Nobel Prize controversies

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Nobel Prize
Awarded for Outstanding contributions in physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and physiology or medicine.
The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, identified with the Nobel Prize, is awarded for outstanding contributions in Economics.
Country Sweden / Norway
Presented by Swedish Academy
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Karolinska Institutet
Norwegian Nobel Committee
First awarded 1901
Official website

After his death in 1896, the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Prizes. Nobel's will specified that annual prizes are to be awarded for service to humanity in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. Similarly, the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is awarded along with the Nobel Prizes. Since the first award in 1901, the prizes have occasionally engendered criticism[1] and controversy.[2]

Nobel sought to reward "those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind". One prize, he stated, should be given "to the person who shall have made the most important 'discovery' or 'invention' within the field of physics". Awards committees have historically rewarded discoveries over inventions: 77% of Nobel Prizes in physics have been given to discoveries, compared with only 23% to inventions.[3][4] In addition, the scientific prizes typically reward contributions over an entire career rather than a single year.

No Nobel Prize was established for mathematics and many other scientific and cultural fields.[5] An early theory that jealousy led Nobel to omit a prize to mathematician Gösta Mittag-Leffler[6][7] was refuted because of timing inaccuracies. Another possibility is that Nobel did not consider mathematics as a practical discipline.[8] Both the Fields Medal and the Abel Prize have been described as the "Nobel Prize of mathematics".[9][10]

The most notorious controversies have been over prizes for Literature,[11][12][13][14] Peace[15] and Economics.[16][17] Beyond disputes over which contributor's work was more worthy, critics most often discerned political bias and Eurocentrism in the result.[18][19][20][21] The interpretation of Nobel's original words concerning the Literature prize has also undergone repeated revisions.



The 2008 prize was awarded to Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien for their work on green fluorescent protein or GFP. However, Douglas Prasher was the first to clone the GFP gene and suggested its use as a biological tracer. Martin Chalfie stated, "Douglas Prasher's work was critical and essential for the work we did in our lab. They could've easily given the prize to Douglas and the other two and left me out."[22] Prasher's accomplishments were not recognized, and he eventually found himself out of a science career.[23] When the Nobel was awarded in 2008, Prasher was working as a courtesy shuttle bus driver in Huntsville, Alabama.[24] Roger Tsien had advocated for Prasher from the beginning, even offering him a job when Prasher's academic career stalled. Eventually, Prasher accepted the offer and moved in 2013 to UCSD to join Tsien's lab.[25]


Gerhard Ertl, who received the entire 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies of the catalytic effects of metal surfaces, has expressed surprise[26] and disappointment[27] that Gabor Somorjai, a foundational pioneer in modern surface science and catalysis, did not get to share the prize with him. Somorjai and Ertl had previously shared the Wolf Prize for Chemistry in 1998. The Nobel Prize committee's decision to exclude Somorjai was criticized in the surface-science community[28] and remains mysterious.


The 1993 prize credited Kary Mullis with the development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. This is a central technique in molecular biology which allows for the amplification of specified DNA sequences. However, others claimed that Norwegian scientist Kjell Kleppe, together with 1968 Nobel Prize laureate H. Gobind Khorana, had an earlier and better claim to the discovery dating from 1969.[29] Mullis' co-workers at that time denied that he was solely responsible for the idea of using Taq polymerase in the PCR process.[citation needed] Rabinow raised the issue of whether or not Mullis "invented" PCR or "merely" came up with the concept of it.[30] However, Khudyakov and Howard Fields claimed "the full potential [of PCR] was not realized" until Mullis' work in 1983.[31]


The 1961 prize for carbon assimilation in plants awarded to Melvin Calvin was controversial because it ignored the contributions of Andrew Benson and James Bassham. While originally named the Calvin cycle, many biologists and botanists now refer to the Calvin-Benson, Benson-Calvin, or Calvin-Benson-Bassham (CBB) cycle. Three decades after winning the Nobel, Calvin published an autobiography titled "Following the trail of light" about his scientific journey which didn't mention Benson.

  • Henry Eyring (1901–1981) allegedly failed to receive the prize because of his Mormon faith.[32] (It is also possible that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences did not understand Eyring's theory until it was too late to award him the Nobel; the academy awarded him the Berzelius Medal in 1977 as partial compensation.[33])
  • Dmitri Mendeleyev, who originated the periodic table of the elements, never received a Nobel Prize. He completed his first periodic table in 1869. However, a year earlier, another chemist, Julius Lothar Meyer, had reported a somewhat similar table. In 1866, John Alexander Reina Newlands, presented a paper that first proposed a periodic law. However, none of these tables were correct—the 19th century tables arranged the elements in order of increasing atomic weight (or atomic mass). It was left to Henry Moseley to base the periodic table on the atomic number (the number of protons). Mendeleyev died in 1907, six years after the first Nobel Prizes were awarded. He came within one vote of winning in 1906, but died the next year. Hargittai claimed that Mendeleyev's omission was due to behind-the-scenes machinations of one dissenter on the Nobel Committee who disagreed with his work.[34]
  • The decision to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Fritz Haber in 1918 was, and still remains, controversial because of Haber's involvement in the development of poison gases for warfare during World War I.[35]


Economics was not on Nobel's original list of prize disciplines. The Bank of Sweden created it in 1969. Although it is governed by the same rules as the others, many, including members of the Nobel Family, criticized this prize for violating Nobel's intent. As of 2010, the faculty of the University of Chicago had garnered nine Prizes—far more than any other university. This led to claims of bias against alternative or heterodox economics.[who?]


The 2008 prize went to Paul Krugman "for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity". Krugman was a fierce critic of George W. Bush. The award produced charges of a left-wing bias, with headlines such as "Bush critic wins 2008 Nobel for economics", prompting the prize committee to deny "the committee has ever taken a political stance."[36]


The 1994 prize to John Forbes Nash and others "for their pioneering analysis of equilibria in the theory of non-cooperative games" caused controversy within the selection committee because of Nash's mental illness and alleged anti-Semitism.[37] The controversy resulted in a change to the governing committee: members served three year instead of unlimited terms[38] and the prize's scope expanded to include political science, psychology, and sociology.[38][39]


The 1976 prize was awarded to Milton Friedman "for his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilisation policy". The award caused international protests, mostly by the radical left,[40] because of Friedman's association with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. During March 1975, Friedman visited Chile and gave lectures on inflation, meeting with Pinochet and other government officials.[41]


The Prize in Literature has a history of controversial awards and notorious snubs. Many indisputably major authors have been ignored by the Nobel Committee, often for political or extra-literary reasons.[42] Conversely, many writers whom subsequent criticism regarded as minor, inconsequential or transitional have won the prize.

