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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.
Presented by Swedish Academy
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Karolinska Institutet
Norwegian Nobel Committee
Country Sweden / Norway
First awarded 1901
Official website

The Nobel Prize controversies are contentious disputes regarding the Nobel Prize. Since the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, the proceedings, nominations, awards and exclusions have generated criticism and engendered much controversy. In particular, the Prizes in Literature and Peace have generated a lot of criticism.[1]


The Prize

The Nobel Prizes are a series of awards which were posthumously instituted by bequest of Alfred Nobel (1895). They are currently awarded to persons and organizations that have served humanity in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is related to the Nobel Prize. Since the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, the proceedings, nominations, awardees and exclusions have engendered criticisms[2] and on-going controversies.[3]

The development of a Nobel-equivalent Prize in 1969 for economics, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, has aroused more disaffection over the validity, effectiveness, and applicability of the award than any other Nobel Prize category.[4][5][6] Another Award, the Nobel Prize in Literature, has also met with its fair share of[7] criticisms and a whole host of controversial delimiting issues[8][9] over the years, though, in this particular instance, the original words of Nobel himself in relation to the Nobel Prize Award in Literature have themselves purportedly undergone a series of revised 'interpretations'.

Controversial exclusions


Tesla greatly influenced life in the 20th and 21st century
Edison applied "mass production" to the invention process
  • Guglielmo Marconi received the 1909 Nobel Prize for his work on the radio, even though the US Patent Office awarded the patent to Nikola Tesla first, reversing its decision in Marconi's favour in 1904 and again in Tesla's favour in 1942. Thomas Edison and Tesla were mentioned as potential laureates in 1915, but it is believed that due to their animosity toward each other neither was ever given the award, despite their enormous scientific contributions. There is some indication that each sought to minimize the other's achievements and right to win the award; that both refused to ever accept the award if the other received it first; and that both rejected any possibility of sharing it—as was rumored in the press at the time.[10][11][12][13] Tesla had a greater financial need for the award than Edison: in 1916, he filed for bankruptcy.
  • Chung-Yao Chao was the first person to capture positrons through electron-positron annihilation while a graduate student at Caltech in 1930, but did not realize what they were. Carl D. Anderson, who won the 1936 Nobel Physics Prize for his discovery of the positron, used the same radioactive source, 208Tl, as Chao. (Historically, 208Tl was known as thorium C double prime, ThC", see decay chains.) Late in his life, Anderson admitted that Chao had in fact inspired his discovery: Chao's research formed the foundation from which much of Anderson's own work developed. Chao died in 1998, without the honor of sharing in a Nobel Prize acknowledgment.[14]
  • Enrico Fermi received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938 in part for "his demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation". However, in this case, the Prize later appeared to be premature: Fermi had 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). That Fermi's interpretation was incorrect was discovered shortly after he had received his prize.
  • Lise Meitner contributed directly to the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 but received no Nobel recognition.[15] In fact it was not Otto Hahn who first figured out fission but Meitner. Working with the then experimental data available, she managed, with Otto Robert Frisch's participation, to incorporate Bohr's liquid drop model (first suggested by George Gamow)[16] into fission's theoretical foundation. She was known also to have predicted, from her research work on atomic theory and radioactivity, the possibility of chain reactions. In addition, in an earlier collaboration with Hahn, she had also independently discovered a new chemical element called (protactinium) : Niels Bohr did in fact nominate both for the Nobel Prize in Physics for this work, besides his recommendation of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Hahn. The case served up an interesting and contrasting foil to that of Louis, 7th duc de Broglie's Nobel deliberations circa 1929 (de Broglie was then-thought of as somewhat of a dilettante in physics!): in particular, of the ways the Nobel Committee gave weight and judged between male and female contributors and their work. There was a third junior contributor Fritz Strassmann who was not considered for the Prize.[17] In his defense, Hahn was under strong pressure from the Nazis to minimize Meitner's role since she was Jewish. But he maintained this position even after the war.
  • Although the 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), his lab boss, Cecil Powell, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1950 for "his development of the photographic method of studying nuclear processes and his discoveries regarding mesons made with this method"; though it was actually Lattes himself who was solely responsible for the improvement on 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). The reason for this apparent neglect is that the Nobel Committee policy until 1960 was to award the Nobel Prize to the research group head only. Lattes was also responsible for calculating the pion's mass and, with USA physicist Eugene Gardner, demonstrated the existence of this particle after atomic collisions in a synchrotron. Again, Gardner was denied a Nobel because he died soon thereafter, and posthumous nominations for the Nobel Prize are not permitted.
  • The 1956 Prize was awarded to Bardeen, Shockley, and Brattain for the discovery of the transistor, because the Nobel committee did not recognize numerous preceding patent applications. As early as 1928, Julius Edgar Lilienfeld patented several modern transistor types.[18] In 1934, Oskar Heil patented a field-effect transistor.[19] It is unclear whether either had really built such devices, but they did cause later workers significant patent problems. Further, Herbert F. Mataré and Heinrich Walker, at Westinghouse Paris, applied for a patent in 1948 on an amplifier based on the minority carrier injection process. Mataré had first observed transconductance effects during the manufacture of germanium duodiodes for German radar equipment during World War 2.
