The proliferation of prizes: Nobel complements and Nobel surrogates in the reward system of science

Theor Med. 1992 Jun;13(2):217-31. doi: 10.1007/BF02163629.


In the last two decades, prizes in the sciences have proliferated and, in particular, rich prizes with large honoraria. These developments raise several questions: Why have rich prizes proliferated? Have they greatly changed the reward system of science? What effects will such prizes have on scientists and on science? The proliferation of such prizes derives from marked limitations on the numbers and types of scientists eligible for Nobel prizes and consequent increases in the number of uncrowned laureate-equivalents. These would-be surrogates for Nobel prizes extend the reward system of science in its upper reaches but this change is not fundamental. The spread of rich prizes to new fields provides added incentives to potential winners, which has its own disutilities; it reinforces competitiveness, concern for priority and attendant secrecy, all this amplifying ambivalence toward the reward system in science. There may also be modest positive effects of such new awards in the form of heightened popular esteem for science and interest in it.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Awards and Prizes*
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Nobel Prize*
  • Science / history*
  • Science / methods
  • Science / standards