From 1901 to 1912, the committee's work reflected an interpretation of the "ideal direction" stated in Nobel's will as "a lofty and sound idealism", which caused Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, Émile Zola and Mark Twain to be rejected. Sweden's historic antipathy towards Russia was cited as the reason neither Tolstoy nor Anton Chekhov took the prize. During World War I and its immediate aftermath, the committee adopted a policy of neutrality, favoring writers from non-combatant countries.[43]

The heavy focus on European authors, and Swedes in particular, is the subject of mounting criticism, including from major Swedish newspapers.[44] The majority of the laureates have been European. Swedes have received more prizes than all of Asia. In 2008, Horace Engdahl, then the permanent secretary of the Academy, declared that "Europe still is the center of the literary world" and that "the US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature."[45] In 2009, Engdahl's replacement, Peter Englund, rejected this sentiment ("In most language areas ... there are authors that really deserve and could get the Nobel Prize and that goes for the United States and the Americas, as well,") and acknowledged the Eurocentric bias of the selections, saying that, "I think that is a problem. We tend to relate more easily to literature written in Europe and in the European tradition."[46]

Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel prize

The 2010 prize awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa stirred controversy, mainly due to his right-wing political views.[47] Vargas Llosa was even dubbed "king of controversies" for focusing more in politics than literature.[48]


The 2009 prize awarded to Herta Müller was attacked because many US literary critics and professors had never heard of Müller before.[49] This reignited criticism that the committee was too Eurocentric.[50][51]


The 2005 prize went to Harold Pinter "who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms".. The award was delayed for some days, apparently due to Knut Ahnlund's resignation. In turn, this renewed speculation about a "political element" existing in the Swedish Academy's awarding of the Prize.[52] Although poor health prevented him from giving his controversial Nobel Lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics", in person, he appeared on video, which was simultaneously transmitted on Britain's Channel Four.[53] The issue of "political stance" was also raised in response to Orhan Pamuk and Doris Lessing, prizewinners in 2006 and 2007, respectively.[54]


The 2004 prize was awarded to Elfriede Jelinek. Inactive since 1996 Academy member Knut Ahnlund resigned, alleging that selecting Jelinek had caused "irreparable damage" to the prize's reputation.[55][56]


The 1997 prize went to Italian actor-playwright Dario Fo who was initially considered "rather lightweight" by some critics, as he was seen primarily as a performer and had previously been censured by the Roman Catholic Church.[57] Salman Rushdie and Arthur Miller had been favored to receive the Prize, but a committee member was later quoted as saying that they would have been "too predictable, too popular."[58]


The 1974 prize was denied to Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, and Saul Bellow in favor of a joint award for Swedish authors Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson—both Nobel judges and unknown outside their home country. Bellow won in 1976; neither Greene nor Nabokov took home the prize.[59]


The 1970 prize was awarded to Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who did not attend the ceremony in Stockholm for fear that the Soviet Union would prevent his return. His works there were available only in samizdat-published, clandestine form. After the Swedish government refused to hold a public award ceremony and lecture at its Moscow embassy, Solzhenitsyn refused the award altogether, commenting that the conditions set by the Swedes (who preferred a private ceremony) were "an insult to the Nobel Prize itself." Solzhenitsyn later accepted the award on 10 December 1974, after the Soviet Union banished him.[60] Critics suggest that Solzhenitsyn was awarded the prize because of his political stance, not his writing.[61]


Czech writer Karel Čapek's War With the Newts was considered too offensive to the German government, and he declined to suggest a non-controversial publication that could be cited in its stead ("Thank you for the good will, but I have already written my doctoral dissertation").[62] He never received a prize.

French novelist and intellectual André Malraux was considered for the Literature prize in the 1950s, according to Swedish Academy archives studied by newspaper Le Monde on their opening in 2008. Malraux was competing with Albert Camus, but was rejected several times, especially in 1954 and 1955, "so long as he does not come back to novel", while Camus won the prize in 1957.[63]

W. H. Auden's missing prize was attributed to errors in his translation of 1961 Peace Prize winner Dag Hammarskjöld's Vägmärken (Markings)[64] and to statements that Auden made during a Scandinavian lecture tour suggesting that Hammarskjöld was, like Auden, homosexual.[65]

Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was nominated several times but never won. Edwin Williamson, Borges's biographer, stated that the author's support of Argentine and Chilean right-wing military dictators may have been a factor.[66] Borges' failure to win the Nobel Prize contrasts with awards to writers who openly supported left-wing dictatorships, including Joseph Stalin, in the case of Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Neruda.[67][68]

The academy's refusal to express support for Salman Rushdie in 1989, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwā on his life led two Academy members to resign.[69][70]


Nobel Peace Prize controversies often reach beyond the academic community. Criticism that have been levelled against some of the awards include allegations that they were politically motivated, premature, or guided by a faulty definition of what constitutes work for peace.[71]


The 2012 prize went to the EU for "over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe". Among other objections, some former laureates disputed the award, claiming that the EU is "clearly not a champion of peace".[72]


The 2010 prize went to Liu Xiaobo "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China". Liu was imprisoned at the time of the award and neither he nor his family were allowed to attend the ceremony. The Chinese government alleged that Liu did not promote "international friendship, disarmament, and peace meetings", the prize's stated goal.[73] They further alleged that Liu Xiaobo had participated in organizations that received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, which they claimed brought his status and the prize itself into question.[citation needed] The award led to a diplomatic dispute between Norway and China. Relations were normalized in December 2016.[74]

Some Chinese groups[who?] had criticized Liu's selection due to his low profile and obscurity within China and among Chinese youth. Critics such as Tariq Ali, Barry Sautman, and Yan Hairong also criticized Liu's selection for his long support of American involvement in wars in other nations, particularly Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq.[75][76] A Chinese group responded by creating a rival award—the Confucius Peace Prize.


The 2009 prize went to Barack Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". The award, given just nine months into Obama's first term as president, received criticism that it was undeserved, premature and politically motivated. Obama himself said that he felt "surprised" by the win and did not consider himself worthy of the award, but nonetheless accepted it.[77][78][79][80][81] Obama's peace prize was called a "stunning surprise" by The New York Times.[82] Much of the surprise arose from the fact that nominations for the award had been due by 1 February 2009, only 12 days after Obama took office.[83] In an October 2011 interview, Thorbjørn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, was asked whether Obama had lived up to the prize, and replied:[84]

"Yes, I think so. I'm as convinced as I was when he got it that he deserved it for many reasons. During three months' time, he... paved the way for new negotiations with the Russian Federation about nuclear arms. If you look at the will of Alfred Nobel that goes directly to what he said that the prize should go to the person that has worked for—he called it reduction of standing armies but in today's terms it means arm control and disarmament. ... But, there are other things also, which we looked at, for instance, the fact that he started immediately to build bridges to the Muslim world throughout the time."

In 2015, Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute (who sat in on the committee's meetings but did not have a vote[85]), wrote in his memoir, Secretary of Peace, that he regretted giving the prize to Obama.[86] The committee "thought it would strengthen Obama and it didn't have this effect", Lundestad told the Associated Press, though he fell short of calling the award a mistake.[85] "In hindsight, we could say that the argument of giving Obama a helping hand was only partially correct," Lundestad wrote.[85]


The 2007 prize went to Al Gore and the IPCC, "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change". The award received criticism on the grounds of political motivation and because the winners' work was not directly related to ending conflict.[87]


The 2004 prize went to Wangari Maathai "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace". Controversially, she was reported by the Kenyan newspaper Standard and Radio Free Europe to have stated that HIV/AIDS was originally developed by Western scientists in order to depopulate Africa. She later denied these claims, although the Standard stood by its reporting.[88] Additionally, in a Time magazine interview, she hinted at HIV's non-natural origin, saying that someone knows where it came from and that it "...did not come from monkeys."[89]


The 2002 prize was awarded to Jimmy Carter for "decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." The announcement of the award came shortly after the US House and Senate authorized President George W. Bush to use military force against Iraq in order to enforce UN Security Council resolutions requiring that Baghdad give up weapons of mass destruction. Asked if the selection of the former president was a criticism of Bush, Gunnar Berge, head of the Nobel Prize committee, said: "With the position Carter has taken on this, it can and must also be seen as criticism of the line the current US administration has taken on Iraq." Carter declined to comment on the remark in interviews, saying that he preferred to focus on the work of the Carter Center.[90]


