 prize went to Wangari Maathai "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace". She was reported by the Kenyan newspaper Standard and Radio Free Europe to have stated that HIV/AIDS was originally developed by Western scientists in order to depopulate Africa. She later denied these claims, although the Standard stood by its reporting.[92] Additionally, in a Time magazine interview, she hinted at its non-natural origin, saying that someone knows where it came from and that it "...did not come from monkeys."[93]

The 2002 prize was awarded to Jimmy Carter for the "decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." The announcement of the award came shortly after the US House and Senate authorized President George W. Bush to use military force against Iraq in order to enforce UN Security Council resolutions requiring that Baghdad give up weapons of mass destruction. Asked if the selection of the former president was a criticism of Bush, Gunnar Berge, head of the Nobel Prize committee, said: "With the position Carter has taken on this, it can and must also be seen as criticism of the line the current US administration has taken on Iraq." Carter declined to comment on the remark in interviews, saying that he preferred to focus on the work of the Carter Center.[94]

The 1994 prize went to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin "to honour a political act which called for great courage on both sides, and which has opened up opportunities for a new development towards fraternity in the Middle East.". Arafat's critics have referred to him as an "unrepentant terrorist with a long legacy of promoting violence".[95] Kåre Kristiansen, a Norwegian member of the Nobel Committee, resigned in protest at Arafat's award, calling him a "terrorist". Supporters of Arafat claimed fairness, citing Nelson Mandela, who had never renounced political violence, and had been a founder member of Umkhonto we Sizwe. On the other hand, Edward Said was critical of Peres and Rabin and the entire Oslo Accords.[96]

The 1992 prize was awarded to Rigoberta Menchú for "her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples". The prize-winner's memoirs, which had brought her to fame, turned out to be partly fictitious.[97]

The 1989 prize was awarded to the 14th Dalai Lama. This was not well-accepted by the Chinese government, which cited his separatist tendencies. Additionally, the Nobel Prize Committee cited their intention to put pressure on China.[citation needed]

The 1978 prize went to Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt during the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel, and Menachem Begin "for the Camp David Agreement, which brought about a negotiated peace between Egypt and Israel". Both had fought against British rule of their respective countries, and Begin was involved in a failed plot to assassinate German chancellor Konrad Adenauer.[98]

The 1973 prize went to North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho and United States Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger "for the 1973 Paris Peace Accords intended to bring about a cease-fire in the Vietnam War and a withdrawal of the American forces". Tho later declined the prize. However, North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam in April 1975 and reunified the country. Kissinger's history included the secret 1969–1975 campaign of bombing against infiltrating North Vietnamese Army troops in Cambodia, the alleged U.S. involvement in Operation Condor—a mid-1970s campaign of kidnapping and murder coordinated among the intelligence and security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile (see details), Paraguay, and Uruguay—as well as the death of French nationals under the Chilean junta. He also supported the Turkish Intervention in Cyprus resulting in the de facto partition of the island.[citation needed] According to Irwin Abrams, this prize was the most controversial to date. Two Norwegian Nobel Committee members resigned in protest.[99][100] When the award was announced, hostilities were continuing.[99][100][101]

The 1945 prize was awarded to Cordell Hull as "Former Secretary of State; Prominent participant in the originating of the UN". Hull was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Secretary of State during the SS St. Louis Crisis. The St. Louis sailed from Hamburg in the summer of 1939 carrying over 950 Jewish refugees, seeking asylum from Nazi persecution. Initially, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt showed some willingness to take in some of those on board, but Hull and Southern Democrats voiced vehement opposition, and some of them threatened to withhold their support of Roosevelt in the 1940 election. On 4 June 1939 Roosevelt denied entry to the ship, which was waiting in the Caribbean Sea between Florida and Cuba. The passengers began negotiations with the Cuban government, but those broke down at the last minute. Forced to return to Europe, over a quarter of its passengers subsequently died in the Holocaust.[102][103][104]


Tesla greatly influenced life in the 20th and 21st century

The progress in the search for the Higgs boson led to a dispute on who should get credit for the discovery and the resulting Physics Prize.[105][106] Six people, across three different teams, were credited with the most significant contributions to this work: Robert Brout and François Englert of the Université Libre de Bruxelles; Peter Higgs of University of Edinburgh; and G. S. Guralnik at Brown University, C. R. Hagen of the University of Rochester, and Tom Kibble at Imperial College London. Three papers written in 1964 explained what is now known as the "Englert-Brout-Higgs-Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble mechanism" (or Higgs mechanism and Higgs boson for short). The mechanism is the key element of the electroweak theory that forms part of the Standard model of particle physics. The papers that introduce this mechanism were published in Physical Review Letters in 1964 and were each recognized as milestones by PRL’s 50th anniversary celebration.[107] All six won The American Physical Society's J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics for "elucidation of the properties of spontaneous symmetry breaking in four-dimensional relativistic gauge theory and of the mechanism for the consistent generation of vector boson masses"[108]