  • 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 is 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 former group's results before-via open sharings that were intimated by Sudarshan himself earlier on to GellMann;[20] but no formal acknowledgment due the original theorists were found in Gell-Mann Feynman's subsequent joint paper, except for an informal allusion-the reason given out was that the originators' work was not found published in a formal or 'reputable enough' science journal at the time-a reason reminiscent of that given in the Rosalind Franklin-James D. Watson controversy. Now it is popularly known in the west as the Feynman-Gell-Mann theory.[21] The V-A theory for weak interactions was in effect a new Law of Nature discovered. It was conceived in the face of a string of apparently contradictory experimental results, including several of Chien-Shiung Wu's, though also helped along by a sprinkling of other evidences too, e.g. the muon (discovered in 1936, it had a colorful history[22][23] itself—and would lead on again to a new revolution[24] in the 21st Century).[25] However, this real breakthrough of an achievement was not recognised by a Nobel Prize Award. The V-A theory would later form the foundation for the electroweak interaction theory. George Sudarshan himself regarded the V-A theory as his finest work to date. Later, it was successfully subsumed under the electroweak interaction unification theory by Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg that would go on to win for the 'official threesome' the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics. Curiously, the Sudarshan-Marshak (or V-A theory) was assessed, preferably and favourably, as "beautiful" by J. Robert Oppenheimer,[20] only to be disparaged later on as "less complete" and "inelegant" by John Gribbin.[26] George Sudarshan currently holds the record of the most nominated Nobel Prize candidate alive who has yet to receive any Nobel Prize[citation needed].
  • Chien-Shiung Wu (nicknamed the "First Lady of Physics") disproved the law of the conservation of parity (1956) and was the first Wolf Prize winner in physics. She died in 1997 without receiving the Nobel.[27] Wu assisted Tsung-Dao Lee personally in his parity laws development—with Chen Ning Yang—by providing him with a possible test method for beta decay in 1956 that worked successfully.[citation needed] Her book Beta Decay (1965) is still a sine qua non reference for nuclear physicists.
  • In 1964, George Zweig, then a PhD student at Caltech, espoused the physical existence of aces possessing several unorthodox attributes (essentially Gell-Mann's quarks, though regarded expressly by the latter as only mere theoretical shorthand construct) at a time which was very 'anti-quark'. Zweig consequently suffered academic ostracism and career path blocks from the scientific community of 'mainstream orthodoxy'.[28] Despite the 1969 Nobel Prize awarded for contributions in the classification of elementary particles and the 1990 Nobel Prize for the development and proof of the quark model, Zweig's true dimension and size of his original contributions to the quark model story have largely gone unrecognized.[29] Israeli physicist Yuval Ne'eman, who published the classification of hadrons through their SU(3) flavour symmetry independently of Gell-Mann in 1962,[30] also felt that he had been unjustly deprived of the Nobel prize for the quark model.[31]
  • The 1974 prize was awarded to Martin Ryle and Antony Hewish's pioneering research in radio astrophysics; Hewish was recognized for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars though he did not come up first with the correct explanation of pulsars: having described them as communications from "Little Green Men" (LGM-1) in outer space. An answer was given by David Staelin and Edward Reifenstein, of the National RadioAstronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, who found a pulsar at the center of the Crab Nebula: that pulsars are neutron stars, leftovers from a supernova explosion had been proposed in 1933. Soon after the discovery of pulsars in 1968, Fred Hoyle and astronomer Thomas Gold came up with the correct explanation of a pulsar as a rapidly spinning neutron star with a strong magnetic field, emitting radio waves much as a lighthouse did with its lamp. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Hewish's graduate student, was not recognized, although she was the first to notice the stellar radio source that was later recognised as a pulsar.[32] Pulsars are a group of astronomical objects that provide scientists with the first signs of the possible existence of gravity waves.[33] In addition, rotating binary pulsars are also found to be reliable sources for putting Einstein's relativity theories to the most stringent of tests.[34] While the astronomer Fred Hoyle argued that Bell should have been included in the Prize, Bell herself has stated that "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."[35] Research students who have received Nobel Prizes include Louis-Victor de Broglie, Rudolf Mössbauer, Douglas Osheroff, Gerard 't Hooft, John Forbes Nash, Jr., John Robert Schrieffer and H. David Politzer.
  • Another interesting case surfaced in 1978. In that year, the Nobel Physics Prize winners Arno Allan Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson of 1978—awarded for the chanced "detection of Cosmic microwave background radiation"—themselves initially did not comprehend the "implications and the working out of the meanings behind" their findings, and, similarly, had to have their discovery fully elucidated to them. Many scientists felt that another scientist, Ralph Alpher, who predicted the cosmic microwave background radiation and had worked out in 1948 the underpinnings of the Big Bang theory, should have shared in the prize, or independently received one. There are many theories, none proven, as to why his work was initially ignored and a Nobel withheld. In 2005, he was awarded the National Medal of Science for his pioneering contributions to our understanding of nucleosynthesis, the prediction of the relic radiation from the Big Bang, as well as for a model for the Big Bang theory.
  • Fred Hoyle did not receive a share of the Nobel Prize In Physics in 1983, although the winner William Alfred Fowler acknowledged Hoyle as the pioneer of the concept of stellar nucleosynthesis (1946). Hoyle's obituary in Physics Today[36] 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 ".