The 1994 prize went to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin "to honour a political act which called for great courage on both sides, and which has opened up opportunities for a new development towards fraternity in the Middle East." Arafat's critics have referred to him as an "unrepentant terrorist with a long legacy of promoting violence"[91] Kåre Kristiansen, a Norwegian member of the Nobel Committee, resigned in protest at Arafat's award, citing his sponsorship of terrorism through the PLO and calling him the "world's most prominent terrorist". Supporters[who?] of Arafat claimed fairness, citing Nelson Mandela, who had never renounced political violence,[citation needed] and had been a founding member of Umkhonto we Sizwe. On the other hand, Edward Said was critical of Peres and Rabin and the entire Oslo Accords.[92]


The 1992 prize was awarded to Rigoberta Menchú for "her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples". The prize-winner's memoirs, which had brought her to fame, turned out to be partly fictitious.[93]


The 1989 prize was awarded to the 14th Dalai Lama. The committee's selection was not well received by the Chinese government, which opposes the Dalai Lama's activities regarding Tibet. Additionally, the Nobel Prize Committee cited their intention to put pressure on China.[citation needed]


The 1978 prize went to Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt during the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel, and Menachem Begin "for the Camp David Agreement, which brought about a negotiated peace between Egypt and Israel". Both had fought against British rule of their respective countries, and Begin was involved in a failed plot to assassinate German chancellor Konrad Adenauer.[94]


The 1973 prize went to North Vietnamese leader Lê Đức Thọ and United States Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger "for the 1973 Paris Peace Accords intended to bring about a cease-fire in the Vietnam War and a withdrawal of the American forces". Thọ later declined the prize, on grounds that such "bourgeois sentimentalities" were not for him[95] and that the Paris Peace Accords were not being adhered to in full. Kissinger was also privately sceptical about sharing the prize, saying to Soviet ambassador Dobrynin "I figure it like Groucho Marx said 'any club that took him in he would not want to join.' I would say that anything Lê Đức Thọ is eligible for, there must be something wrong with it."[95]

North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam in April 1975 and reunified the country whilst Lê Đức Thọ was still in government. Kissinger's history included the secret 1969–1975 bombing campaign against Khmer Rouge and North Vietnamese Army troops in Cambodia, the alleged U.S. complicity in Operation Condor—a mid-1970s campaign of kidnapping and murder coordinated among the intelligence and security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile (see details), Paraguay, and Uruguay—as well as the death of French nationals under the Chilean junta. He also supported the Turkish Intervention in Cyprus resulting in the de facto partition of the island.[96] According to Irwin Abrams, this prize was the most controversial to date. Two Norwegian Nobel Committee members resigned in protest.[97][98]

The American press also reacted with consternation to the award: the New York Times dubbed it the "Nobel War Prize";[95] the Washington Post quoted retired diplomat George Ball as saying that on the evidence "The Norwegians must have a sense of humour."[95] The well-known comedian and political satirist Tom Lehrer said: "Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize."[99] When the award was announced, hostilities were continuing.[97][100][101]

Kissinger did not attend the award ceremony in Oslo over concern that it would be targeted by anti-war protest groups.[95] He requested that the prize money be donated to a scholarship fund for US servicemen killed or missing in Indochina.[95] In 1975, as Saigon fell to North Vietnamese forces he offered to return the medal, an offer not accepted by the Nobel Committee.[95]


The 1945 prize was awarded to Cordell Hull as "Former Secretary of State; Prominent participant in the originating of the UN". Hull was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Secretary of State during the SS St. Louis Crisis. The St. Louis sailed from Hamburg in the summer of 1939 carrying over 950 Jewish refugees, seeking asylum from Nazi persecution. Initially, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt showed some willingness to take in some of those on board, but Hull and Southern Democrats voiced vehement opposition, and some of them threatened to withhold their support of Roosevelt in the 1940 election. On 4 June 1939 Roosevelt denied entry to the ship, which was waiting in the Florida strait between Florida and Cuba. The passengers began negotiations with the Cuban government, but those broke down. Forced to return to Europe, over a quarter of its passengers subsequently died in the Holocaust.[102][103][104]


One of the most controversial prizes was the prize of 1935 that was retroactively awarded one year later to Carl von Ossietzky, a German pacifist who had been convicted of high treason and espionage for exposing German re-armament. In an unprecedented move, King Haakon VII of Norway was absent from the award ceremony, two committee members resigned in protest, and the Norwegian conservative press, including leading daily Aftenposten, condemned giving the award to a convicted criminal. Ossietzky, interned in the concentration camp Esterwegen and severely ill with tuberculosis, accepted the award by letter but was prevented from traveling to Oslo. The award led to Adolf Hitler forbidding any German to receive any of the Nobel Prizes in the future, and his prize was not allowed to be mentioned in the German press.[105]

Mahatma Gandhi
M K Gandhi – "a role model for the generations to come" (Albert Einstein on Gandhi)

Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize, although he was nominated five times[106] between 1937 and 1948. Decades later, a Nobel Committee publicly declared its regret for the omission. Geir Lundestad, Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2006 said, "The greatest omission in our 106 year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question".[107] The Nobel Committee of the time may have tacitly acknowledged its error, however, when in 1948 (the year of his death), it made no award, stating "there was no suitable living candidate". A later committee awarded the prize posthumously to the Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961, who died after being nominated.[108]



The 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics, awarded to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura for the blue light-emitting diode, did not also recognize the decades of incremental work developing the LED by pioneers including Oleg Losev and Nick Holonyak.[109]


The 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester "for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene". Several problems with the factual accuracy of the supporting documents issued by the Nobel committee have been pointed out including that they seem to wrongly attribute the discovery of graphene to Geim and Novoselov and they didn't take into account other contributions to graphene research.[110]


The 2009 prize was awarded to Willard Boyle and George E. Smith for developing the CCD. However, Eugene I. Gordon and Michael Francis Tompsett claimed that it should have been theirs for establishing that the technology could be used for imaging.[111][112]


Half of the 2008 prize was awarded to Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa for their 1972 work on quark mixing. This postulated the existence of three additional quarks beyond the three then known to exist and used this postulate to provide a possible mechanism for CP violation, which had been observed 8 years earlier.[113] Their work expanded and reinterpreted research by the Italian physicist Nicola Cabibbo, dating to 1963, before the quark model was even introduced. The resulting quark mixing matrix, which described probabilities of different quarks to turn into each other under the action of the weak force, is known as CKM matrix, after Cabibbo, Kobayashi, and Maskawa. Cabibbo arguably merited a share of the award.[114] The recipient of the other half of the 2008 prize was Yoichiro Nambu for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics.[115] The fundamental step in this field is the Nambu–Jona-Lasinio model (NJL model), developed together with the Italian theoretical physicist Giovanni Jona-Lasinio, who was left out of the prize like Cabibbo. In recognition to his colleague's work, Nambu asked Jona-Lasinio to hold the Nobel Lecture at the Stockholm University in his place.[116] As the prize is awarded each year to at most three people for no more than two different research works, the committee was forced to skip one member each from both the CKM and the NJL workgroups (incidentally, both of them Italians).


The 2006 prize was won by John C. Mather and George F. Smoot (leaders of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite experiment) for "discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR)." However, in July 1983 an experiment[117] launched aboard the Prognoz 9[118] satellite, studied CMBR via a single frequency. In January 1992, Andrei A. Brukhanov presented a seminar at Sternberg Astronomical Institute in Moscow, where he first reported on the discovery.