The 2009 prize was awarded to Willard Boyle and George E. Smith for developing the CCD. However, Eugene I. Gordon and Michael Francis Tompsett claimed that it should have been theirs for figuring out that the technology could be used for imaging.[109]

Half of the 2008 prize was awarded to Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa for their 1972 work on quark mixing. This postulated the existence of three additional quarks beyond the three then known to exist and used this postulate to provide a possible mechanism for CP violation, which had been observed 8 years earlier.[110] Their work expanded and reinterpreted research by Nicola Cabibbo, dating to 1963, before the quark model was even introduced. The resulting quark mixing matrix, which described probabilities of different quarks to turn into each other under the action of the weak force, is known as CKM matrix, after Cabibbo, Kobayashi, and Maskawa. Cabibbo arguably merited a share of the award.[111] Possibly, the Committee wanted to recognize Yoichiro Nambu, the other recipient of the 2008 prize, who was already 87 at the time. Since the prize is awarded to at most three people, the committee was forced to choose only two of the CKM researchers.

The 2006 prize was won by John C. Mather and George F. Smoot (leaders of the COsmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite experiment) for "the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR)." However, in July 1983 an experiment[112] launched aboard the Prognoz-9[113] satellite, studied CMBR via a single frequency. In January 1992, Andrei A. Brukhanov presented a seminar at Sternberg Astronomical Institute in Moscow, where he first reported on the discovery. However, the Relikt team claimed only an upper limit, not a detection, in their 1987 paper.[114]

Half of the 2005 prize was awarded to Roy J. Glauber "for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence". This research involved George Sudarshan's relevant 1960 work in quantum optics, which was allegedly slighted in this award.[citation needed] Glauber—who initially derided the former representations, later produced the same P-representation under a different name, viz., Sudarshan-Glauber representation or Sudarshan diagonal representation—was the winner instead. According to others, Leonard Mandel and Daniel Frank Walls were passed over because posthumous nominations are not accepted.[115]

Satyendra Nath Bose – honored as the namesake of the bosons – laid the foundation of Bose-Einstein condensate theory

The 2001 prize went to Eric Allin Cornell, Carl Edwin Wieman and Wolfgang Ketterle "for the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates". However, the original work by Indian mathematician and physicist Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein regarding the gas-like qualities of electromagnetic radiation and quantum mechanics in the early 1920s provided the foundation for Bose–Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose–Einstein condensate was never awarded the prize.

The 1997 prize was awarded to Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Daniel Phillips "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light." The award was disputed by Russian scientists[116] who questioned the awardees' priority in the acquired approach and techniques, which the Russians claimed to have carried out more than a decade before.[117]

The 1983 prize went to William Alfred Fowler "for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe". Fowler acknowledged Fred Hoyle as the pioneer of the concept of stellar nucleosynthesis but that was not enough for Hoyle to receive a share. Hoyle's obituary in Physics Today notes that "Many of us felt that Hoyle should have shared Fowler's 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics, but the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences later made partial amends by awarding Hoyle, with Edwin Salpeter, its 1997 Crafoord Prize".[118]

The 1979 prize was awarded to Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg for the electroweak interaction unification theory. However, George Sudarshan and Robert Marshak were the first proponents of the successful V-A (vector minus axial vector, or left-handed) theory for weak interactions in 1957. It was essentially the same theory as that proposed by Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann in their "mathematical physics" paper on the structure of the weak interaction. Actually, Gell-Mann had been let in on the Sudarshan/Marshak work on Sudarshan's initiative,[119] but no formal acknowledgment appeared in the later paper—except for an informal allusion. The reason given was that the originators' work had not been published in a formal or 'reputable enough' science journal at the time. The theory is popularly known in the west as the Feynman-Gell-Mann theory.[120] The V-A theory for weak interactions was, in effect, a new Law of Nature. It was conceived in the face of a series of apparently contradictory experimental results, including several from Chien-Shiung Wu, helped along by a sprinkling of other evidence, such as the muon. Discovered in 1936, the muon had a colorful history[121] itself and would lead to a new revolution[122] in the 21st Century.[123] This real breakthrough was not awarded a Nobel Prize. The V-A theory would later form the foundation for the electroweak interaction theory. Sudarshan regarded the V-A theory as his finest work. The Sudarshan-Marshak (or V-A theory) was assessed, preferably and favorably, as "beautiful" by J. Robert Oppenheimer,[119] only to be disparaged later on as "less complete" and "inelegant" by John Gribbin.[124]

The 1978 prize was awarded for the chanced "detection of Cosmic microwave background radiation". The joint winners, Arno Allan Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson, had to have their discovery elucidated by others. Many scientists felt that Ralph Alpher, who predicted the cosmic microwave background radiation and in 1948 worked out the underpinnings of the Big Bang theory, should have shared in the prize or received one independently. In 2005, Alpher received the National Medal of Science for his pioneering contributions to understanding of nucleosynthesis, the prediction of the relic radiation from the Big Bang, as well as for a model for the Big Bang.