  • Dmitri Mendeleyev, who originated the periodic table of the elements, never received a prize. His first periodic table was completed in 1869. Actually, a year earlier, another chemist, Julius Lothar Meyer, had also come up with a somewhat similar table. Another scientist, John Alexander Reina Newlands, had also presented a paper in 1866 that essentially credited him as the first to propose a periodic law: in fact, none of the tables were correct — all the 19th century tables arranged the elements in order of increasing atomic weight (or atomic mass). It was left to Henry Moseley to correct the periodic table, basing it 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 the prize in 1906, but died the next year. Some had also pointed out that Mendeleyev's failure to land a Nobel Prize was due to behind-the-scenes machinations of one dissenting chemist on the Nobel Committee who happened to disagree with his work.[43]

Physiology or medicine

  • In 1923 Frederick Banting and John Macleod received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of insulin. While it was obvious that Banting deserved the prize, the choice of Macleod as co-winner was controversial. Banting initially refused to accept the prize with Macleod, claiming that he did not deserve it, and that Charles Best was the more logical choice for him to share the prize with. Banting complained that the original idea of how to isolate insulin from pancreatic islets had been his, and that Macleod's initial contribution to the project had only been to let Banting use his lab space at the University of Toronto to test the idea while he was on vacation for the summer. Macleod also loaned Banting a lab assistant (Best) to help him with the experiments, and ten dogs to experiment on. While Macleod was vacationing in Scotland, Banting and Best achieved limited success with their experiments, which they presented to Macleod when he returned to Toronto in the fall of 1921. Macleod pointed out that there were flaws with the design of some of the experiments, and advised Banting and Best to repeat the experiments with better lab equipment, more dogs, and better control procedures. Macleod then provided better lab space for Banting and Best to work in, and began paying Banting a salary out of his research grants. Thus, while Banting's association with Macleod had been unofficial when he made his initial discovery, Macleod's providing a salary to Banting made their relationship official, and equivalent to what would now be considered the relationship between a postdoctoral researcher (Banting) and his supervisor (Macleod). Banting and Best repeated the experiments, which were conclusive when better equipment and techniques were used. While Banting's original method of isolating the insulin had been successful, it was too labor-intensive for large scale production of insulin. Best then set about to find a biochemical extraction method for isolating insulin as an alternative to Banting's more labor intensive method. At the same time, James Bertram Collip, a chemistry professor on sabbatical from the University of Alberta arrived at the University of Toronto, joined what was now Macleod's insulin research team, and went to work trying to find a biochemical method for extracting insulin in parallel with Best. Both Best and Collip developed biochemical methods for extracting insulin on a large scale at essentially the same time. While Macleod's intellectual contribution to the discovery of insulin was less than Banting's, Best's and Collip's, it was ultimately Banting and Macleod who were nominated for the prize. The fact that Banting was technically working for Macleod, and was being supported with money from Macleod's research grants was no doubt a factor in the Nobel Committee's decision to list Macleod as a co-winner of the prize with Banting. Although Banting initially refused to share the prize with Macleod, he reneged on this decision, and instead decided to share half of his prize money with Best. Macleod, in turn, split his half of the prize money with Collip. Later, it became known that Nicolae Paulescu, a Romanian professor, had been working on diabetes since 1916, and may have isolated insulin (which he called pancreatine) about a year before the Canadians.[citation needed]
  • 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 veritable pioneering platform for further genetic research and advance. According to John M. Barry, in his book The Great Influenza, the committee was preparing to award Avery for prior work, but declined to after the DNA finding were published. They feared that they would be seen to be endorsing findings that had not yet undertaken significant scrutiny.
  • The 1952 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded solely to Selman Waksman for his discovery of streptomycin had omitted recognition[45] due his co-discoverer Albert Schatz.[46] There was a litigation brought by Schatz against Waksman over the details and credit of streptomycin discovery. The litigation result was such that Schatz was awarded a substantial settlement, and, together with Waksman, Schatz would be officially recognized as a co-discoverer of streptomycin.
  • Heinrich J. Matthaei broke the genetic code in 1961 with Marshall Warren Nirenberg in their poly-U experiment at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, paving the way for modern genetics; but though Nirenberg became a much lauded Nobel Laureate in 1968, Matthaei, who was responsible for experimentally obtaining the first codon (genetic code) extract, and whose initial accurate results were tampered with by Nirenberg himself (due to the latter's belief in 'less precise', 'more believable' data presentation)[47] did not get any recognition or any Prize.
  • The first successful synthesis of bovine insulin.[48] a Nobel-like breakthrough which won worldwide recognition[citation needed], was carried out between 1958 and 1965 by two scientists at Beijing University, Niu Jingyi[49] and Wang Yinglai.[50] Insulin is now manufactured using protein-production biotechnology. Though there were repeated nominations and support from eminent scientists, as it turned out, due to a series of hindering political and other related contretemps, both were not to receive any Nobel Prize in the end.
  • The 1975 Prize was awarded to David Baltimore, Renato Dulbecco and Howard Martin Temin "for describing how tumor viruses act on the genetic material of the cell". It has been argued that Dulbecco was distantly, if at all, involved in this groundbreaking work of discovery.[47] The award failed to recognize the contributions of Satoshi Mizutani, Temin's Japanese postdoctoral fellow.[51] 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 confirming Temin's provirus hypothesis.[47]


  • Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize, though he was nominated for it five times[52] between 1937 and 1948. Decades later, though, the Nobel Committee publicly declared its regret for the omission. The Nobel Committee may have tacitly acknowledged its error, however, when in 1948 (the year of Gandhi's death), it made no award, stating "there was no suitable living candidate" though they awarded it posthumously to fellow Scandinavian Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961, who died after being nominated. The official Nobel e-museum has an article discussing the issue.


The Prize in Literature has a history of controversial awards and notorious snubs. Notable literati have pointed out that more indisputably major writers have been ignored by the Nobel Committee than have been honored by it, including Marcel Proust, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, August Strindberg, John Updike, Arthur Miller,Yannis Ritsos and others, often for political or extra-literary reasons.[53] Conversely, many writers whom contemporary and subsequent criticism regard as minor, inconsequential or transitional have been the recipient of the award.

From 1901 to 1912, the committee was characterized by 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.[54] Also, many believe Sweden's historic antipathy towards Russia was the reason neither Tolstoy nor Anton Chekhov were awarded the prize. During World War I and its immediate aftermath, the committee adopted a policy of neutrality, favouring writers from non-combatant countries.[54]

Czech writer Karel Čapek's "War With the Newts" was considered too offensive to the German government, and he declined to suggest some noncontroversial publication that could be cited as an example of his work ("Thank you for the good will, but I have already written my doctoral dissertation").[55] He was thus denied the prize.