Half of the 2005 prize was awarded to Roy J. Glauber "for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence". This research involved E. C. George Sudarshan's relevant 1960 work in quantum optics, which was allegedly slighted in this award.[119] Glauber—who initially derided the former representations, later produced the same P-representation under a different name, viz., Sudarshan–Glauber representation or Sudarshan diagonal representation—was the winner instead. According to others, the deserving Leonard Mandel and Daniel Frank Walls were passed over because posthumous nominations are not accepted.[120]


The 1997 prize was awarded to Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Daniel Phillips "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light." The award was disputed by Russian scientists[121] who questioned the awardees' priority in the acquired approach and techniques, which the Russians claimed to have carried out more than a decade before.[122]


The 1983 prize went to William Alfred Fowler "for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe". Fowler acknowledged Fred Hoyle as the pioneer of the concept of stellar nucleosynthesis but that was not enough for Hoyle to receive a share. Hoyle's obituary in Physics Today notes that "Many of us felt that Hoyle should have shared Fowler's 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics, but the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences later made partial amends by awarding Hoyle, with Edwin Salpeter, its 1997 Crafoord Prize".[123]


The 1979 prize was awarded to Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg for the electroweak interaction unification theory. However, E. C. George Sudarshan and Robert Marshak were the first proponents of the successful V-A (vector minus axial vector, or left-handed) theory for weak interactions in 1957. It was essentially the same theory as that proposed by Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann in their "mathematical physics" paper on the structure of the weak interaction. Actually, Gell-Mann had been let in on the Sudarshan/Marshak work on Sudarshan's initiative,[124] but no acknowledgment appeared in the later paper, except for an informal allusion. The reason given was that the originators' work had not been published in a formal or 'reputable enough' science journal at the time. A similar reason was also said of the DNA x-ray crystallography work of Rosalind Franklin, used without permission by Watson and Crick in their work that eventually led to their 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine. The theory is popularly known in the west as the Feynman-Gell-Mann theory.[125] The V-A theory for weak interactions was, in effect, a new Law of Nature. It was conceived in the face of a series of apparently contradictory experimental results, including several from Chien-Shiung Wu, also aided along by a sprinkling of other evidence, like the muon. Discovered in 1936, the muon had a curious and colorful history[126] all to itself and would itself lead on to a new revolution[127] in the 21st century.[128] This breakthrough has to date not yet won a Nobel Prize award. The V-A theory would form the foundation for the electroweak interaction theory later on. Sudarshan regarded the V-A theory as his finest work. The Sudarshan-Marshak (or V-A theory), preferably and favorably assessed as "beautiful" by J. Robert Oppenheimer,[124] was only to be disparaged later on as "less complete" and "inelegant" by John Gribbin.[129]


The 1978 prize was awarded for the chanced "detection of Cosmic microwave background radiation". The joint winners, Arno Allan Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson, had their discovery elucidated by others. Many scientists felt that Ralph Alpher, who predicted the cosmic microwave background radiation and in 1948 worked out the underpinnings of the Big Bang theory, should have shared in the prize or received one independently. In 2005, Alpher received the National Medal of Science for his pioneering contributions to understanding of nucleosynthesis, the prediction of the relic radiation from the Big Bang, as well as for a model for the Big Bang.


The 1974 prize was awarded to Martin Ryle and Antony Hewish "for their pioneering research in radio astrophysics: Ryle for his observations and inventions, in particular of the aperture synthesis technique, and Hewish for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars". Hewish was not the first to correctly explain pulsars, initially describing them as communications from "Little Green Men" (LGM-1) in outer space. David Staelin and Edward Reifenstein, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, found a pulsar at the center of the Crab Nebula. The notion that pulsars were neutron stars, leftovers from a supernova explosion, had been proposed in 1933. Soon after their 1967 discovery, Fred Hoyle and astronomer Thomas Gold correctly explained it as a rapidly spinning neutron star with a strong magnetic field, emitting radio waves. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Hewish's graduate student, was not recognized, although she was the first to notice the stellar radio source that was later recognized as a pulsar.[130] While Hoyle argued that Bell should have been included in the prize, Bell said, "I believe it would demean Nobel Prizes if they were awarded to research students, except in very exceptional cases, and I do not believe this is one of them."[131] Prize-winning research students include Louis de Broglie, Rudolf Mössbauer, Douglas Osheroff, Gerard 't Hooft, John Forbes Nash, Jr., John Robert Schrieffer and H. David Politzer.


The 1969 prize was won by Murray Gell-Mann "for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions" (postulating the existence of quarks). George Zweig, then a PhD student at Caltech, independently espoused the physical existence of aces, essentially the same thing. Unfortunately, Zweig did not publish his results in a peer-reviewed journal, although his work was widely available as a CERN preprint.[132][133] Israeli physicist Yuval Ne'eman published the classification of hadrons through their SU(3) flavor symmetry independently of Gell-Mann in 1962,[134] and also felt that he had been unjustly deprived of the prize for the quark model.[135]


The 1956 prize went to John Bardeen, Walter Houser Brattain and William Bradford Shockley "for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect". However, the committee did not recognize numerous preceding patent applications. As early as 1928, Julius Edgar Lilienfeld patented several modern transistor types.[136] In 1934, Oskar Heil patented a field-effect transistor.[137] It is unclear whether Lilienfeld or Heil had built such devices, but they did cause later workers significant patent problems. Further, Herbert Mataré and Heinrich Welker, at Westinghouse Paris, applied for a patent in 1948 of an amplifier based on the minority carrier injection process. Mataré had first observed transconductance effects during the manufacture of germanium diodes for German radar equipment during World War II. Shockley was part of other controversies[138]—including his position as a corporate director and his self-promotion efforts.[139] Further, the original design Shockley presented to Brattain and Bardeen did not work. His share of the prize resulted from his development of the superior junction transistor, which became the basis of the electronics revolution.[139][140] He excluded Brattain and Bardeen from the proceeds of this process, even though the idea may have been theirs.[139] Another controversy associated with Shockley was his support of eugenics.[141] He regarded his published works on this topic as the most important work of his career.[142]


The 1950 prize went to Cecil Powell for "his development of the photographic method of studying nuclear processes and his discoveries regarding mesons made with this method". However, Brazilian physicist César Lattes was the main researcher and the first author of the historical Nature journal article describing the subatomic particle meson pi (pion). Lattes was solely responsible for the improvement of the nuclear emulsion used by Powell (by asking Kodak Co. to add more boron to it—and in 1947, he made with them his great experimental discovery). This result was explained by the Nobel Committee policy (ended in 1960) to award the prize to the research group head only. Lattes calculated the pion's mass and, with USA physicist Eugene Gardner, demonstrated the existence of this particle after atomic collisions in a synchrotron. Gardner was denied a prize because he died soon thereafter.


The 1938 prize went to Enrico Fermi in part for "his demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation". However, in this case, the award later appeared to be premature: Fermi thought he had created transuranic elements (specifically, hesperium), but had in fact unwittingly demonstrated nuclear fission (and had actually created only fission products—isotopes of much lighter elements than uranium). The fact that Fermi's interpretation was incorrect was discovered shortly after he had received his prize.