The 1974 prize was awarded to Martin Ryle and Antony Hewish "for their pioneering research in radio astrophysics: Ryle for his observations and inventions, in particular of the aperture synthesis technique, and Hewish for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars". Hewish was not the first to correctly explain pulsars, initially describing them as communications from "Little Green Men" (LGM-1) in outer space. David Staelin and Edward Reifenstein, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, found a pulsar at the center of the Crab Nebula. The notion that pulsars were neutron stars, leftovers from a supernova explosion, had been proposed in 1933. Soon after their 1968 discovery, Fred Hoyle and astronomer Thomas Gold correctly explained it as a rapidly spinning neutron star with a strong magnetic field, emitting radio waves. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Hewish's graduate student, was not recognized, although she was the first to notice the stellar radio source that was later recognized as a pulsar.[125] While Hoyle argued that Bell should have been included in the prize, Bell said, "I believe it would demean Nobel Prizes if they were awarded to research students, except in very exceptional cases, and I do not believe this is one of them."[126] Prize-winning research students include Louis de Broglie, Rudolf Mössbauer, Douglas Osheroff, Gerard 't Hooft, John Forbes Nash, Jr., John Robert Schrieffer and H. David Politzer.

The 1969 prize was won by Murray Gell-Mann "for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions" (essentially, discovering quarks). George Zweig, then a PhD student at Caltech, independently espoused the physical existence of aces, essentially the same thing. The physics community ostracized Zweig and blocked his career.[127][unreliable source?][128] Israeli physicist Yuval Ne'eman published the classification of hadrons through their SU(3) flavor symmetry independently of Gell-Mann in 1962,[129] and also felt that he had been unjustly deprived of the prize for the quark model.[130]

The 1956 prize went to John Bardeen, Walter Houser Brattain and William Bradford Shockley "for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect". However, the committee did not recognize numerous preceding patent applications. As early as 1928, Julius Edgar Lilienfeld patented several modern transistor types.[131] In 1934, Oskar Heil patented a field-effect transistor.[132] It is unclear whether Lilienfeld or Heil had really built such devices, but they did cause later workers significant patent problems. Further, Herbert F. Mataré and Heinrich Walker, at Westinghouse Paris, applied for a patent in 1948 of an amplifier based on the minority carrier injection process. Mataré had first observed transconductance effects during the manufacture of germanium diodes for German radar equipment during World War II. Shockley was part of other controversies[133]—including Shockley's position as a corporate director and his self-promotion efforts.[134] Further, the original design Shockley presented to Brattain and Bardeen did not work. His share of the prize resulted from his development of the superior junction transistor, which became the basis of the electronics revolution.[134][135] He excluded Brattain and Bardeen from the proceeds of this process, even though the idea may have been theirs.[134] Another controversy associated with Shockley was his support of eugenics.[136] He regarded his published works on this topic as the most important work of his career.[137]

The 1950 prize went to Cecil Powell for "his development of the photographic method of studying nuclear processes and his discoveries regarding mesons made with this method". However, Brazilian physicist César Lattes was the main researcher and the first author of the historical Nature journal article describing the subatomic particle meson pi (pion). Lattes was solely responsible for the improvement of the nuclear emulsion used by Powell (by asking Kodak Co. to add more boron to it—and in 1947, he made with them his great experimental discovery). This result is explained by the Nobel Committee policy (ended in 1960) to award the prize to the research group head only. Lattes calculated the pion's mass and, with USA physicist Eugene Gardner, demonstrated the existence of this particle after atomic collisions in a synchrotron. Gardner was denied a prize because he died soon thereafter.

The 1938 prize went to Enrico Fermi in part for "his demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation". However, in this case, the award later appeared to be premature: Fermi had thought he had created transuranic elements (specifically, hesperium), but had in fact unwittingly demonstrated nuclear fission (and had actually created only fission products—isotopes of much lighter elements than uranium). The fact that Fermi's interpretation was incorrect was discovered shortly after he had received his prize.

