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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 11 2013: Osaze!

    You make excellent points regarding the Nobel Prize and its effectiveness and relevance to today's world.

    While I agree that there have been (many) and we will continue to see bias and unfairness in the awarding of the prize, it is important to see that the Nobel Prize is just that, a prize. You get a gold medal (literally) and a big bag full of cash (the 2012 sum was ≈$1.2 mil). This is the way Alfred Nobel set it up when he established the prizes in 1895.

    You are correct that today engineering and technology might be more relevant than economics and peace as of the 21st century, but certainly the Nobel Prize remains the most esteemed prize in those disciplines.

    In response to who should give the prize, Each of the Nobel Prizes are awarded by different committees, the Peace Prize, for example, is not awarded by a Swedish organization but by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

    Whether these organizations are fair/effective should be the worry of Alfred Nobel's family, as it is their name attached to the prizes.

    A common theme in the related TEDtalks (Timothy Prestero, Ben Goldacre) is much like my own philosophy about science, and learning in general; Don't work for the prize/grade, work for the personal gratification and study for knowledge.
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      Feb 12 2013: Hey Avi,

      I tend to agree with what you have said here about Nobel Prizes. Yes they are highly regarded in the sectors of work they are awarded in. However, are they really all that important?

      I see the prizes as being a motivation to excel in ones field and perhaps stumble upon discoveries. Yet, to me that isn't a very strong driving force for the human population to work towards (besides the grossly large sum of cash.)

      I agree that working for personal gratification and knowledge is the most important aspect to ones work. The idea may sound selfish, however I think it is actually a selfless idea. Working for personal gratification and knowledge enables one to naturally stumble upon discoveries to share with the rest of the community.

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