Predictions for the 2011 Prize in Economic Sciences (and a brief guide to nomenclature)

Today marks the final announcement of the 2011 prizes. At 13:00 CET we will discover who will receive this year’s Economics Prize, or to give it its full name, the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. (Trying to say the full prize name in a live broadcast while pronouncing the words “Sveriges Riksbank” in a manner that didn’t sound like a strangled, demented cat to Swedish ears presented a far tougher challenge to my Anglo-Saxon-trained tongue than interviewing any Nobel Laureate. Needless to say, I usually failed.)

As you may know, this isn’t one of the original prizes that was listed in Alfred Nobel’s will. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (the Swedish royal bank) marked its 300th anniversary by instituting a new award through a financial donation to the Nobel Foundation in perpetuity. The first prize was awarded in 1969 to Ragnar Frisch and Jan Tinbergen for their pioneering work that integrated economic theory with statistical methods. Only one woman has been awarded the prize so far, Elinor Ostrom in 2009.

Though not considered to be an official prize, the Prize in Economic Sciences is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (who are also responsible for the Physics and Chemistry Prizes), under the same nomination and selection principles as for the original Nobel Prizes. The Laureates travel to Stockholm in early December to give lectures, they receive their prizes on the same stage as the Physics, Medicine, Chemistry and Literature Laureates, and they enjoy the same once-in-a-lifetime experience at the Nobel Banquet. No surprise, then, that the prizes are often mistakenly named as the Nobel Prize in Economics, even by many of the Laureates themselves, it has to be said.

So for the pedants among you, here’s a quick nomenclature guide for anyone writing about today’s prize announcement.  According to the Nobel Foundation style manual, the correct designations of this prize are: “Economics Prize”; “Prize in Economic Sciences; or “Economic Sciences Prize”. Correct designations of the recipients are: “Economic Sciences Laureate(s)”, “Laureate in Economic Sciences”, “Laureate in Economics”, or “Economics Laureate”. (So, incidentally, is “recipient of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economics in Memory of Alfred Nobel”, if you happen to have a few hundred words to spare).

Complete no-no’s are “Nobel Prize in Economics”, as I wrote earlier, or “Nobel Economics Laureate”.  While we are on the topic, another, more general, no-no is the ubiquitous phrase “Nobel Prize winner”. Like the Academy Awards, people don’t win a Nobel Prize, they are awarded it or receive it.

Which brings me back nicely to the subject of who will get the prize this year. Thomson Reuters’ picks based on the citation impact of published research include: Douglas Diamond at the University of Chicago for his analysis of financial intermediation and monitoring; Jerry Hausman at MIT and Hal White Jr. at University of California, San Diego for their contributions to econometrics, specifically the Hausman specification test and the White standard errors test; and 
Anne Krueger at Johns Hopkins University and Gordon Tullock at George Mason University for their description of rent-seeking behavior and its implications. Full marks to anyone who understood more than a single word of that.

Academics from the Kellogg School and Northwestern University’s economics department have selected their favorites for the prize, and Diamond and Hausman also feature high up their list. Topping the list, though, is Jean Tirole at the Industrial Economic Institute in Toulouse, France, whose work focuses on game theory and industrial organization, but who could be a timely choice for his work on on financial regulation and financial crises. Next on the list is Paul Romer at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research for his research on how technological change affects economies, specifically shifts in worker productivity. Given that the Kellogg/Northwestern team guessed the prize correctly last year, this year’s picks must be worth a look.

Over at The Economist’s Free Exchange blog, the money is on the behavioural game theorists Colin Camerer at CalTech and Vincent Crawford. The blog also adds the juicy tale that Crawford is rumoured to have moved from University of California, San Diego to Oxford University two years ago because he didn’t want to be woken up too early on the morning when the Economics Prize Committee called. Let’s see if this supposed wish is fulfilled this year.

Harvard University usually runs a pool for the prize, and the Wall Street Journal reports that its very own Al Roth received the most bets for his work on game theory. As the WSJ says, Roth helped design, among other things, the systems for matching kidney donors with patients and New York City students with schools.

However, the Harvard pool site is currently showing the message that they have been advised by the University “to immediately shut down the Nobel pool due to legal reasons”. If anyone knows more about this, please drop me a line in the comments below.

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Could the Literature Prize result have been leaked?

The Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter has an intriguing article titled “The odds indicate a leak” about the betting in the run-up to yesterday’s Literature Prize. As I mentioned yesterday there was a rush in betting for Tomas Tranströmer just before his name was read out, but I hadn’t realised his odds had plunged from 13 to 1.66.

You can see the original article in Swedish here. Many thanks to Britt Warg for bringing this article to my attention, and for providing an English translation, which you can read below. (I’ve only included the relevant excerpts.)

This could, of course, have been due to a rush of domestic bets hoping for a home-grown favourite to scoop the prize. Or not. If I hear any more I’ll update this post.

The odds indicate a leak
Published today 14:16

The odds at the betting company Ladbrokes suggests a leak of the acknowledgement that the poet Tomas Tranströmer was to be awarded this year’s Nobel prize in Literature.

The betting changed significantly this morning and Tranströmer went high. That’s unusual, says Sofia Hjärtberg, press officer at Ladbrokes in Sweden.

For the whole week, Bob Dylan has topped the list at Ladbrokes. Then, a bid for Dylan would have given six times the money.

Tomas Tranströmer, on the other hand, had not been as ‘hot’. Up until Thursday morning, he had 13[/1] as odds.
But shortly after 9am (local time), people began to suspect something was wrong.
Suddenly the bids for Tomas Tranströmer started to flood in – they were both numerous and high. In an hour’s time, the odds had gone down from 13 to 1.66. 
— We have never seen such a change, says Sofia Hjärtberg.

 

Ladbrokes have been offering betting for the Literature Prize since 2003. Three years ago, when the Frenchman Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio received the prize, the company had to close the bidding as the bids for him literary exploded just a day or so before he was awarded the price.
— We felt something was wrong so we closed down the game.
No such drastic measures this year then?
— No, this happened so quickly, so we didn’t do that. Those who put down their odds at 9am when the odds were still at 13 have made good money on this. After that time, they all went downhill quickly, says Sofia Hjärtberg

Cryptic clues spark more speculation about the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

You have to hand it to Thorbjörn Jagland, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, he certainly knows how to get tongues wagging in advance of the Peace Prize announcement later today (11:00 CET).

The committee has courted controversy with its selections since the former prime minister of Norway became its chairman in 2009. US President Barack Obama received the prize in 2009, less than a year into his term of office. In 2010, the prize went to imprisoned Chinese writer and activist Liu Xiaobo, prompting a strident response from state authorities against Norway.

In an interview with Associated Press on Wednesday, Jagland drops some cryptic clues about this year’s Peace Prize recipient, He is quoted as saying:

“The most positive development will get the prize. So I’m a little bit surprised that it has not been already seen by many commentators and experts and all this because for me it’s obvious.”

So who have people listed as being in line for this year’s prize? I’ve blogged about this before, but The Guardian has a good rundown of the hopefuls. including Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, the Russian human rights group Memorial, Egyptian Google executive Wael Ghonim, former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Ten years to the day that US-led troops went into Afganistan, Sima Samar, the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, would be a timely award.

So-called “leading Nobel-guesser” Kristian Berg Harpviken, the director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, says his top picks are Egyptian activists Israa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Maher and the April 6 Youth Movement, a pro-democracy Facebook group they co-founded in 2008.

Fanning the flames of speculation further, Jagland told the Norwegian newspaper VG on Thursday that this year’s recipient “is involved with something that has been important to me my whole life.” Could it be the European Union, then? Even though Norway is not a member, Jagland is a strong supporter of the EU, and in 1990, he wrote “My European Dream”, a book about European unity after the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

Two more Jagland quotes from Wednesday’s AP interview tease further. He said the prize would go to:

“Not necessarily a big name, but a big mission — something important for the world.”

followed by:

“For me and the committee, I think it’s quite obvious if you look at the world today and see what is happening out there. What are the major forces pushing the world in the right direction?”

An LA Times article throws up an interesting potential candidate, which if you look beyond the sensationalist headline, could satisfy Jagland’s cryptic clues. It asks: “Could he be referring to a Web platform that allows users to connect around the world?”

Predictions for the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Another day, another Nobel Prize announcement. Today it’s the turn of the Chemistry Prize. The announcement will be made in under two hours, at 11:45 CET, and as always you can see the live announcement webcast on Nobelprize.org.