The 1936 prize went to Carl D. Anderson for the discovery of the positron. While a graduate student at Caltech in 1930, Chung-Yao Chao was the first to experimentally identify positrons through electron-positron annihilation, but did not realize what they were. Anderson used the same radioactive source, 208Tl, as Chao. (Historically, 208Tlwas known as "thorium C double prime" or "ThC", see decay chains.) Late in life, Anderson admitted that Chao had inspired his discovery: Chao's research formed the foundation from which much of Anderson's own work developed. Chao died in 1998, without sharing in a Nobel Prize acknowledgment.[138]

The 1923 prize went to Robert Millikan "for his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect". Millikan might have won in 1920 but for Felix Ehrenhaft's incorrect claim to have measured a smaller charge. Some controversy, however, still seems to linger over Millikan's oil-drop procedure and experimental interpretation, over whether Millikan manipulated his data in the 1913 scientific paper measuring the electron charge. Allegedly, he did not report all his observations.[139]

The 1915 prize went to William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg "For their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays", an important step in the development of X-ray crystallography. At the time, both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were mentioned as potential laureates. Despite their enormous scientific contributions, neither ever won the award, possibly because of their mutual animosity. There is circumstantial evidence that each sought to minimize the other's achievements and right to win the award, that both refused to ever accept the award if the other received it first, and that both rejected any possibility of sharing it—as was rumored in the press.[140][141][142][143] Tesla had a greater financial need for the award than Edison: in 1916, he filed for bankruptcy.

Edison applied "mass production" to the invention process

The 1909 prize was awarded to Guglielmo Marconi for the invention of radio. However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office first awarded the patent on radio to Nikola Tesla, but changed its decision in Marconi's favor in 1904. In 1942, the patent office reversed itself in Tesla's favor. In 1893, Nikola Tesla demonstrated the first public radio communication.[144] One year later, Indian physicist, Jagadish Chandra Bose, demonstrated publicly the use of radio waves in Calcutta. In 1894, Bose ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance using electromagnetic waves, showing independently that signals could be sent without using wires. In 1896, the Daily Chronicle of England reported on his UHF experiments: "The inventor (J.C. Bose) has transmitted signals to a distance of nearly a mile and herein lies the first and obvious and exceedingly valuable application of this new theoretical marvel." Bose did not try for patent protection for sending signals. In 1899, Bose announced the development of an "iron-mercury-iron coherer with telephone detector" in a paper presented at the Royal Society in London. Later he received U.S. Patent 755,840, "Detector for electrical disturbances" (1904), for a specific electromagnetic receiver.

The 1903 prize was awarded to Henri Becquerel (along with Pierre and Marie Curie) "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity". However, critics alleged that[145] that Becquerel merely rediscovered a phenomenon first noticed and investigated decades earlier by the French scientist Abel Niepce de Saint-Victor.

Other major unrecognized discoveries

None of the contributors to the discovery of nuclear fission won the prize. Lise Meitner contributed directly to the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939,[146] Her work preceded that of Otto Hahn. Working with the then-available experimental data, she managed, with Otto Robert Frisch's participation, to incorporate Niels Bohr's liquid drop model (first suggested by George Gamow)[147] into fission's theoretical foundation. She also predicted the possibility of chain reactions. In an earlier collaboration with Hahn, she had independently discovered a new chemical element (called protactinium). Bohr nominated both for this work, in addition to recommending the Chemistry prize for Hahn. A junior contributor, Fritz Strassmann, was not considered for the prize.[148] Hahn was successfully pressured by the Nazis to minimize Meitner's role since she was Jewish. However, he maintained this position even after the war.

Chien-Shiung Wu disproved the law of the conservation of parity (1956) and was the first Wolf Prize winner in physics. She died in 1997 without receiving a Nobel.[149] Wu assisted Tsung-Dao Lee personally in his parity laws development—with Chen Ning Yang—by providing him in 1956 with a possible test method for beta decay that worked successfully.[citation needed]Her book Beta Decay (1965) is still a sine qua non reference for nuclear physicists.

Einstein's annus mirabilis

Albert Einstein, awarded a single 1921 Prize out of numerous nominations.

