Professor notes wait for Nobel science prizes is growing alarming long

Apr 10, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
Nobel Medals

(Phys.org) —Santo Fortunato, Associate Professor of Complex Systems at Aalto University in Espoo, Finland has published a Correspondence piece in the journal Nature, outlining what he describes as an increasing time lag between notable work accomplished by scientists and the awarding of a Nobel Prize for what they've achieved.

Fortunato points out that since the creation of the awards (established in 1895, first awarded in 1901) those who win the award have had to wait longer and longer on average to receive it. Prior to 1940, for example, just 20 percent of recipients for work in physics had to wait 20 years or more, 15 percent for chemistry and 24 percent for those working in the physiology or medicine fields. In contrast, since 1985, those percentages have grown to 60, 52 and 45 percent. At the rate we're going, he notes dryly, there will come a day sometime soon when no one will be able to win any of the awards because they would have all died already—prizes are not granted posthumously.

No one really knows why the wait for receiving a prize has grown so long. Some suggest it's because the committees that grant them find more modern work less ground-breaking and thus keep going back in time to find something they see as worthy. Others suggest the opposite is true, that the glut of breakthroughs creates a backlog, forcing committee members to choose people who deserve the award before they grow old and die (similar to the problem found with many sports organizations as induction into various Halls of Fame tend to skew towards older and older players.) In this case, the problem would be that so few people are awarded each year.

Credit: (c) Nature 508, 186 (10 April 2014) doi:10.1038/508186a

Of course another explanation for the time lag might be the nature of scientific discoveries in general—as we learn more it takes more time for new discoveries to prove themselves. On the other hand it could be that committee members feel more comfortable giving awards to people who have maintained strong reputations throughout their career—to avoid embarrassment should a blemish show up on their record after their groundbreaking work.

In any case, Fortunato notes that the trend is increasing across all disciplines, and that there is one example already of what he calls the extinction of laureates—Robert Brout who would have been on the stage with François Englert and Peter Higgs last year when they received a shared Physics award for the discovery of the Higgs boson—he'd passed away at the age of 82, two years earlier.

Explore further: A glance at secret process behind Nobel delay

More information: Prizes: Growing time lag threatens Nobels, Nature 508, 186 (10 April 2014) DOI: 10.1038/508186a

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User comments : 11

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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2014
no one will be able to win any of the awards because they would have all died already

I'll take bets: What will happen first? The above, or someone will win a Nobel priz for (radically?) elongating lifespans?

I'm betting on the latter.
Gammakozy
3.3 / 5 (12) Apr 10, 2014
Haven't they figured out that if they want a quick award they need to put Obama's name on the study. In such case the Nobel would be granted even before the researched was started. Just go talk to the Peace Prize Committee to see how this works.
jdbertron
not rated yet Apr 10, 2014
Doh. Raise the bar ?
aau93940
not rated yet Apr 10, 2014
wait for Nobel science prizes is growing alarming long
It's not a problem of the Nobel prize definition, as this prize has been originally dedicated for evaluation of findings, which are of "the greatest benefit to mankind", i.e. the findings of practical importance - i.e. not for theoretical works (which is also the reason, why Nobel didn't establish any prize for just mathematicians). If the Nobel prize jurry would follow the Nobel testament strictly, then no wait would ever happen. The theorists have enough of their own prizes already, which don't require any validation of theory (like the Field, Dirac or Yury Milner's prize).
freethinking
3 / 5 (8) Apr 10, 2014
Nobel prize has become a joke.
Three people walk into the Nobel prize selection committee. The committee asks the first person what he did, "I created a clean, safe, and cheap energy source that has raised the standard of living of all of mankind.", the committee then asks, "did you do anything else?", "I also discovered the cure for cancer, Alzheimer, and a pill that extends healthy human life an extra 100 years." the committee then silently frowns then asks the second person what he did, "well I lied and lied again, I gave guns to the drug cartel, used government agencies to go after my political enemies, increased health insurance costs while reducing health care coverage, gave weapons to terrorists, bankrupted America, emboldened dictators, alienated friends...." the head of the Nobel prize committee yelled.... "stop it, you impressed us enough, you get a million dollars and a Nobel Peace Prize!". The third man raised his hand and said "what about me?"
freethinking
3 / 5 (10) Apr 10, 2014
"Go ahead tell us what you did" said the committee chairman.
"I lied about the environment and I made a really bad film, created a scam that made me millions and millions of dollars, I divert funds that could solve real environmental problems for humanity for my own profit, I hold feasts where I serve endanger animals to my guests, I pollute the planet more than 500 average Americans..." Stop cried the Nobel Prize chairman.... "You get a million dollars and a Nobel Prize too."

The first man then asks "what about my accomplishments?"

The committee chairman responds, "How dare you compare yourself to Obama and Al Gore."

A second later the first person gets a audit notice from the IRS, his power source gets shut down by the EPA, the drug enforcement agency bans his life enhancing pills, and his cures are banned.

Moral of this story is, don't question anything to do with Obama
Liquid1474
2.8 / 5 (11) Apr 10, 2014
@freethinking

That makes no sense, holmes; AND it's not even witty!

...seriously? sounds like You don't CARE about the environment?
That's sad dude, in 300 years humanity will look back and say our greatest mistakes began with people thinking like YOU
bearly
1 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2014
There are no "breakthroughs" in science because every time someone invents/discovers something wonderful the government or corporations (same thing) seize it for "national security reasons" and bury it.
Pejico
Apr 10, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
alfie_null
3.4 / 5 (5) Apr 11, 2014
. . .

Moral of this story is, don't question anything to do with Obama

You have a deep hatred for Obama and Gore. Was there some other point you wished to make in your lengthy, barely coherent rant?

If the Secret Service keeps a watch list, I certainly hope you are on it.
freethinking
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 11, 2014
alfie, since you are a paid hack for Obama and the democrats I most certainly am on the watch list. Yup, have the government watch a guy who will give his life for the president (even though he thinks the president is the worst president in history.), who will never threaten the president or anyone for that matter, who hopes the president is safe from all harm, makes a lot of sense.

When you put someone on a watch list, use the IRS and other government agencies to go after your political enemies, you no longer have a democratic republic but a tyranny.

Reporters investigating corruption have had their phone tapped.
A film maker blamed purposely blamed for inciting terrorist action when the government knew it wasn't true.
IRS and other agencies auditing those who publicly speak out against Obama.
Government program revealed where paid trolls go to sites like this to promote Obama.
News media either afraid to investigate, or in bed with Obama....
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 12, 2014
but it doesn't apply to basic research, which has no practical applications anyway.
another sock puppet Zephir? this is the stupidest comment I've ever heard you mutter... it wasn't true the first time, it still isn't. Fundamental Basic research underpins EVERYTHING
since you are a paid hack ...blah blah blah ... News media either afraid to investigate, or in bed with Obama
@free
not everyone who disagrees with you is a paid hack or supports Obummer
Pejico
Apr 12, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.