Five decisions that made the Nobel Prizes look bad

October 1, 2016 by Karl Ritter
In this file photo dated December 10, 1948, Nobel Prize winners of 1948, shortly after being presented their prize inside the concert hall in Stockholm, Sweden. English writer T.S. Eliot Nobel Prize for Literature and the Swiss Scientist Paul Mueller Nobel Prize for Medicine. Mueller was honored for discovering that the powerful pesticide DDT killed flies and mosquitoes to fight Typhus and Malaria, but ended up doing both good and bad as it also poisoned wildlife. Nobel Prizes cannot be changed or revoked, so the judges must put a lot of thought into their selections, with this year's awards due to be announced over the next two weeks. (AP Photo/FILE)

Nobel Prizes cannot be revoked, so the judges must put a lot of thought into their selections for the six awards, which will be announced in the next two weeks.

A discovery might seem groundbreaking today, but will it stand the test of time?

Prize founder Alfred Nobel wanted to honor those whose discoveries created "the greatest benefit to mankind." Here are five Nobel Prize decisions that, in hindsight, seem questionable:

When a German who organized poison gas attacks won the chemistry prize

Fritz Haber was awarded the 1918 chemistry award for discovering how to create ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen gases. His method was used to manufacture fertilizers and delivered a major boost to agriculture worldwide.

But the Nobel committee completely overlooked Haber's role in chemical warfare during World War I. Enthusiastically supporting the German war effort, he supervised the first major chlorine gas attack at Ypres, Belgium, in 1915, which killed thousands of Allied troops.

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When the medicine committee awarded a cancer discovery that wasn't

Danish scientist Johannes Fibiger won the 1926 medicine award for discovering that a roundworm caused cancer in rats.

There was only one problem: the roundworm didn't cause cancer in rats.

Fibiger insisted his research showed that rats ingesting worm larvae by eating cockroaches developed cancer. At the time when he won the prize, the Nobel judges thought that made perfect sense.

It later turned out the rats developed cancer from a lack of vitamin A.

Oops.

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In this file photo dated 1931, Mahatma Gandhi talks to a crowd in India. The Indian independence leader who is considered one of history's great champions of non-violent struggle, Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times, but never won the honor. Nobel Prizes cannot be changed or revoked, so the judges must put a lot of thought into their selections, with this year's awards due to be announced over the next two weeks. (AP Photo/James A. Mills, FILE)

When chemistry prize honored man who found use for DDT, which was later banned

The 1948 medicine prize to Swiss scientist Paul Mueller honored a discovery that ended up doing both good and bad.

Mueller didn't invent dichlorodiphenyltricloroethane, or DDT, but he discovered that it was a powerful pesticide that could kill lots of flies, mosquitoes and beetles in a short time.

The compound proved very effective in protecting agricultural crops and fighting insect-borne diseases like Typhus and Malaria. DDT saved hundreds of thousands of lives and helped eradicate malaria from southern Europe.

But in the 1960s environmentalists found that DDT was poisoning wildlife and the environment. The U.S. banned DDT in 1972 and in 2001 it was banned by an international treaty, though exemptions are allowed for some countries fighting malaria.

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When the man who invented lobotomy won the medicine prize

Carving up people's brains may have seemed like a good idea at the time. But in hindsight, rewarding Portuguese scientist Antonio Egas Moniz in 1949 for inventing lobotomy to treat mental illness wasn't the Nobel Prizes' finest hour.

The method became very popular in the 1940s, and at the award ceremony it was praised as "one of the most important discoveries ever made in psychiatric therapy."

But it had serious side effects: some patients died and others were left severely brain damaged. Even operations that were considered successful left patients unresponsive and emotionally numb.

The method declined quickly in the 1950s as drugs to treat mental illness became widespread and it's used very seldom today.

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When India's Mahatma Gandhi didn't win the peace prize

The Indian independence leader, considered one of history's great champions of non-violent struggle, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize no fewer than five times. He never won.

The peace prize committee, which rarely concedes a mistake, eventually acknowledged that not awarding Gandhi was an omission.

In 1989—41 years after Gandhi's death—the Nobel committee chairman paid tribute to Gandhi as he presented that year's award to the Dalai Lama.

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antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (7) Oct 01, 2016
His method was used to manufacture fertilizers and delivered a major boost to agriculture worldwide.