Albert Einstein's 1921 Nobel Prize Award mainly recognized his 1905 discovery of the mechanism of the photoelectric effect and "for his services to Theoretical Physics". The Nobel committee passed on several nominations for his many other seminal contributions, although these led to prizes for others who later applied more advanced technology to experimentally verify his work. Many predictions of Einstein's theories have been verified as technology advances. Recent examples include the bending of light in a gravitational field, gravitational waves, gravitational lensing and black holes. It wasn't until 1993 that the first evidence for the existence of gravitational radiation came via the Nobel Prize-winning measurements of the Hulse-Taylor binary system.[150]

The committee also failed to recognize the other contributions of his Annus Mirabilis Papers on Brownian motion and Special Relativity. Often these nominations for Special Relativity were for both Lorentz and Einstein. Henri Poincaré was also nominated at least once for his work, including on Lorentz's relativity theory. However, Kaufmann's then-experimental results (incorrectly) cast doubt on Special Relativity. These doubts were not resolved until 1915. By this time, Einstein had progressed to his General Theory of Relativity, including his theory of gravitation. Empirical support—in this case the predicted spectral shift of sunlight—was in question for many decades. The only piece of original evidence was the consistency with the known perihelion precession of the planet Mercury.[citation needed] Some additional support was gained at the end of 1919, when the predicted deflection of starlight near the sun was confirmed by Arthur Stanley Eddington's Solar Eclipse Expedition, though here again the actual results were somewhat ambiguous. (A TV movie was made in 2008 about this.[151]) Conclusive proof of the gravitational light deflection prediction was not achieved until the 1970s.[citation needed]

Physiology or medicine

The 2011 prize was awarded in part to Ralph Steinman, who died of cancer days before the award, a fact unknown to the Nobel committee at the time of the award. Committee rules prohibit posthumous awards, and Steinman's death created a dilemma unprecedented in the history of the award. The committee ruled that Steinman remained eligible for the award despite his death, under the rule that allows awardees to receive the award who die between being named and the awards ceremony.[152]

The 2008 prize was awarded in part to Harald zur Hausen "for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer". The Swedish police anticorruption unit investigated charges of improper influence by AstraZeneca, which had a stake in two lucrative HPV vaccines. The company had agreed to sponsor Nobel Media and Nobel Web and had strong links with two senior figures in the process that chose zur Hausen.[153]

The other half of the 2008 prize was split between Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi "for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus". The omission of Robert Gallo was controversial: 106 scientists signed a letter to the journal Science stating that 'While these awardees fully deserve the award, it is equally important to recognize the contributions of Robert C. Gallo', which 'warrant equal recognition'.[154] Montagnier said that he was 'surprised' that the award had not been shared with Gallo.[155]

The 2006 prize went to Andrew Fire and Craig C. Mello "for their discovery of RNA interference—gene silencing by double-stranded RNA". Many of the discoveries credited by the committee to Fire and Mello, who studied RNA interference in C. elegans, had been previously studied by plant biologists, and it has been suggested that at least one plant biologist, such as David Baulcombe, should have been awarded a share of the prize.[156]

The 2003 prize was awarded to Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield "for their discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging" (MRI). Two independent alternatives have been alleged.[157] Raymond Damadian first reported that NMR could distinguish in vitro between cancerous and non-cancerous tissues on the basis of different proton relaxation times. He later translated this into the first human scan. Damadian's original report prompted Lauterbur to develop NMR into the present method. Damadian took out large advertisements in an international newspapers protesting his exclusion.[158] Some researchers felt that Damadian's work deserved at least equal credit.[citation needed]Separately, Herman Y. Carr both pioneered the NMR gradient technique and demonstrated rudimentary MRI imaging in the 1950s. The Nobel prize winners had almost certainly seen Carr's work, but did not cite it. Consequently, the prize committee very likely was unaware of Carr's discoveries,[citation needed] a situation likely abetted by Damadian's campaign.[159][160][161]

The 2000 prize went to Arvid Carlsson, Paul Greengard, and Eric R. Kandel, "for their discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system". The award caused many neuroscientists to protest that Oleh Hornykiewicz, who helped pioneer the dopamine replacement treatment for Parkinson's disease, was left out, and that Hornykiewicz's research provided a foundation for the honorees' success.

The 1997 prize was awarded to Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner for his discovery of prions. This award caused a ceaseless stream of polemics. Critics attacked the validity of the work—which had previously been criticized by other researchers as not yet proven.[162]

The 1993 prize went to Philip Allen Sharp and Richard J. Roberts "for their discoveries of split genes" the discovery of introns in eukaryotic DNA and the mechanism of gene splicing. Several other scientists, such as Norman Davidson and James D. Watson, argued that Louise T. Chow, a China-born Taiwanese researcher[163] who collaborated with Roberts, should have had part of the prize.[164] In 1976, as Staff Investigator, Chow carried out the studies of the genomic origins and structures of adenovirus transcripts that led directly to the EM discovery of RNA splicing and alternative RNA processing at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island in 1977. Norman Davidson, (a Caltech expert in electron microscopy, under whom Chow apprenticed as a graduate student), affirmed that Chow operated the electron microscope through which the splicing process was observed, and was the crucial experiment's sole designer, using techniques she herself had developed.[165]