The 1936 prize went to Carl D. Anderson for the discovery of the positron. While a graduate student at Caltech in 1930, Chung-Yao Chao was the first to experimentally identify positrons through electron–positron annihilation, but did not realize what they were. Anderson used the same radioactive source, 208
, as Chao. (Historically, 208
was known as "thorium C double prime" or "ThC", see decay chains.) Late in life, Anderson admitted that Chao had inspired his discovery: Chao's research formed the foundation from which much of Anderson's own work developed. Chao died in 1998, without sharing in a Nobel Prize acknowledgment.[143]


The 1923 prize went to Robert Millikan "for his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect". Millikan might have won in 1920 but for Felix Ehrenhaft's incorrect claim to have measured a smaller charge. Some controversy, however, still seems to linger over Millikan's oil-drop procedure and experimental interpretation, over whether Millikan manipulated his data in the 1913 scientific paper measuring the electron charge. Allegedly, he did not report all his observations.[144]


The 1903 prize was awarded to Henri Becquerel (along with Pierre and Marie Curie) "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity". However, critics alleged that Becquerel merely rediscovered a phenomenon first noticed and investigated decades earlier by the French scientist Abel Niepce de Saint-Victor.[145]

Other major unrecognized discoveries

None of the contributors to the discovery of nuclear fission won the prize for Physics. Instead, the prize for Chemistry was awarded to Otto Hahn for his discovery of fission in Berlin in 1938. Lise Meitner also contributed to the discovery of nuclear fission,[146] through her collaboration with Hahn. From the beginning, she had worked with Hahn on the neutron bombardment of Uranium, but left Germany for Sweden before fission was discovered. Working there with the experimental data supplied to her by Hahn, she managed, with Otto Robert Frisch's participation, to incorporate Niels Bohr's liquid drop model (first suggested by George Gamow)[147] into fission's theoretical foundation. She also predicted the possibility of chain reactions.[citation needed] In an earlier collaboration with Hahn, she had independently discovered a new chemical element (called protactinium). Bohr nominated both for this work, in addition to recommending the Chemistry prize for Hahn. Hahn's assistant, Fritz Strassmann, was not considered for the Physics prize.[148]

Chien-Shiung Wu disproved the law of the conservation of parity (1956) and was the first Wolf Prize winner in physics. She died in 1997 without receiving a Nobel.[149] Wu assisted Tsung-Dao Lee personally in his parity laws development—with Chen-Ning Yang—by providing him in 1956 with a possible test method for beta decay that worked successfully.[citation needed] Her book Beta Decay (1965) is still a sine qua non reference for nuclear physicists.

Satyendra Nath Bose in 1925
Bose–Einstein Statistics

Several Nobel Prizes were awarded for research related to the concepts of the boson, Bose–Einstein statistics and Bose–Einstein condensate—the latest being the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics given for advancing the theory of Bose–Einstein condensates although Satyendra Nath Bose himself was not awarded the Nobel Prize. In his book The Scientific Edge, physicist Jayant Narlikar observed: "SN Bose's work on particle statistics (c.1922), which clarified the behavior of photons (the particles of light in an enclosure) and opened the door to new ideas on statistics of Microsystems that obey the rules of quantum theory, was one of the top ten achievements of 20th century Indian science and could be considered in the Nobel Prize class."[150] The work of other 20th century Indian scientists which Narlikar considered to be of Nobel Prize class were Srinivasa Ramanujan, Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman and Meghnad Saha. However, when asked about the omission, Bose himself said: "I have got all the recognition I deserve."[151] Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director general of European organization for nuclear research CERN, commented in a scientific meet in Kolkata titled Frontiers of Science that "it is unfortunate that pioneering Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose did not win the Nobel Prize for work on quantum physics in the 1920s that provided the foundation of the Bose–Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose–Einstein condensate".[152]

Einstein's annus mirabilis
Albert Einstein, awarded a single 1921 Prize out of numerous nominations.

Albert Einstein's 1921 Nobel Prize Award mainly recognized his 1905 discovery of the mechanism of the photoelectric effect and "for his services to Theoretical Physics". The Nobel committee passed on several nominations for his many other seminal contributions, although these led to prizes for others who later applied more advanced technology to experimentally verify his work. Many predictions of Einstein's theories have been verified as technology advances. Recent examples include the bending of light in a gravitational field, gravitational waves, gravitational lensing and black holes. It wasn't until 1993 that the first evidence for the existence of gravitational radiation came via the Nobel Prize-winning measurements of the Hulse–Taylor binary system.[153]

The committee also failed to recognize the other contributions of his Annus Mirabilis papers on Brownian motion and special relativity. Often these nominations for Special Relativity were for both Hendrik Lorentz and Einstein. Henri Poincaré was also nominated at least once for his work, including on Lorentz's relativity theory. However, Kaufmann's then-experimental results (incorrectly) cast doubt on Special Relativity. These doubts were not resolved until 1915. By this time, Einstein had progressed to his general theory of relativity, including his theory of gravitation. Empirical support—in this case the predicted spectral shift of sunlight—was in question for many decades. The only piece of original evidence was the consistency with the known perihelion precession of the planet Mercury. Some additional support was gained at the end of 1919, when the predicted deflection of starlight near the sun was confirmed by Arthur Eddington's Solar Eclipse Expedition, though here again the actual results were somewhat ambiguous. (A TV movie was made in 2008 about this.[154]) Conclusive proof of the gravitational light deflection prediction was not achieved until the 1970s.[citation needed]

Physiology or medicine[edit]


The 2011 prize was awarded in part to Ralph Steinman, who died of cancer days before the award, a fact unknown to the Nobel committee at the time of the award. Committee rules prohibit posthumous awards, and Steinman's death created a dilemma unprecedented in the history of the award. The committee ruled that Steinman remained eligible for the award despite his death, under the rule that allows awardees to receive the award who die between being named and the awards ceremony.[155]


The decision to award the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine to Robert Edwards for developing the technique of in vitro fertilisation was bitterly denounced by the Catholic Church,[156] which objects to all artificial methods of human conception and fertilization as well as to contraception. One Vatican official called the award "out of order",[157] and the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations issued a statement saying that the use of human embryos, created and discarded "as experimental animals destined for destruction, has led to a culture where they are regarded as commodities rather than the precious individuals which they are.”[158][159]


The 2008 prize was awarded in part to Harald zur Hausen "for his discovery of human papilloma viruses (HPV) causing cervical cancer". The Swedish police anticorruption unit investigated charges of improper influence by AstraZeneca, which had a stake in two lucrative HPV vaccines. The company had agreed to sponsor Nobel Media and Nobel Web and had strong links with two senior figures in the process that chose zur Hausen.[160]

The other half of the 2008 prize was split between Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi "for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus". The omission of Robert Gallo was controversial: 106 scientists signed a letter to the journal Science stating that 'While these awardees fully deserve the award, it is equally important to recognize the contributions of Robert C. Gallo', which 'warrant equal recognition'.[161] Montagnier said that he was 'surprised' that the award had not been shared with Gallo.[162]


The 2006 prize went to Andrew Fire and Craig C. Mello "for their discovery of RNA interference—gene silencing by double-stranded RNA". Many of the discoveries credited by the committee to Fire and Mello, who studied RNA interference in Caenorhabditis elegans, had been previously studied by plant biologists, and was suggested that at least one plant biologist, such as David Baulcombe, should have been awarded a share of the prize.[163]


The 2003 prize was awarded to Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield "for their discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging" (MRI). Two independent alternatives have been alleged.[164] Raymond Damadian first reported that NMR could distinguish in vitro between cancerous and non-cancerous tissues on the basis of different proton relaxation times. He later translated this into the first human scan. Damadian's original report prompted Lauterbur to develop NMR into the present method. Damadian took out large advertisements in an international newspapers protesting his exclusion.[165] Some researchers felt that Damadian's work deserved at least equal credit.[citation needed] Separately, Herman Y. Carr both pioneered the NMR gradient technique and demonstrated rudimentary MRI imaging in the 1950s. The Nobel prize winners had almost certainly seen Carr's work, but did not cite it. Consequently, the prize committee very likely was unaware of Carr's discoveries,[citation needed] a situation likely abetted by Damadian's campaign.[166][167][168] Mansfield said in his autobiography that "the person who really missed out" the prize was Erwin Hahn for his contribution to the principles of spin echoes.[169]


The 2000 prize went to Arvid Carlsson, Paul Greengard, and Eric R. Kandel, "for their discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system". The award caused many neuroscientists to protest that Oleh Hornykiewicz, who helped pioneer the dopamine replacement treatment for Parkinson's disease, was left out, and that Hornykiewicz's research provided a foundation for the honorees' success.