French novelist and intellectual André Malraux was seriously considered for the 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", and Camus won the prize in 1957.[56]

Some attribute W. H. Auden's not being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to errors in his translation of 1961 Peace Prize winner Dag Hammarskjöld's Vägmärken (Markings)[57] and to statements that Auden made during a Scandinavian lecture tour suggesting that Hammarskjöld was, like Auden, homosexual.[58]

Soviet dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the 1970 prize winner, did not attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm for fear that the U.S.S.R. would prevent his return afterwards (his works there were circulated in samizdat—clandestine form). After the Swedish government refused to honor Solzhenitsyn with 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 did not accept the award, and prize money, until 10 December 1974, after he was deported from the Soviet Union.[59]

In 1974 Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, and Saul Bellow were considered but rejected in favor of a joint award for Swedish authors Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, both Nobel judges themselves, and unknown outside their home country. Bellow would win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976; neither Greene nor Nabokov was awarded the Prize.[60]

Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was nominated for the Prize several times but, as Edwin Williamson, Borges's biographer, states, the Academy did not award it to him, most likely because of his support of certain Argentine and Chilean right-wing military dictators, including Pinochet, which, according to Tóibín's review of Williamson's Borges: A Life, had complex social and personal contexts.[61] Borges' failure to win the Nobel Prize for his support of these right-wing dictators contrasts with the Committee honoring writers who openly supported controversial left-wing dictatorships, including Joseph Stalin, in the case of Sartre and Neruda.[62][63]

The award to Italian performance artist Dario Fo in 1997 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.[64] Salman Rushdie and Arthur Miller had been strongly favoured to receive the Prize, but the Nobel organisers were later quoted as saying that they would have been "too predictable, too popular."[65]

There was also criticism of the academy's refusal to express support for Salman Rushdie in 1989, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie to be killed, and two members of the Academy resigned over its refusal to support Rushdie.[66][67]

The heavy focus on European authors, and authors from Sweden in particular, has been the subject of mounting criticism, even from major Swedish newspapers.[68] The absolute majority of the laureates have been European, with Sweden itself receiving 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.".[69] 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 nature of the award, saying that, "I think that is a problem. We tend to relate more easily to literature written in Europe and in the European tradition."[70] The 2009 award to Herta Müller, previously little-known outside Germany but many times named favorite for the Nobel prize, has re-ignited criticism that the award committee is biased as Eurocentric mostly by the US press.[71]

Recent alleged exclusions (since 1990)

