Nobel week is upon us again, and science makes its annual October appearance in the headlines.
National pride always takes centre stage. UK papers are shouting about Dr John Gurdon who shares the prize for medicine and physiology this year. He won this along with Dr Shinya Yamanaka, who is taking centre stage in Japan, and whose photo is on many pages.
Everyone loves reading about the Nobel prizes, but with the complexity of science, it’s no surprise that related human interest stories also fill the pages.
For example, Dr Gurdon’s school reports: his biology teacher wrote “”I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him.”
Dr Yamanaka also had a less than promising start to his career, when he trained as a surgeon and found he was not very good at it.
Stories like these are very inspiring to the rest of us – even the greatest don’t always have a smooth ride.
The drama continues with the annual criticism of the panel’s choice, and the process itself. Prizes can be shared between a maximum of three people and so there is frequently a fourth (or fifth) person left out.
An article in Scientific American argues that in these times of extensive scientific collaboration, it is time to change the rules so an entire team receives the prize. It’s often impossible to choose 3 people out of a team to receive the award – what happens, they ask, if the discovery of the Higgs boson is deemed deserving?
Prof Jim AL-Khlali, writing in the UK Guardian, also thinks the process needs a shake-up. Boundaries between disciplines are changing and blurring (for example quantum biology) and much research does not fall neatly into Nobel prize categories.
The almost compulsory Einstein stories are appearing in the papers – why did he not get awarded the Nobel Prize for relativity?
And there are predictions and analysis – apparently, to predict the winner “the odds are on someone who is 60 years old, married, male, American and Harvard-educated”. (Washington Post).
Why do we love the Nobel prizes? Probably for the history, the prestige and the continuing soap opera….
As I write they are announcing the Nobel Prize for chemistry to two American professors. Let’s see if there are any interesting stories or controversies…..
Image courtesy of www.nobelprize.org