The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded in 1998 to Robert Furchgott, Louis Ignarro and Ferid Murad "for their discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system". There followed protest by the scientific community due to the omission of Salvador Moncada, who was internationally recognised as the major contributor to the discovery of this field together with Robert Furchgott.[170][171]


The 1997 prize was awarded to Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner for his discovery of prions. This award caused a long stream of polemics. Critics attacked the validity of the work and questioned whether prions exist at all, which claim had been criticized by other researchers as not yet proven.[172] The existence of prions was not fully accepted within the scientific community for at least an additional decade after the awarding of the prize.[173]


The 1993 prize went to Phillip Allen Sharp and Richard J. Roberts "for their discoveries of split genes" the discovery of introns in eukaryotic DNA and the mechanism of gene splicing. Several other scientists, such as Norman Davidson and James Watson, argued that Louise T. Chow, a China-born Taiwanese researcher[174] who collaborated with Roberts, should have had part of the prize.[175] In 1976, as Staff Investigator, Chow carried out the studies of the genomic origins and structures of adenovirus transcripts that led directly to the discovery of RNA splicing and alternative RNA processing at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island in 1977. Norman Davidson, (a Caltech expert in electron microscopy, under whom Chow apprenticed as a graduate student), affirmed that Chow operated the electron microscope through which the splicing process was observed, and was the crucial experiment's sole designer, using techniques she had developed.[176]


The 1975 prize was awarded to David Baltimore, Renato Dulbecco and Howard Martin Temin "for their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell". It has been argued that Dulbecco was distantly, if at all, involved in this ground-breaking work.[177] Further, the award failed to recognize the contributions of Satoshi Mizutani, Temin's Japanese postdoctoral fellow.[178] Mizutani and Temin jointly discovered that the Rous sarcoma virus particle contained the enzyme reverse transcriptase. However, Mizutani was solely responsible for the original conception and design of the novel experiment that confirmed Temin's provirus hypothesis.[177] A second controversy implicated Baltimore in the "Imanishi-Kari" affair, involving charges that Thereza Imanishi-Kari, a researcher in his laboratory, had fabricated data. Imanishi-Kari was initially found to have committed scientific fraud by the Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI), following highly publicized and politicized hearings. However, in 1996, she was vindicated by an appeals panel of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which overturned the OSI's findings and criticized their investigation.[179] Baltimore's staunch defense of Imanishi-Kari initially drew substantial criticism and controversy; the case itself was often referred to as "The Baltimore Affair", and contributed to his resignation as president of Rockefeller University.[180] Following Imanishi-Kari's vindication, Baltimore's role was reassessed; The New York Times opined that "... the most notorious fraud case in recent scientific history has collapsed in embarrassment for the Federal Government and belated vindication for the accused scientist."[180]


The 1973 prize went to Konrad Lorenz, Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch "for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns". Von Frisch's contribution was the "dance language" of bees. However, controversy emerged over the lack of direct proof of the waggle dance—as exactly worded by von Frisch. A team of researchers from Rothamsted Research in 2005 settled the controversy by using radar to track bees as they flew to a food source.[181] It turns out that bees do, indeed, use the information contained in the waggle dance to find food sources.


The 1968 prize went to Robert W. Holley, Har Gobind Khorana and Marshall W. Nirenberg "for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis". However, Heinrich J. Matthaei broke the genetic code in 1961 with Nirenberg in their poly-U experiment at National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, paving the way for modern genetics. Matthaei was responsible for experimentally obtaining the first codon (nucleotide triple that usually specifies an amino acid) extract, while Nirenberg tampered with his initial, accurate results (due to his belief in 'less precise', 'more believable' data presentation).[177]


The 1962 prize was awarded to James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material". It did not recognize critical contributions from Alec Stokes, Herbert Wilson, and Erwin Chargaff. In addition, Erwin Chargaff, Oswald Avery and Rosalind Franklin (whose key DNA X-ray crystallography work was the most detailed yet least acknowledged among the three) contributed directly to Watson and Crick's insight to solve the DNA molecule's structure. Avery's death in 1955, and Franklin's in 1958, eliminated them from eligibility.


The 1952 prize was awarded solely to Selman Waksman "for his discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis" and omitted recognition[182] due his co-discoverer Albert Schatz.[183] Schatz sued Waksman over the details and credit of the discovery. Schatz was awarded a substantial settlement, and, together with Waksman, Schatz was legally recognized as a co-discoverer.


The 1949 prize was awarded to Portuguese neurologist António Egas Moniz "for his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy (lobotomy) in certain psychoses". Soon after, Dr. Walter Freeman developed the transorbital lobotomy, which was easier to carry out. Criticism was raised because the procedure was often prescribed injudiciously and without regard for medical ethics. Popular acceptance of the procedure had been fostered by enthusiastic press coverage such as a 1938 New York Times report. Endorsed by such influential publications as The New England Journal of Medicine, in the three years following the Prize, some 5,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States alone, and many more throughout the world.[184][185] Joseph Kennedy, father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, had his daughter Rosemary lobotomized when she was in her twenties. The procedure later fell into disrepute and was prohibited in many countries.[186]


The 1945 prize was awarded to Ernst Boris Chain, Howard Florey and Alexander Fleming "for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases". Fleming accidentally stumbled upon the then-unidentified fungal mold. However, some critics pointed out that Fleming did not in fact discover penicillin, that it was technically a rediscovery; decades before Fleming, Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson, William Roberts (physician), John Tyndall and Ernest Duchesne[187] had already done studies[124] and research[188] on its useful properties and medicinal characteristics.[189] Moreover, according to Fleming himself, the first known reference to penicillin was from Psalm 51: "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean". Meanwhile, he had learned from mycologist Charles Thom (the same who helped Fleming establish the identity of the mysterious fungal mold)[190] that "Penicillium notatum" was first recognized by Per Richard Westling, a Swedish pharmacist, from a specimen of decayed hyssop. In this award, as it had been pointed out, several deserving contemporaneous contributors had been left out of the Prize altogether.[citation needed]


