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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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    Aja B. 20+

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    Feb 7 2013: Are Nobel Prizes overrated by the scientific communities that produce prizewinners, or by the public, or both? And if it's only overrated by the public, is that really a bad thing?

    From "The Road to Stockholm" by István Hargittai:

    "From early on the Nobel Prize has been the only science prize recognized by the wider public, and today it enjoys an improbably high prestige. It has a certain aura, and in an age when science and scientists are sometimes viewed with distrust, if not disrespect, the fascination with the Nobel Prize has hardly decreased. The Nobel Prize is overrated by the public, but this is not an unwelcome exaggeration. Science needs icons, since it usually suffers from an image of being impersonal."
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      Feb 7 2013: Aja,

      That's a really good point! It's definitely valid to propose that the hype over Nobel Prizes is in large part due to the reaction it garners from public outlets. I think it's difficult, though, to distribute the public appreciation in a way that is both fair and sensible. For the scientific communities, I would agree that the Nobel Prize serves as an affirmation of significant work done - at least, for the most part. Perhaps the issue of recognition distribution is something of concern in this regard also.

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