And it still is. Without it there would certainly not be enough food to go around. Not defending the guy and his morals, but the *invention* itself is certainly worthy of a Nobel Prize. The criteria for the prize are those thet bring the "greatest benefit on mankind". Nitrogen fixation certainly qualifies on that score.

(If we really want to bring morals/ethics into this: Let's not forget that Nobel himself invented dynamite - which he extensively sold for war applications. That'd be a tough one to argue around)
dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2016
Fritz Haber definitely merited the prize
antigoracle
3.2 / 5 (13) Oct 01, 2016
Really??
They had to look that far back, when all they needed was:
-- The IPCC and False "Profit" Al
-- Barack "Drone hit" Obama.
abecedarian
3.3 / 5 (7) Oct 01, 2016
No comment on Al, but yeah... Obama didn't merit the award when he received it nor has he done much of anything since to warrant it.

Ostensibly, Ronald "tear down that wall" Reagan would have been much more apropos. There is now a unified Germany, many eastern bloc countries are self-governing and participating more freely in the world marketplace, and so on.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2016
but the Nobel committee completely overlooked Haber's role in chemical warfare during World War I.

So? The Nobel wasnt for that so why should they have? I bet if you dig around others Nobel laureatess lives you'd find some skeletons In closets too.
rrrander
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 02, 2016
Yes, deny a Nobel to the inventor of DDT, despite the FACT he save MILLIONS of HUMAN livesbut damaged some bird eggs. There are 500 billion birds in the world. The world is now facing the Zika horror, potentially millions of retarded children might be created which DDT could prevent right now, but thanks to sociopathic, human-hating environmentalists and leftists, it will go unchecked.
optical
Oct 02, 2016
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Jumbybird
3 / 5 (2) Oct 02, 2016
Fritz Haber and Paul Meuller definitely deserved prizes. Get off your high horse. You omitted Barack Obama. They themselves have admitted it was a mistake.
Shootist
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 02, 2016
Five decisions that made the Nobel Prizes look bad


B. Hussein Obama's Peace Prize, I tell you what.
MR166
3 / 5 (2) Oct 02, 2016
Also the case against DDT was based on scientific fraud. Thus it is strange that this award was even mentioned in the article. It seems that the green movement is trying to kill as many people as possible in order to save the earth.
retrosurf
2 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2016
Award a peace prize for Ronald Reagan? That's even sillier than a peace prize for Barack Obama. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev deservedly got the peace prize in 1990.

Fritz Haber deserved that prize, and Paul Mueller did as well. The only person who didn't deserve the prize that they recognized was Johannes Fibiger, the rat cancer guy.

Even Antonio Egas Moniz, the inventor of the lobotamy deserved his prize. The Nobel Prize is awarded based on the values of society at the time, and *at the time* the mentally ill were often targets for horrific institutional abuse. Further, 80% of frontal lobotomies in the United States were performed on women.

The Nobel Prizes reflect the values of the time. War and racism are still rampant, but misogyny and environmental destruction are no longer accepted as the norm, and error is always with us.
aksdad
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 02, 2016
It should be obvious by now that the Nobel Peace Prize is often a bad joke:

1994 - given to the militant, unrepentant terrorist Yasser Arafat
2005 - given to frequent fabulist and climate dunce Al Gore
2009 - as others have mentioned, Barack Obama, though to his credit he seems as bemused by it as the rest of us

Mistakes occur, as the article mentions, but the Peace Prize seems to be especially goofy at times. Maybe they should do a Nobel "person of the year" to satisfy the political whims of the Peace Prize committee so they could award the prize for peace to people who actually tangibly improve peace.
Pooua
5 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2016
The Nobel Peace Prize winner is selected by a Norwegian committee. All the other Nobel prize winners are selected by Swiss committees. I think that explains why the two sets of prizes have such differing track records.

The reason that any of the Nobel prizes exist is that Alfred Nobel didn't want to be remembered as a merchant of death, a possibility given the war uses of several of his inventions, including dynamite.
optical
Oct 03, 2016
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optical
Oct 03, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
JongDan
not rated yet Oct 04, 2016
good job medicine
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Oct 04, 2016
All the other Nobel prize winners are selected by Swiss committees.

Swedish. Not Swiss.
Shakescene21
not rated yet Oct 04, 2016
Creating the phony "Nobel Prize" in Economics makes the real Nobel Prizes look bad nearly every year. As a professional economist, I am embarrassed by the trivial and obvious achievements in Economics compared to some of the amazing and important advances in Medicine and Chemistry. I think the so-called Economics Nobel should only be given every 5 years.

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