In 1926, no prize was awarded because the works of the two nominees Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger and Katsusaburo Yamagiwa were considered undeserving. Fibiger had demonstrated that he could induce stomach cancer in rats using a roundworm Gongylonema neoplasticum that he discovered (but which he preferred to call Spiroptera carcinoma). Yamagiwa followed suit and induced cancer in rabbit by applying coal tar on the rabbit's ears. Theirs were the first experimental induction of cancer.[191] One of the assessors Hilding Bergstrand concluded that "one cannot, at this point, find much support for the possibility that the work of Fibiger and Yamagiwa will have great importance in the solving of the riddle of cancer. Under such circumstances I do not consider these discoveries worthy of the Noble Prize."[192] In 1927, Fibiger was again nominated alongside Otto Heinrich Warburg and Julius Wagner-Jauregg; but Yamagiwa was excluded. The Nobel Committee decided to award the 1926 prize jointly to Fibiger and Warburg, and the 1927 prize to Wagner-Jauregg. But at the final selection, Karolinska Institute rejected Warburg. The 1926 prize went solely to Fibiger "for his discovery of the Spiroptera carcinoma." Fibiger's "finding" was discredited by other scientists shortly thereafter.[193][194][195][196][197] Particularly after the last major experiment in 1952, it was established that the roundworm is not carcinogenic, and that cancers developed in Fibiger's experiments were due to vitamin A deficiency.[198] Yamagiwa's exclusion was also criticised, because his experiment was a valid finding.[199] Coal tar (and substances containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs) are true carcinogens. Yamagiwa's work has become the primary basis for this line of research.[200] Encyclopædia Britannica's guide to Nobel Prizes in cancer research mentions Yamagiwa's work as a milestone without mentioning Fibiger.[201]


The 1923 prize was awarded to Frederick Banting and John Macleod "for the discovery of insulin". Banting clearly deserved the prize, however, the choice of Macleod as co-winner was controversial. Banting felt that Charles Best was the proper corecipient, while Macleod had merely given them lab space at the University of Toronto while Macleod was away for the summer. However, on his return, Macleod pointed out some flaws in their experimental design and gave them advice about directions to work in. Banting's original method of isolating insulin required performing surgery on living dogs, which was too labor-intensive to produce insulin on a large scale. Best then set about finding a biochemical extraction method, while James Bertram Collip, a chemistry professor on sabbatical from the University of Alberta, joined Macleod's team and worked in parallel with Best. The two of them succeeded within days of each other. When Banting agreed to receive the prize, he decided to give half of his prize money to Best. Macleod, in turn, split his half of the prize money with Collip.[202]

Since the Toronto team had isolated insulin from the pancreas, many researchers who had worked with pancreatic extracts claimed to have discovered insulin before the Prize winners. These included George Ludwig Zuelzer (1906), E. L. Scott (1911), and Nicolae Paulescu (1921).[203][204] Israel Kleiner had also tested pancreatic extracts on dogs in 1915, but he made no claim to priority. In all of the earlier work, the injection of insufficiently pure pancreatic extracts resulted in fever and other side effects. The same problem had affected the Canadians' early tests on humans, but they continued their work until they reached a purity that was acceptable for use in humans.[202]


No prize was awarded in 1921. Carlos Chagas, who had already been nominated in 1913 and was the recipient of several international awards at the time, was among the nominees.[205] His failure in receiving the award has generated controversy, especially in his homeland, Brazil, proved that Chagas is responsible for one of the most important achievements in the history of parasitology: Chagas alone discovered a new infectious disease, Chagas disease, its pathogen, vector, host, clinical manifestation and epidemology, first describing it in 1909. According to historian Sierra Iglesias,[206] the Nobel Assembly retrieved for Brazilian health authorities’ advice as to Chagas's being worthy the award and received unfavorable answers. It is known that Chagas had several adversaries inside Brazilian governmental health organizations, mainly due to intellectual rivalries;[207] however, Iglesias offers no proof to her claims. It seems substantially more likely that Chagas's not receiving the award was due to the Nobel Committee inability in recognizing the value of Chagas’s findings.


Camillo Golgi and Santiago Ramón y Cajal were jointly awarded "in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system". However, their interpretation of discoveries were directly in opposition. Much as Golgi made significant contributions to the techniques in the study of nervous system in terms of actual structure, he made a completely erroneous conclusion that nervous system is nothing but a single continuous network, the notion called reticular theory. On the other hand, Ramón y Cajal described nervous system as composed of interlinking nerve cells or neurons as suggested by a theory called the neuron doctrine. Golgi strongly advocated the reticular theory such that even his Nobel lecture was a direct attack on Cajal's work and the neuron doctrine, and even depicted a diagram of continuous network which he claimed was "an exact reproduction after life".[208][209][210] Therefore, recognising a work on wrong conclusion is inappropriate. The controversy and rivalry between the two scientists lasted even after the award of the Nobel Prize.[211] The award is even dubbed as creating the "storm center of histological controversy". Cajal even commented that: "What a cruel irony of fate of pair, like Siamese twins united by the shoulders, scientific adversaries of such contrasting character!".[212] The neuron doctrine turned out to be a more correct description, and Golgi was proved wrong with the development of electron microscopy in the 1950s by which it was clearly demonstrated that neurons are individual cells in the nervous system, and that they are interconnected through gaps called synapses.[213] Recent studies suggest that there are notable exceptions. Electrical synapses are more common in the central nervous system than previously thought. Thus, rather than functioning as individual units, in some parts of the brain large ensembles of neurons may be active simultaneously to process neural information.[214][215]


Ronald Ross was awarded basically for his discovery of the life cycle of malarial parasite (as the citation goes: for his work on malaria, by which he has shown how it enters the organism...). In 1897, independent of Ross, Giovanni Battista Grassi, along with his Italian associates, had established the developmental stages of malaria parasites in anopheline mosquitoes; and they described the complete life cycles of P. falciparum, P. vivax and P. malariae the following year.[216][217] The initial opinion of the Nobel Committee was that the prize should be shared between Ross and Grassi. Then Ross made a defamatory campaign accusing Grassi of deliberate fraud. The weight of favour ultimately fell on Ross, largely upon the influences of Robert Koch, the appointed "neutral arbitrator" in the committee; as reported, "Koch threw the full weight of his considerable authority in insisting that Grassi did not deserve the honor".[218] The indelible irony was that Ross was definitely the first to show that malarial parasite was transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, in his case the avian Plasmodium relictum. But Grassi's work was much more directly relevant to human health as he demonstrated that human malarial parasites were incriminated only by female Anopheles (Interestingly, Ross never identified the mosquito species, being not a zoologist, "grey mosquito with dappled wings" was all that he could offer). Indeed, it was Grassi who identified the species correctly, and in 1898 who first established the complete life cycle of P. falciparum, the first human malarial parasite for which the entire cycle was determined. By today's standard, they should have undoubtedly shared the Nobel.[219][220]


Oswald Theodore Avery, best known for his 1944 demonstration that DNA is the cause of bacterial transformation and potentially the material of which genes are composed, never received a Nobel Prize, although two Nobel Laureates, Joshua Lederberg and Arne Tiselius, praised him and his work as a pioneering platform for further genetic research. According to John M. Barry, in his book The Great Influenza, the committee was preparing to award Avery, but declined to do so after the DNA findings were published, fearing that they would be endorsing findings that had not yet survived significant scrutiny.[citation needed]

Laureates who declined the prize[edit]

Involuntary refusals[edit]

In 1936, the Nobel Foundation offended Adolf Hitler when it awarded the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize to Carl von Ossietzky, a German writer who publicly opposed Hitler and Nazism.[221] (At that time, the prize was awarded the following year.) Hitler reacted by issuing a decree on 31 January 1937 that forbade German nationals to accept any Nobel Prize. Awarding the peace prize to Ossietzky was itself considered controversial. While Fascism had few supporters outside Italy, Spain, and Germany, those who did not necessarily sympathize felt that it was wrong to (deliberately) offend Germany.[222][223]