  • The 1993 Nobel Prize In Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of introns in eukaryotic DNA and the mechanism of gene splicingPhilip Allen Sharp and Richard J. Roberts were the only two winners. Several other scientists, such as Norman Davidson and James D. Watson, argued that Louise T. Chow, a China-born Taiwanese researcher and accomplished female scientist,[72] who collaborated with Roberts, should also have had part of the prize.[73] In 1976, as Staff Investigator, she carried out the studies of the genomic origins and structures of adenovirus transcripts leading directly to the EM discovery of RNA splicing and alternative RNA processing at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island in 1977, the year the discovery was made. Norman Davidson, the Norman Chandler Professor of Chemical Biology, Emeritus, at Caltech (a well-known 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 herself developed in the previous two years at the lab.[74]
  • The 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry credited winner Kary Mullis with the development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, a central technique in molecular biology which allows for the amplification of specified DNA sequences. However, others disputed that he 'invented' the technique:[citation needed] claiming that Norwegian scientist Kjell Kleppe, together with 1968 Nobel Prize laureate H. Gobind Khorana, had an earlier and better claim to it in 1969.[75] His co-workers at that time also refuted the suggestion that Mullis was solely responsible for the idea of using Taq polymerase in the PCR process.[citation needed] In addition, a book on the history of the PCR method which Paul Rabinow (an anthropologist) wrote in 1996[76] raised the issue of whether or not Mullis "invented" PCR or "merely" came up with the concept of it. However, other scientists have said that "the full potential [of PCR] was not realized" until Mullis' work in 1983.[77]
  • The 1997 Nobel Prize In Physics stirred up controversy soon as it was announced as Russian scientists disputed[78] the awardees' priority in the acquired approach and techniques to cool and trap atoms with laser light, whose work the Russians had reputedly carried out more than a decade before.[79]
  • The 1997 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded singly to Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner for his discovery of prions, had caused a ceaseless stream of academic polemics ever since: as regard the actual validity extent of his work—which had also been criticized by other researchers as not yet proven.[80]
  • The 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded to three pioneering neuroscientists, Arvid Carlsson, Paul Greengard, and Eric R. Kandel, "for their discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system" had caused many neuroscientists to protest that Oleh Hornykiewicz, who helped pioneer the dopamine replacement treatment for Parkinson's disease, was left out of the prize, and claimed that Hornykiewicz's research provided a foundation for some of the scientific progress credited to the three scientists.
  • The 2000 Nobel Prize In Chemistry–"For the Discovery and Development of Conductive polymers"[81] recognized passive high-conductivity in oxidized iodine-doped polyacetylene black and related materials (reported in 1977), as well as determining conduction mechanisms and developing devices, especially batteries. The citation alleges this work led to present-day "active" devices, where a voltage or current controls electron flow.
However, an active organic polymer electronic device was reported in a major journal (Science)[82] [83] three years before the Nobel prize winner's discovery. Further, the "ON" state of this device showed almost metallic conductivity. This device is now on the "Smithsonian chips" list of key discoveries in semiconductor technology[3].
Moreover, 14 years before the Nobel-prize-winning discovery, Weiss and coworkers in Australia had reported [84] equivalent high electrical conductivity in an almost identical compound—oxidized, iodine-doped polypyrrole black. Eventually, the Australian group achieved resistances as low as .03 ohm/cm.[85][86] This is roughly equivalent to present-day efforts. Slightly-later, DeSurville and coworkers reported high conductivity in a polyaniline.[87] For more on the early history of this field, also see reviews by Inzelt [88] and Hush.[89] Likewise, this award ignored the even earlier (1955) discovery of highly-conductive organic Charge transfer complexes. Some of these are even superconductive.
"Interest in the electronic properties of semiconducting organic molecules dates back many decades to classic studies of ground- and excited-state electronic structure of model molecules, such as anthracene, performed in the early 1960s by Martin Pope and colleagues. Since then, various semiconducting organic molecules and polymers have been steadily developed."[90]
A basic discovery of Martin Pope and his group was that of a dark ohmic charge injecting electrode and the publication of the work function requirements for dark ohmic charge injecting electrodes in general.[91][92]
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 MRI scan, but used a dead-end methodology. Meanwhile, Damadian's original report prompted Lauterbur to develop NMR into the presently-used method of generating MRI images. Damadian took out large advertisements in a number of international newspapers protesting his exclusion from the award.[94] Some researchers felt that Damadian's work deserved at least equal credit.[citation needed]
Herman Y. Carr both pioneered the present NMR gradient technique and demonstrated rudimentary MRI imaging in the 1950s, based on it. The Nobel prize winners had almost certainly seen Carr's work, but did not cite it. Consequently, the prize committee very likely did not become cognizant of Carr's discoveries,[citation needed] a situation likely abetted further by the high-profile distractions due to the unprecedented, drawn-out, persistent remonstrances[95] of Damadian in defense of his work regarding MRI.[96][97]
  • The 2005 Nobel Prize In Physics controversy involved George Sudarshan's relevant work in quantum optics (1960), which was considered by many to have been slighted in this award.[citation needed] Roy J. Glauber—who initially derided the former theory representations and later produced the same P-representation under a different name, viz., Sudarshan-Glauber representation or Sudarshan diagonal representation—was the winner instead.[98] According to still others, two other seminal contributors, Leonard Mandel and Daniel Frank Walls, may have been passed over for the Prize because no posthumous nominations are accepted.
  • The 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to Andrew Fire and Craig C. Mello for their discovery of RNA interference. Many of the discoveries credited by the Nobel committee to Fire and Mello, who studied RNA interference in C. elegans, had been previously studied by plant biologists, and it has been suggested that at least one plant biologist who was a pioneer in this field, such as David Baulcombe, should have also been awarded a share of the prize.[99]
  • The 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics was won by John C. Mather and George F. Smoot (leaders of the COsmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite experiment) "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR).". The Prize was thought by some to have precluded proper recognition due an earlier original discoverer of anistropy of the CMBR. In July 1983 an experiment Relikt,[100] launched aboard the Prognoz-9[101] satellite, studied cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) via one frequency alone. In January 1992, Andrei A. Brukhanov was known to have presented a seminar at Sternberg Astronomical Institute in Moscow, where he first reported on the discovery of anistropy of CMBR. However, the Relikt team claimed only an upper limit, not a detection, in their 1987 results paper.[102]
  • The 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien for their work on green fluorescent protein or GFP. Douglas Prasher actually first cloned the gene for GFP 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." Dr. Prasher's accomplishments were not recognized and he lost his job. When the Nobel was awarded in 2008, Dr. Prasher was working as a courtesy shuttle bus driver in Huntsville Alabama.
  • One half of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa for their 1972 work on quark mixing, which postulated the existence of six quarks (only three were known to exist at the time, and a fourth one was suspected) and used this postulate to provide a possible mechanism for CP violation, which was observed 8 years earlier.[103] Their work represented expansion and reinterpretation of previous research by Nicola Cabibbo, dating back to 1963, before the quark model was even introduced. The resulting quark mixing matrix, which describes probabilities of different quarks to turn into each other under the action of weak force, is known as CKM matrix, after Cabibbo, Kobayashi, and Maskawa. Therefore, it is argued sometimes that Cabibbo should have been included among the recipients.[104] A possible explanation is that Nobel Committee wanted to award a prize for achievements in theoretical particle physics, and wanted to recognize Yoichiro Nambu, the other recipient of the 2008 prize, specifically (Nambu's significance in the field is generally undisputed, and he was already 87 years old at the time the prize was awarded). Since the prize is not awarded to more than three people at once, the committee was forced to recognize only two out of three CKM researchers.