The 1975 prize was awarded to David Baltimore, Renato Dulbecco and Howard Martin Temin "for their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell". It has been argued that Dulbecco was distantly, if at all, involved in this ground-breaking work.[166] Further, the award failed to recognize the contributions of Satoshi Mizutani, Temin's Japanese postdoctoral fellow.[167] Mizutani and Temin jointly discovered that the Rous sarcoma virus particle contained the enzyme reverse transcriptase. However, Mizutani was solely responsible for the original conception and design of the novel experiment that confirmed Temin's provirus hypothesis.[166] A second controversy implicated Baltimore in the "Imanishi-Kari" affair, involving charges that Thereza Imanishi-Kari, a researcher in his laboratory, had fabricated data. Imanishi-Kari was initially found to have committed scientific fraud by the Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI), following highly publicized and politicized hearings. However, in 1996, she was vindicated by an appeals panel of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which overturned the OSI's findings and criticized their investigation.[168] Baltimore's staunch defense of Imanishi-Kari initially drew substantial criticism and controversy; the case itself was often referred to as "The Baltimore Affair", and contributed to his resignation as president of Rockefeller University.[169] Following Imanishi-Kari's vindication, Baltimore's role was reassessed; the New York Times opined that "... the most notorious fraud case in recent scientific history has collapsed in embarrassment for the Federal Government and belated vindication for the accused scientist."[169]

The 1973 prize went to Konrad Lorenz, Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch "for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns". Von Frisch's contribution was the "dance language" of bees. However, controversy emerged over the lack of direct proof of the waggle dance—as exactly worded by von Frisch. A team of researchers from Rothamsted Research in 2005 settled the controversy by using radar to track bees as they flew to a food source. Their results did not exactly match von Frisch's original formulation,[170] ending up closer to his opponent Adrian Wenner's theory that the bees used the odor of the food returned by the dancer.[171]

The 1968 prize went to Robert W. Holley, Har Gobind Khorana and Marshall W. Nirenberg "for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis". However, Heinrich J. Matthaei broke the genetic code in 1961 with Nirenberg in their poly-U experiment at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, paving the way for modern genetics. Matthaei was responsible for experimentally obtaining the first codon (genetic code) extract, and Nirenberg tampered with his initial accurate results (due to the Nirenberg's belief in 'less precise', 'more believable' data presentation).[166]

The 1962 prize was awarded to James D. Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material". It did not recognize critical contributions from Alec Stokes, Herbert Wilson, and Erwin Chargaff. In addition, Erwin Chargaff, Oswald Avery and Rosalind Franklin (whose key DNA X-ray crystallography work was the most detailed yet least acknowledged among the three) contributed directly to Watson and Crick's ability to solve the structure of the DNA molecule. Avery's death in 1955, and Franklin's in 1958, eliminated them from contention thereafter.

The 1952 prize was awarded solely to Selman Waksman "for his discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis" and omitted recognition[172] due his co-discoverer Albert Schatz.[173] Schatz sued Waksman over the details and credit of the discovery. Schatz was awarded a substantial settlement, and, together with Waksman, Schatz was legally recognized as a co-discoverer.

The 1949 prize was awarded to Portuguese neurologist Antonio Egas Moniz "for his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy (lobotomy) in certain psychoses". Soon after, Dr. Walter Freeman developed the transorbital lobotomy, which was easier to carry out. Criticism was raised because the procedure was often prescribed injudiciously and without regard for modern medical ethics. Popular acceptance of the procedure had been fostered by enthusiastic press coverage such as a 1938 "New York Times" report, "Surgery used on the Soul-Sick; Relief of Obsessions is Reported." Endorsed by such influential publications as The New England Journal of Medicine, lobotomy became so popular that, in the three years following the Prize, some 5,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States alone, and many more throughout the world.[174][175]Joseph Kennedy, father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, had his daughter Rosemary lobotomized when she was in her twenties. The procedure later fell into disrepute and was prohibited in many countries.[176]

The 1945 prize was awarded to Ernst Boris Chain, Howard Florey and Alexander Fleming "for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases". Fleming accidentally stumbled upon the then-unidentified fungal mold. However, some critics pointed out that Fleming did not in fact discover penicillin, that it was technically a rediscovery; decades before Fleming, Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson, William Roberts (physician), John Tyndall and Ernest Duchesne) had already done studies[119] and research[177] on its useful properties and medicinal characteristics.[178] Moreover, according to Fleming himself, the first known reference to penicillin was from Psalm 51: "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean". Meanwhile, he had learned from mycologist Charles Thom (the same who helped Fleming establish the identity of the mysterious fungal mold)[179] that "Penicillium notatum" was first recognized by Westling, a Swedish chemist, from a specimen of decayed hyssop. In this award, as it had been pointed out, several deserving contemporaneous contributors had been left out of the Prize altogether.[citation needed]

The 1926 prize went to Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger, "for his discovery of the Spiroptera carcinoma", a microbial parasite which Fibiger claimed was the cause of cancer. This "finding" was discredited by other scientists shortly thereafter.