Hitler's decree prevented three Germans from accepting their prizes: Gerhard Domagk (1939 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine), Richard Kuhn (1938 Nobel Prize in Chemistry), and Adolf Butenandt (1939 Nobel Prize in Chemistry). The three later received their certificates and medals, but not the prize money.[224]

On 19 October 1939, about a month and a half after World War II had started, the Nobel Committee of the Karolinska Institutet met to discuss the 1939 prize in physiology or medicine.[225] The majority favored Domagk and someone leaked the news, which traveled to Berlin. The Kulturministerium in Berlin replied with a telegram stating that a Nobel Prize to a German was "completely unwanted" (durchaus unerwünscht).[226] Despite the telegram, a large majority voted for Domagk on 26 October 1939.[227] Once he learned of the decision, hopeful that it only applied to the peace prize, Domagk sent a request to the Ministry of Education in Berlin asking permission to accept the prize.[228] Since he did not receive a reply after more than a week had passed, he felt it would be impolite to wait any longer without responding, and on 3 November 1939 he wrote a letter to the Institute thanking them for the distinction, but added that he had to wait for the government's approval before he could accept the prize.[229] He was subsequently ordered to send a copy of his letter to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Berlin, and on 17 November 1939, was arrested by the Gestapo.[230][231] He was released after one week, then arrested again. On 28 November 1939, he was forced by the Kulturministerium to sign a prepared letter, addressed to the Institute, declining the prize.[229][232] Since the Institute had already prepared his medal and diploma before the second letter arrived, they were able to award them to him later, during the 1947 Nobel festival. Domagk was the first to decline a prize. Due to his refusal, the procedures changed so that if a laureate declined the prize or failed to collect the prize award before 1 October of the following year, the money would not be awarded.[233]

On 9 November 1939, the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences awarded the 1938 Prize for Chemistry to Kuhn and half of the 1939 prize to Butenandt.[227][234] When notified of the decision, the German scientists were forced to decline by threats of violence.[234][235] Their refusal letters arrived in Stockholm after Domagk's refusal letter, helping to confirm suspicions that the German government had forced them to refuse the prize.[230][234][235] In 1948, they wrote to the Academy expressing their gratitude for the prizes and their regret for being forced to refuse them in 1939. They were awarded their medals and diplomas at a ceremony in July 1949.

Boris Pasternak at first accepted the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature, but was forced by Soviet authorities to decline, because the prize was considered a "reward for the dissident political innuendo in his novel, Doctor Zhivago."[224][236] Pasternak died without ever receiving the prize. He was eventually honored by the Nobel Foundation at a banquet in Stockholm on 9 December 1989, when they presented his medal to his son.

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo while he was serving a prison sentence for "subversion of the state", with the Chinese government not allowing him or his family members to attend the ceremony.

Voluntary refusals[edit]

Two laureates voluntarily declined the Nobel Prize. Jean-Paul Sartre declined the 1964 prize for Literature, stating, "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honourable form."[237][238] The second person who refused the prize is Lê Đức Thọ, who was awarded the 1973 Peace Prize for his role in the Paris Peace Accords. He declined, saying there was no actual peace in Vietnam.[237]

Nobel rumors[edit]

1915 saw a newspaper rumor[239] (starting with a 6 November Reuters report from London) along the lines that Nobel Prize in Physics was to be awarded to both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. The story had gone to press in many publications before a 15 November Reuters story from Stockholm with the announcement that the prize that year was being awarded to Sir William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg "for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays".[240][241][242] There were unsubstantiated rumors at the time that Tesla and Edison had won the prize and that the Nobel committee had changed recipients when Tesla and/or Edison refused the award (a claim also made many years later attributed Tesla).[243] The Nobel Foundation declined to comment on the rumors other than saying, "Any rumor that a person has not been given a Nobel Prize because he has made known his intention to refuse the reward is ridiculous", further stating a recipient could only decline a Nobel Prize after he is announced a winner.[243]

Otto Heinrich Warburg, a German national who won the 1931 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, was rumored to have been selected for the 1944 prize but forbidden to accept it. According to the Nobel Foundation, this story is not true.[244]

Other prizes[edit]

Prizes in non-Nobel domains[edit]

Multiple primary fields of human intellectual endeavor-such as mathematics, philosophy and social studies-were not included among the Nobel Prizes, because they were not part of Alfred Nobel's will. When Jakob von Uexkull approached the Nobel Foundation with a proposal to establish two new awards for the environment and for the lives of the poor, he was turned down. He then established the Right Livelihood Award.

In 2003 purportedly a new Nobel-equivalent Award was also created especially for mathematics, the Abel Prize, though the older Fields Medal is often considered as the mathematical Nobel equivalent.[245]

However, the Nobel Committee did allow the creation of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. Many people have opposed this expansion, including the Swedish human rights lawyer Peter Nobel, a great-grandnephew of Alfred Nobel.[246] In his speech at the 1974 Nobel banquet, awardee Friedrich Hayek stated that had he been consulted whether to establish an economics prize, he would "have decidedly advised against it"[39][247] primarily because "the Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess... This does not matter in the natural sciences. Here the influence exercised by an individual is chiefly an influence on his fellow experts; and they will soon cut him down to size if he exceeds his competence. But the influence of the economist that mainly matters is an influence over laymen: politicians, journalists, civil servants and the public generally."[247]

The Kluge Prize, a $1 million prize given by the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, is awarded for lifetime achievement in fields of humanistic and social science studies that are not included in the Nobel Prizes, most notably history, philosophy, politics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, linguistics, and criticism in the arts and humanities.

The Shaw Prize is awarded for achievements in the fields of astronomy and mathematical sciences besides life science and medicine.

The Tang Prize categories include areas of sustainable development and rule of law which are not included in Nobel Prize, and also include biopharmaceutical science and sinology. The panels of judges are convened by Academia Sinica, located in Taiwan, Republic of China.

Alternatives to the Nobel Prizes[edit]

Following the announcement of the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to incarcerated Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese tabloid Global Times created the Confucius Peace Prize. The award ceremony was deliberately organized to take place on 8 December, one day before the Nobel ceremony. Organizers said that the prize had no relation to the Chinese government, the Ministry of Culture or Beijing Normal University.[248]

The German National Prize for Art and Science was Hitler's alternative to the Nobel Prize.[citation needed]

The Ig Nobel Prize is an American parody of the Nobel Prize.


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  • Bishop, J. Michael (2003). How to Win the Nobel Prize: An Unexpected Life in Science. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00880-4. .
  • Hager, Thomas (2006). The Demon under the Microscope: from battlefield hospitals to Nazi labs, one doctor's heroic search for the world's first miracle drug. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 1-4000-8213-7. .
  • Nasar, Sylvia (1998). A Beautiful Mind. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81906-6. .
  • Ryan, Frank (1993). The Forgotten Plague: How the Battle Against Tuberculosis Was Won – and Lost. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-76380-2. . First published in the United Kingdom as Tuberculosis: The Greatest Story Never Told.
  • Schück, Henrik; Sohlman, Ragnar; Österling, Anders; Liljestrand, Göran (1950). "Nobel: The Man and His Prizes". Stockholm, Sweden: Nobel Foundation. .
  • Schück, Henrik; Sohlman, Ragnar; Österling, Anders; Bernhard, Carl Gustaf (1972). Nobel Foundation; Odelberg, W., eds. Nobel: The Man and His Prizes (3rd ed.). New York: American Elsevier Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 0-444-00117-4. .

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