Controversial recipients



  • Henri Becquerel was awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics, with Pierre and Marie Curie, "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity". However, there existed a credible controversy at the time since some scientists claimed[106] that Becquerel had merely rediscovered a phenomenon first noticed and scientifically investigated by the forgotten French scientist Abel Niepce de Saint-Victor decades earlier.
Physicist Philipp Lenard would later become an adviser to Hitler.
  • Philipp Lenard was awarded the Nobel Prize In Physics in 1905 for his research on cathode rays and the discovery of many of their properties. An advisor to Adolf Hitler, Lenard became "Chief of Aryan Physics" under the Nazis. He propounded the idea that there is a race element in science (i.e.,'English Science', 'German Science', 'Jewish Science'), and referred to Albert Einstein's theory of relativity as a "Jewish fraud". Johannes Stark, who won the Physics Nobel in 1919, also participated in the racially-motivated rejection of the "Jewish ideas" of Einstein and the non-Jewish Werner Heisenberg.
Albert Einstein, awarded a single 1921 Prize out of numerous nominations.
  • Albert Einstein's 1921 Nobel Prize award mainly recognized him for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect in 1905 and "for his services to Theoretical Physics" — due to the often counter-intuitive concepts and advanced constructs of his relativity theory, some of which were far in advance of possible experimental verifications until only recently, e.g., bending of light, gravitational waves, gravitational lensing, black holes). It would be 1993 before the first evidence for the existence of gravitational radiation came via the Nobel Prize-winning measurements of the Hulse-Taylor binary system.[107] His other significant contributions in the Annus Mirabilis Papers, on Brownian motion and special relativity, were not explicitly recognized by the Nobel Prize Committee, even though Einstein was nominated several times, beginning in 1910, for special relativity. Often these nominations for special relativity recommended awarding the prize jointly to Lorentz and Einstein. Henri Poincaré was also nominated at least once for his services to theoretical physics, including his work on Lorentz's relativity theory. However, Kaufmann's experimental results cast doubt on the correctness of special relativity, doubts which were not resolved until 1915, by which time Einstein had progressed to the general theory, including his theory of gravitation. Again the empirical support (in this case the predicted spectral shift of sunlight) was in question for many years, so the only 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 apparently confirmed by Arthur Stanley Eddington's Solar Eclipse Expedition, although the actual results were somewhat ambiguous. Conclusive proof of the gravitational light deflection prediction was not achieved until the 1970s.
  • Robert Millikan is widely believed[citation needed] to have been denied the 1920 prize for physics owing to Felix Ehrenhaft's claims to have measured charges smaller than Millikan's elementary charge. Ehrenhaft's claims were ultimately dismissed and Millikan was awarded the prize in 1923. However, some controversy still seem to linger over Millikan's oil-drop procedure and experimental interpretation — regarding the validity and ethics of his false claim and data manipulation and selectivity, biased in his favour, in the 1913 scientific paper measuring the electron charge: in particular, that he had reported all his observations when in fact he had omitted a total of 82 drops of experimental data from his final report. “Subelectrons, Presuppositions, and the Millikan-Ehrenhaft Dispute” by G. Holton, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 1978, vol 9, pp. 166-224.
  • William Bradford Shockley was one of the winners of the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics award for the transistor. There was a well-documented[citation needed] controversy hanging over his win — backed up by corroborating accounts from his colleagues (the other two Nobelists in the Prize),[citation needed] and historical facts as well[citation needed] — which critics characterized as due mainly to Shockley's then-directorship position and self-promotion efforts (Shockley's original, self-designed 'transistor' did not work at all[citation needed]). A notable change was seen to have come over Shockley's character soon after the Nobel award.[108] Later, he strongly and seriously espoused eugenics,[109] regarding his published works on this topic as the most important work of his career.[citation needed] His ideas are largely based on the research of Cyril Burt. He is the only Nobel Laureate who publicly admitted to donating sperm to the Repository for Germinal Choice,[citation needed] a sperm bank founded (1980) by eugenicist Robert Klark Graham in the hopes of passing down humanity's best genes. The Repository was shut down in 1999.
  • In 1982, two experiments at CERN, namely the UA1 and UA2 experiment, were looking for the W and Z bosons which would confirm the electroweak theory. The physicist Carlo Rubbia was the leader of the UA1 team. The two teams started to see some convincing events at about the same time. Then Rubbia said to the UA2 team that the results needed cross-checking and that both teams had to be cautious before publishing, while also stating that he himself had not decided to publish immediately. However, he had already sent a draft of his paper to Physics Letters. While the UA2 collaboration was still in the process of proof-reading their paper, Rubbia sent his in a rush against the advice of even his own collaborators, thereby gaining priority.[6] He was attributed the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1984 for the discovery of the W and Z bosons.

Physiology or medicine

  • Alexander Fleming accidentally stumbled upon the then-unidentified fungi mold that was to bring penicillin to the attention of the world as medicine, though he was often credited as the discoverer of penicillin and won the 1945 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Florey. However, some critics pointed out that Fleming did not in fact 'discover' penicillin, that it was technically a 'rediscovery'; decades before Fleming, there had been significant others (notably Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson, William Roberts (physician), John Tyndall and Ernest Duchesne) who had already done studies[20] and research[110] on its useful properties and medicinal characteristics.[111] Moreover, according to Fleming himself, the first known reference to penicillin he could recall to mind was from Psalm 51: "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean". Meanwhile, he had learnt from the book of the famous American mycologist Charles Thom (the same who helped Fleming establish the identity of the mysterious fungi mold)[112] that penicillium notatum was first recognised by Westling, a Swedish chemist, from a specimen of decayed hyssop. In this award, as it had been pointed out, several deserving contemporaneous research contributors had also been left out of the Prize altogether.
  • The Portuguese neurologist Antonio Egas Moniz received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1949 for his development of prefrontal leucotomy. Popular acceptance of the procedure had been fostered by enthusastic press coverage such as a 1938 New York Times report, "Surgery used on the Soul-Sick; Relief of Obsessions is Reported." Soon Dr. Walter Freeman developed a version of the procedure (the transorbital lobotomy) which was much easier to carry out, and due in part to this ease the procedure was often prescribed injudiciously and without regard for modern medical ethics. Endorsed by such influential publications as The New England Journal of Medicine, lobotomy became so popular that, in the three years immediately following Moniz's receipt of the Prize, some five thousand lobotomies were performed in the United States alone, and many more throughout the world. Even Joseph Kennedy, father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, had his daughter Rosemary lobotomized when she was in her twenties, and Freeman himself performed at least four thousand operations during his career. Moniz died in 1955 as his brainchild began to fade from use; since then it has fallen into disrepute and is even prohibited in many countries.[113]
  • Karl von Frisch shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973 for his explanation of the "dance language" of bees. However, over the years, much controversy was engendered over it due to the lack of direct scientific proofs of the waggle dance of the bees-as exactly postulated or worded by Karl von Frisch. The controversy though was finally put to rest by a team of researchers from Rothamsted Research in 2005, who tracked the bees by radar as they flew to a food source. The experimental results, as they turned out, did not exactly match Karl von Frisch's original formulation,[114] but, in fact, match part of his opponent Adrian Wenner's theory[115] that states that bees are basically guided to the food source by odor, i.e. after the general direction and distance specific and relative to the transmitting bees (a still unknown mysterious mechanism) had been communicated via the waggle dance as was originally postulated by the 1973 Nobelist.
  • David Baltimore, who shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was implicated in "The Baltimore affair" or "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.[116] 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.[117] Following Imanishi-Kari's vindication, Baltimore's role has been reassessed more favorably; 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."[117]
  • In 2008, the Nobel Prize in Medicine for cancer-related research on Human Papilloma Virus by Harald zur Hausen was being looked into by the Swedish police anticorruption unit. The reason was that AstraZeneca, which has a stake in two lucrative HPV vaccines and thus stands to financially gain from the prize, had agreed to sponsor Nobel Media and Nobel Web. According to Times Online, two senior figures in the process that chose Mr zur Hausen also had strong links with AstraZeneca.[118]


