Nobel Prize effect

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The Nobel Prize effect is an observation about the adverse effects of winning the Nobel Prize on laureates and their careers. These effects include reduced productivity, constraints in areas of work, and public perception of expertise in areas unrelated to the laureate's work. The term Nobel effect is also used in those contexts, as well as in the context of the winner's longevity, and influence on international law in the case of the Nobel Peace Prize.


The definition of the "Nobel Prize effect" most attributed to Richard Hamming describes the effect as a reduction in productivity, making it hard for a scientist to work on small problems after winning the prize. During a speech at a seminar, Hamming described a scene at the Nobel awards ceremony as follows:

... all three winners got up and made speeches. The third one, Brattain, practically with tears in his eyes, said, "I know about this Nobel-Prize effect and I am not going to let it affect me; I am going to remain good old Walter Brattain." Well I said to myself, "That is nice." But in a few weeks I saw it was affecting him. Now he could only work on great problems.[1]

Public perception[edit]

The Nobel Prize effect is also described as a consequence of public perception of the Nobel laureate, magnified by the worldwide exposure the winner experiences. One example is for the Nobel laureate to be treated with reverence due to perception that the laureate has authoritative knowledge about any subject outside the field in which he or she won the prize. Nobel Laureate Klaus von Klitzing describes the effect as a personal burden, because other people have a tendency to believe that a Nobel Prize winner's knowledge extends to all areas. At the same time, he acknowledges that this is also a benefit, because people in positions of authority will pay attention to the views of Nobel laureates.[2] As physicist Hubert Curien described the phenomenon in a Natural Environment Research Council lecture:

If someone wins the Nobel prize, he is immediately pounced upon by all kinds of people who ask him all kinds of questions on all kinds of subjects which he knows nothing about. It is very difficult to resist the temptation to reply – to give any old answer on subjects which he knows nothing about. We have seen colleagues who have won a Nobel prize talking nonsense on such and such a political question, on which they really have no knowledge.[3]

Another example of the effect of new public perception is when the works of the Nobel Laureate suddenly become popular and in demand due to the fame that the Nobel Prize confers on the winner. Canadian author Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, suddenly found herself with a Chinese audience with such strong demands for her works that they quickly sold out, and two publishers in China became embroiled in a dispute over publication rights.[4]

Perception among colleagues in the same discipline was thought to have a measurable effect on how often the Nobel laureate's works are cited before and after winning the prize. While a simple comparison of citation counts before and after the prize does suggest an impact, a study using matched synthetic control group in the analysis suggest that there is no such effect on either citation impact or related chain reactions of citations.[5]

Nobel Peace Prize[edit]

In addition to the life-changing effects of winning a Nobel prize, an alternative meaning exists for the Nobel effect in the context of the Nobel Peace Prize. In this context, legal scholars have argued whether Nobel Peace Prize laureates have, as a result of winning the Prize, influenced the shaping of new norms in international law and international relations,[6][7] and suggesting that the Peace Prize can be a significant factor in encouraging peacemaking among individuals worldwide.[8]


An analysis of birth data on 19th century science Nobel Prize winners estimated that winning the Nobel Prize correlated with one or two years of additional longevity for the recipient, compared to being merely nominated for the prize.[9]


  1. ^ Richard Hamming (7 March 1986). "You and Your Research". Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar.
  2. ^ Mike Donachie (22 September 2013). "Metro's guide to quantum physics: Nobel Prize winner explains all during London visit". Metro London. The Nobel Prize effect: Dr. Klaus von Klitzing is treated like a rock star as he meets staff and students at Western University.
  3. ^ Curien, Hubert (1992). "The contribution of space research to knowledge and control of the environment: 1991 NERC annual lecture". NERC News. 20: 16–17.
  4. ^ Bai Shi (14 November 2013). "The Nobel Prize Effect". Beijing Review.
  5. ^ Rudolf Farys, Tobias Wolbring (26 May 2017). "Matched control groups for modeling events in citation data: An illustration of nobel prize effects in citation networks". Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. 68 (9): 2201–2210. doi:10.1002/asi.23802.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  6. ^ Roger P Alford (2008). "The Nobel Effect: Nobel Peace Prize Laureates as International Norm Entrepreneurs". Notre Dame Law School Scholarly Works (406).
  7. ^ Gregory Gordon, Anne Kjelling (15 October 2008). "Response to Roger Alford's The Nobel Effect: Nobel Peace Prize Laureates as International Norm Entrepreneurs". Opinio Juris.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  8. ^ Lukasz Swiatek (2010). Lights, Camera, Accolade: Towards and Understanding of the Nature and Impacts of the Nobel Peace Prize (Thesis). hdl:2123/7201.
  9. ^ Matthew D.Rablen, Andrew J. Oswald (December 2008). "Mortality and immortality: The Nobel Prize as an experiment into the effect of status upon longevity" (PDF). Journal of Health Economics. 27 (6): 1462–1471. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2008.06.001. PMID 18649962.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)