The 1923 prize was awarded to Frederick Banting and John Macleod "for the discovery of insulin". Banting clearly deserved the prize, however, the choice of Macleod as co-winner was controversial. Banting initially refused to accept the prize with Macleod, claiming that he did not deserve it, and that Charles Best was the logical choice to share the prize. Banting complained that Macleod's initial contribution to the project had only been to let Banting use his lab space at the University of Toronto while Macleod was on vacation. Macleod also loaned Banting a lab assistant (Best) to help with the experiments, and ten dogs for experimentation. Banting and Best achieved limited success with their experiments, which they presented to Macleod in the fall of 1921. Macleod pointed out flaws with the design of some experiments. He then advised Banting and Best to repeat the experiments with better lab equipment, more dogs, and better controls and provided better lab space for the pair. He also began paying Banting. The salary made their relationship official, and equivalent to the present-day relationship between a postdoctoral researcher and supervisor. Banting and Best repeated the experiments, which were conclusive. While Banting's original method of isolating insulin worked, it was too labor-intensive for large-scale production. Best then set about finding a biochemical extraction method. Meanwhile, James Bertram Collip, a chemistry professor on sabbatical from the University of Alberta joined what was now Macleod's team, and sought a biochemical method for extracting insulin in parallel with Best. Best and Collip simultaneously succeeded. The fact that Banting was being supported with money from Macleod's research grants was no doubt a factor in the Nobel Committee's decision. When Banting agreed to share the prize, he gave half his prize money to Best. Macleod, in turn, split his half of the prize money with Collip. Later, it became known that Nicolae Paulescu, a Romanian professor, had been working on diabetes since 1916, and may have isolated insulin (which he called pancreatine) about a year before the Canadians.[180][181]

Oswald Theodore Avery, best known for his 1944 demonstration that DNA is the cause of bacterial transformation and potentially the material of which genes are composed, never received a Nobel Prize, although two Nobel Laureates, Joshua Lederberg and Arne Tiselius, praised him and his work as a pioneering platform for further genetic research. According to John M. Barry, in his book The Great Influenza, the committee was preparing to award Avery, but declined to do so after the DNA findings were published, fearing that they would be endorsing findings that had not yet survived significant scrutiny.[citation needed]

Laureates who declined the prize

Involuntary refusals

In 1936, the Nobel Foundation offended Adolf Hitler when it awarded the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize to Carl von Ossietzky, a German writer who publicly opposed Hitler and Nazism.[182] (At that time, the prize was awarded the following year.) Hitler reacted by issuing a decree on 31 January 1937 that forbade German nationals to accept any Nobel Prize. Awarding the peace prize to Ossietzky was itself considered controversial. While fascism had few supporters outside Italy and Germany, those who did not necessarily sympathize felt that it was wrong to (deliberately) offend Germany.[183][184]

Hitler's decree prevented three Germans from accepting their prizes: Gerhard Domagk (1939 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine), Richard Kuhn (1938 Nobel Prize in Chemistry), and Adolf Butenandt (1939 Nobel Prize in Chemistry). The three later received their certificates and medals, but not the prize money.[185]

On 19 October 1939, about a month and a half after World War II had started, the Nobel Committee of the Karolinska Institutet met to discuss the 1939 prize in physiology or medicine.[186] The majority favored Domagk and someone leaked the news, which traveled to Berlin. The Kulturministerium in Berlin replied with a telegram stating that a Nobel Prize to a German was "completely unwanted" (durchaus unerwünscht).[187] Despite the telegram, a large majority voted for on 26 October 1939.[188] Once he learned of the decision, hopeful that it only applied to the peace prize, Domagk sent a request to the Ministry of Education in Berlin asking permission to accept the prize.[189] Since he did not receive a reply after more than a week had passed, he felt it would be impolite to wait any longer without responding, and on 3 November 1939 he wrote a letter to the Institute thanking them for the distinction, but added that he had to wait for the government's approval before he could accept the prize.[190] He was subsequently ordered to send a copy of his letter to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Berlin, and on 17 November 1939, was arrested and taken by the Gestapo to police headquarters.[191][192] He was released after one week only to be arrested again. On 28 November 1939, he was forced by the Kulturministerium to sign a prepared letter, addressed to the Institute, declining the prize.[190][193] Since the Institute had already prepared his medal and diploma before the second letter arrived, they were able to award them to him later, during the 1947 Nobel festival. Domagk was the first to decline a prize. Due to his refusal, the procedures changed so that if a laureate declined the prize or failed to collect the prize award before 1 October of the following year, the money would not be awarded.[194]

