Is the Nobel Prize Good for Science?

FASEB J. 2013 Dec;27(12):4682-90. doi: 10.1096/fj.13-238758. Epub 2013 Sep 5.

Abstract

The Nobel Prize is arguably the best known and most prestigious award in science. Here we review the effect of the Nobel Prize and acknowledge that it has had many beneficial effects on science. However, ever since its inaugural year in 1901, the Nobel Prize has also been beset by controversy, mostly involving the selection of certain individuals and the exclusion of others. In this regard, the Nobel Prize epitomizes the winner-takes-all economics of credit allocation and distorts the history of science by personalizing discoveries that are truly made by groups of individuals. The limitation of the prize to only 3 individuals at a time when most scientific discovery is the result of collaborative and cooperative research is arguably the major cause of Nobel Prize controversies. A simple solution to this problem would be to eliminate the restriction on the number of individuals who could be awarded the prize, a measure that would recognize all who contribute, from students to senior investigators. There is precedent for such a change in the Nobel Peace Prize, which has often gone to organizations. Changing the Nobel Prize to more fairly allocate credit would reduce the potential for controversy and directly benefit the scientific enterprise by promoting cooperation and collaboration of scientists within a field to reduce the negative consequences of competition between individual scientists.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Nobel Prize*
  • Peer Review / ethics
  • Peer Review / standards
  • Science / ethics*
  • Science / history
  • Science / standards