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Osaze Udeagbala

Student , Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

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Are Nobel Prizes overrated?

Since the issuing of the first award in 1901, the Nobel Prize has become the pinnacle of general recognition. Many would agree that those who have received the Nobel Prize have done great work in their field, but even so there are themes of rejection, redemption, and controversy surrounding the awards. In my Bioelectricity class, for example, we have discussed a number of Nobel Laureates such as Arrhenius, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903, for work that once received less than stellar reviews from his very own professors, and Nernst, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1920 for work based on the work of Arrhenius. We have also seen in history (e.g. Rosalind Franklin) circumstances in which scientists have participated closely with Nobel Prize-winning research, but nonetheless were left unrecognized. Finally, as there are very few categories for this award (physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace), notably left out are awards for engineering, technology and other advancements for humankind. So I ask the TED community: Do you think Nobel Prize are awarded effectively? And with respect to science: Who is better at evaluating the value of a scientist’s research? Peers? Awards committees? Especially given the fact that it often takes many years to see if research can stand the test of time? Are Nobel Prizes overrated?


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    Feb 7 2013: Barack Obama receives a peace prize before becoming president
    and then goes on to sign the NDAA, continue almost every bush-administration policy, vastly increase drone strike use and begin a campaign in Libya without Congressional approval.

    Yasser Arafat wins a peace prize because he temporarily stops killing Jews and the Israeli Foreign Minister and Prime Minister also won despite absolutely no improvement in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

    Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson won Nobel Prizes for accidentally noticing background radiation.

    Henry Kissinger received a peace prize despite being directly responsible for some of the worst and most controversial warcrimes throughout the Cold war and Vietnam, among others.

    Robert Merton won a Nobel Prize in Economics despite creating flawed software that led to the loss of Billions in the stockmarket.

    Al Gore won a Nobel prize despite consistently using more electricity than any of us and owns $250,000 of stock in Occidental Petroleum.

    Antonio Moniz won a Nobel for creating a procedure called the labotomy.

    I think we can disregard Nobel prizes from now on..
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      Feb 7 2013: Hi Xavier,

      I think you bring up some great points about the questionable nature of some of the Nobels in recent history. It seems that the Peace and Economics prizes tend to be very politically driven (e.g. the Peace Prize given to the EU last year). I'm curious about your thoughts on the more scientific awards, such as Physics and Physiology/Medicine.

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