The decision of the winner of the peace prize is often controversial with critics often calling them dubious and driven by political calculations to make political statements. Here are a selection of a few controversial winners.

  • Cordell Hull was awarded the Nobel Prize in Peace in 1945 in recognition of his efforts for peace and understanding in the Western Hemisphere, his trade agreements, and his work to establish the United Nations. Hull was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Secretary of State during the SS St. Louis Crisis. The St. Louis sailed out of Hamburg into the Atlantic Ocean in the summer of 1939 carrying over 950 Jewish refugees, mostly wealthy, seeking asylum from Nazi persecution just before World War II. The ship's voyage caused great controversy in the United States: Initially President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt showed modest willingness to take in some of those on board, but vehement opposition by Hull and from Southern Democrats—some of whom went so far as to threaten to withhold their support of Roosevelt in the 1940 Presidential election if this occurred. On 4 June 1939 Roosevelt issued an order to deny entry to the ship, which was waiting in the Caribbean Sea between Florida and Cuba. The passengers began negotiations with the Cuban government, but those broke down at the last minute. Forced to return to Europe, over a quarter of its passengers subsequently died in the Holocaust.[119][120][121]
  • Rigoberta Menchú won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. In 1999 she was accused by David Stoll of having fabricated facts of her family history in her autobiography I, Rigoberta Menchu to further her guerrilla cause. See Rigoberta Menchú for details.
  • Jimmy Carter was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, for the "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 U.S. House and Senate gave President George W. Bush authorization to use military force against Iraq in order to enforce U.N. 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 committee, said: "With the position Carter has taken on this, it can and must also be seen as criticism of the line the current U.S. 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.[123]
  • Wangari Maathai, 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was reported by the Kenyan newspaper Standard and Radio Free Europe to have stated that AIDS was originally developed by Western scientists in order to depopulate Africa. She later denied these claims, though the Standard stands by its reporting.[124] Additionally, in a Time magazine interview, she hinted at its non-natural origin, saying that someone knows where it came from and that it "...did not come from monkeys."[125]

Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economics


The choice of the 2004 winner, Elfriede Jelinek, was protested by a member of the Swedish Academy, Knut Ahnlund, who had not played an active role in the Academy since 1996; Ahnlund resigned, alleging that selecting Jelinek had caused "irreparable damage" to the reputation of the award.[66][67]

Orhan Pamuk

The selection of Harold Pinter for the Prize in 2005 was delayed for a couple of days, apparently due to Ahnlund's resignation, and led to renewed speculations about there being a "political element" in the Swedish Academy's awarding of the Prize.[130] Although Pinter was unable to give his controversial Nobel Lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics", in person, due to his hospitalisation for ill health, he delivered it from a television studio on video projected on three large screens to an audience at the Swedish Academy, in Stockholm, and it was simultaneously transmitted on Channel Four, in the UK, on the evening of 7 December 2005. The 46-minute television transmission was introduced by friend and fellow playwright David Hare. Subsequently, the full text and streaming video formats were posted for the public on the Nobel Prize and Swedish Academy official Websites. In these formats Pinter's Nobel Lecture has been widely watched, cited, quoted, and distributed by print and online media and the source of much commentary and debate. A privately-printed limited edition, Art, Truth and Politics: The Nobel Lecture, is published by Faber and Faber (2006).[131] The issue of their "political stance" was also raised in response to the awards of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Orhan Pamuk and Doris Lessing in 2006 and 2007, respectively.[132]

Laureates who declined the prize

Involuntary refusals

  • In 1936, Adolf Hitler was offended with the Nobel Foundation when the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Carl von Ossietzky, a German writer who publicly opposed Hitler and Nazism.[133] (At that time, the prize was awarded the following year.) Hitler reacted by issuing a decree on 31 January 1937 that forbade German nationals from accepting any Nobel Prize in the future. Awarding the peace prize to Ossietzky was itself considered controversial. While fascism had few supporters outside of Italy and Germany, those who did not necessarily sympathize with fascism felt that it was wrong to offend Germany by awarding the prize to someone opposed to the current German regime.[134][135]

Hitler's decree made it forbidden for three subsequent German nationals to accept the Nobel Prize: 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 diplomas and medals, but not the prize money.[136]