On 9 November 1939, the Royal Academy of Sciences awarded the 1938 Prize for Chemistry to Kuhn and half of the 1939 prize to Butenandt.[188][195] When notified of the decision, the German scientists were forced to refuse the prizes by threats of violence.[195][196] Their refusal letters arrived in Stockholm after Domagk's refusal letter, helping to confirm suspicions that the German government had forced them to refuse the prize.[191][195][196] In 1948, they wrote a letter to the Academy expressing their gratitude for the prizes and their regret for being forced to refuse them in 1939. They were awarded their medals and diplomas at a ceremony in July 1949.

Otto Heinrich Warburg, a German national who won the 1931 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, is rumored to have been selected for the 1944 prize, but was forbidden to accept it. According to the Nobel Foundation, this story is not true.[197] (See Otto Heinrich Warburg for details.)

Boris Pasternak at first accepted the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature, but was forced by Soviet authorities to decline it because the prize was considered a "reward for the dissident political innuendo in his novel, Doctor Zhivago."[185][198] Pasternak died without ever receiving the prize. He was eventually honored by the Nobel Foundation at a banquet in Stockholm on 9 December 1989, when they presented his medal to his son. Mstislav Rostropovitch, a renowned Russian cellist and Pasternak's close friend, performed a Bach suite in his memory at the banquet.

Voluntary refusals

Two laureates voluntarily declined the Nobel Prize. Jean Paul Sartre declined 1964 prize for Literature, stating, "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honourable form."[199][200] The second person who refused the prize is Lê Đức Thọ, who was awarded the 1973 Peace Prize for his role in the Paris Peace Accords. He declined, claiming there was no actual peace in Vietnam.[199]

Other prizes

Prizes in non-Nobel domains

Some important primary fields of human intellectual endeavor-such as mathematics, philosophy and social studies-have been excluded from the Nobel Prizes, for the simple reason that they were not part of Alfred Nobel's will. When Jakob von Uexkull approached the Nobel Foundation with a proposal to establish two new awards for the environment and for the lives of the poor, he was turned down. He then established the Right Livelihood Award.

A new Nobel-equivalent Award was also created especially for mathematics, the Abel Prize, which came into effect in 2003, though the older Fields Medal is often considered as the mathematical Nobel equivalent.[201]

However, the Nobel Committee did allow the creation of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. Many people have opposed this association, including the Swedish human rights lawyer Peter Nobel, a great-grandnephew of Alfred Nobel.[202] In his speech at the 1974 Nobel banquet, Friedrich Hayek stated that if he had been consulted whether to establish a Nobel Prize in economics he would "have decidedly advised against it"[42][203] primarily because "the Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess... This does not matter in the natural sciences. Here the influence exercised by an individual is chiefly an influence on his fellow experts; and they will soon cut him down to size if he exceeds his competence. But the influence of the economist that mainly matters is an influence over laymen: politicians, journalists, civil servants and the public generally."[203]

Alternatives to the Nobel Prizes

Following the announcement of the award of the 2010 Peace Prize to incarcerated Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, the Global Times proposed the Confucius Peace Prize. The award ceremony was deliberately organized to take place on 8 December, one day before the rival award ceremony. Organizers of the award said it has no relation to the Chinese government, the Ministry of Culture or Beijing Normal University.[204]

The German National Prize for Art and Science was Hitler's alternative to the Nobel Prize.

The Ig Nobel Prize is an American parody of the Nobel Prize.


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  • Bishop, J. Michael (2003). How to Win the Nobel Prize: An Unexpected Life in Science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00880-4. .
  • Hager, Thomas (2006). The Demon under the Microscope: from battlefield hospitals to Nazi labs, one doctor's heroic search for the world's first miracle drug. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 1-4000-8213-7. .
  • Nasar, Sylvia (1998). A Beautiful Mind. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81906-6. .
  • Ryan, Frank (1993). The Forgotten Plague: How the Battle Against Tuberculosis Was Won – and Lost. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-76380-2. . First published in the United Kingdom as Tuberculosis: The Greatest Story Never Told.
  • Schück, Henrik; Sohlman, Ragnar; Österling, Anders; Liljestrand, Göran (1950). Nobel: The Man and His Prizes. Stockholm, Sweden: Nobel Foundation. .
  • Schück, Henrik; Sohlman, Ragnar; Österling, Anders; Bernhard, Carl Gustaf (1972). Nobel Foundation; Odelberg, W.. eds. Nobel: The Man and His Prizes (3rd ed.). New York, NY: American Elsevier Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 0-444-00117-4. .

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