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 who would be the 1939 Nobel Laureate in physiology and medicine.[137] The majority of the professors at the Institute were in favor of giving the prize to Domagk and someone leaked the news, which was then passed on to Berlin. The Kulturministerium in Berlin replied with a telegram stating that a Nobel Prize to a German was "completely unwanted" (durchaus unerwünscht).[138] Despite the telegram, a large majority of the Institute voted to give the prize to Domagk on 26 October 1939. Domagk received the news later that day by phone and telegram.[139] Being aware of Hitler's decree but unsure if it only applied to the peace prize or all of the Nobel Prizes, Domagk sent a request to the Ministry of Education in Berlin asking if it would be possible to accept the prize.[140] Since he didn't receive a reply after more than a week had passed, he felt it would be impolite to wait any longer with 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.[141] 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 and taken by the Gestapo to police headquarters.[142][143] He was released after one week only to be arrested again. On 28 November 1939, he was forced by the Kulturministerium to sign a prepared letter, addressed to the Institute, declining the prize.[141][144] 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's forced refusal of the prize was the first time the prize was declined. Due to his refusal, the statutes for the Nobel Prizes were 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 be allocated back to the funds.[145]

On 9 November 1939, the Royal Academy of Sciences awarded the 1938 Prize for Chemistry to Kuhn and half of the 1939 prize to Butenandt.[139][146] When notified of the decision, the German scientists were forced to refuse the prizes by threats of violence from the German government.[146][147] 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.[142][146][147] After World War II in 1948, they wrote a letter 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.

Otto Heinrich Warburg, a German national who won the 1931 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, is rumored to have been selected for a second Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1944, but was forbidden to accept it due to Hitler's decree. According to the Nobel Foundation, this story is not true.[148] (See Otto Heinrich Warburg for details.)

  • Boris Pasternak at first accepted the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature, but was forced by the authorities in the USSR to decline it because the prize was considered a "reward for the dissident political innuendo in his novel, Doctor Zhivago."[136][149] 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. Mstislav Rostropovitch, a renowned Russian cellist and close friend of Boris Pasternak, played a Bach suite in his memory at the banquet.

Voluntary refusals

There have been two laureates who voluntarily declined the Nobel Prize. Jean Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1964 but refused stating, "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honourable form."[150][151] The second person who has refused to accept the prize is Lê Đức Thọ, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his role in the Paris Peace Accords. He declined, claiming there was no actual peace in Vietnam.[150][152]

Other Controversies

Lack of a Nobel Prize in Mathematics

There is no Nobel Prize in Mathematics, which has led to considerable speculation about why Alfred Nobel omitted it.[153][154] Some recipients of the Nobel Prize in other fields also have notable achievements in or have made outstanding contributions to mathematics; for example, Bertrand Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1950) and Max Born and Walther Bothe shared the Nobel Prize in Physics (1954). Some others with advanced credentials in mathematics and/or who are known primarily as mathematicians have been awarded the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel: Kenneth Arrow (1972), Leonid Kantorovich (1975), John Forbes Nash (1994), Clive W. J. Granger (2003), Robert J. Aumann (who shared the 2005 Prize with Thomas C. Schelling), and Roger Myerson and Eric Maskin (2007).

Several prizes in mathematics have some similarities to the Nobel Prize. The Fields Medal is often described as the "Nobel Prize of mathematics", but it differs in being awarded only once every four years to people not older than forty years old. Other prestigious prizes in mathematics are the Crafoord Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences since 1982; the Abel Prize which has also been called the "Nobel Prize of mathematics" and has been awarded by the Norwegian government annually, beginning in 2003; the Wolf Prize awarded once a year by the Wolf Foundation; the Shaw Prize in mathematical sciences awarded since 2004; and the Gauss Prize, granted jointly by the International Mathematical Union and the German Mathematical Society for "outstanding mathematical contributions that have found significant applications outside of mathematics," and introduced at the International Congress of Mathematicians in 2006. The Clay Mathematics Institute has devised seven "Millennium Problems," whose solution results in a significant cash award:[155] since it has a clear, predetermined objective for its award and since it can be awarded whenever a problem is solved, this prize also differs from the Nobel Prizes.

Emphasis on discoveries over inventions

Alfred Nobel left a fortune to finance annual prizes to be awarded "to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind". One part, he stated, should be given "to the person who shall have made the most important 'discovery' or 'invention' within the field of physics". Nobel did not emphasise discoveries, but they have historically been held in higher respect by the Nobel Prize committee than inventions: 77% of Nobel prizes in physics have been given to discoveries, compared with only 23% to inventions. Christoph Bartneck and Matthias Rauterberg in papers published in Nature and Technoetic Arts, have argued this emphasis on discoveries has moved the Nobel prize away from its original intention of rewarding the greatest contribution to society in the preceding year.[156][157]

Alternatives to the Nobel Prizes

Some important primary fields of human intellectual endeavor-such as mathematics, philosophy and social studies-have been excluded from the Nobel Prizes, for the simple reason that 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, sometimes referred to as "The Alternative Nobel Prize".

A new Nobel-equivalent Award was also created especially for mathematics, the Abel Prize, which came into effect in 2003, though the older Fields Medal is often considered as the mathematical Nobel equivalent.[158]


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  • Bishop, J. Michael (2003), How to Win the Nobel Prize: An Unexpected Life in Science, Cambridge, MA: 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, NY: Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-684-81906-6 .
  • Ryan, Frank (1993), The Forgotten Plague: How the Battle Against Tuberculosis Was Won — and Lost, Boston, MA: 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, NY: American Elsevier Publishing Company, Inc, ISBN 0-444-00117-4 .

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