So, who could be in the running this year. Well, when it comes to chemistry predictions, most eyes turn to Paul Bracher and his ChemBark blog. With organic chemistry getting the prize last year, and structural biology the year before, Bracher’s favourites are Richard Zare and WE Moerner for developing laser-based and single-molecule spectroscopy techniques (see Zare’s Wolf Prize citation here and Moerner’s here), and Pierre Chambon, Ronald Evans and Elwood Jensen for the discovery of nuclear hormone receptors (you can see their 2004 Lasker Prize citation here).

Karin Bojs at the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter agrees with the Zare & Moerner prediction, but adds Arthur Horwich and Franz-Ulrich Hartl to her list for their work on protein-folding mechanisms, and also picks DNA sequencing technology, with Eugene Myers, Craig Venter and Leroy Hood as her choice of likely candidates. Ash Jogalekar at Curious Waveform, has some of the candidates above on his list, but also mentions Stuart Schrieber and Peter Schultz for chemical biology and chemical genetics.

Thomson Reuters, meanwhile, as I previously posted have a different list of candidates: Allen Bard for “the development and application of scanning electrochemical microscopy; Jean Fréchet, Donald Tomalia, and Fritz Vögtle for “the invention and development of dendritic polymers; and Martin Karplus for pioneering simulations of the molecular dynamics of biomolecules.

Will it be an organic chemistry prize, an analytical chemistry prize, or another biology-related prize to upset the purists? I’ll post a rundown of the initial reactions as soon as I can after the announcement.

Predictions for the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics

After the whirlwind of a day that accompanied the announcement of the Medicine Prize, I’m sure many hope that things will be a lot calmer for today’s Physics Prize announcement. The announcement will be made at 11:45 CET, and as usual you can see the live webcast and find out the names of the new Laureates as soon as it happens on Nobelprize.org, or follow the action on Twitter using the #NobelPrize hashtag. You can also follow blow-by-blow action of the news over at The Guardian’s liveblog. Let’s see if we can get the subject of physics trending before it gets swamped by coverage of the new iPhone announcement.

So who could be in the running for this year’s Physics Prize? As mentioned in a previous post, Thomson Reuters made their picks based on citation data, and top of their list is Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser and Anton Zeilinger for “their tests of Bell’s inequalities and research on quantum entanglement.” It’s a choice that ZapperZ at the Physics and Physicists blog agrees with.

On the other physics blogs, Metadatta lists a few options, before opting for Yakir Aharonov and Michael Berry for their work on quantum topological and geometrical phases. And over at Chad Orzel’s Uncertain Principles his annual betting pool is throwing up a few other names too, including Vera Rubin, Marc Davis and Joel Primack for Cold Dark Matter theory.

If you’re a Quora fan you can add to this thread, which admittedly is not seeing much action. Or you can add to the names being predicted on Twitter, using the #nobelphysicspredictions hashtag.

If you see any more predictions, do please drop me a comment and I’ll include them on the list.

UPDATE: Physics World’s blog polled its viewers, with over half of them predicting that this year’s prize will go to quantum information (with the most likely people being Anton Zeilinger, Dave Wineland and Alain Aspect), followed by neutrino oscillations.

Local predictions for the Nobel Prizes

As many of the news stories say, today marks the beginning of the so-called “Nobel Season”, with the announcement of the 2011 Medicine Prize in a few hours time. Which means its time to start seeing who the smart money is on in Sweden.

I’ll leave the Literature and Peace predictions for later on this week, but top of the list for science prize predictors is Karin Bojs, science editor for the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Bojs’s forecasts are frequently and unnervingly on the mark, and you can see her full list of predictions for the Medicine, Physics and Chemistry Prizes here. Bojs presents a lengthy and persuasive case for today’s Medicine Prize to be shared by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka for his work with induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells for short, British scientist John Gurdon for being the first scientist to clone an animal, and Canadian biophysicist James Till for discovering of blood stem cells.

What sets Bojs’s prediction apart from most press speculation is that she tries to think in the same way that the committee would. In this case, she argues that not only would sharing the prize in this way provide a balance of basic research breakthroughs with clinical applications, but also that Till’s long time collaborator, Ernest McCullogh, died earlier this year, so there wouldn’t the issue of having more than the maximum three possible Laureates for an individual prize.

There appears to be no repeat of last year’s extraordinary events, in which the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet ran a front-page splash before the announcement declaring correctly that the recipient would be British test-tube baby pioneer Robert Edwards, and confidential documents were stolen from a committee member’s car. As the Associated Press reports, the Medicine Prize committee has applied even stricter rules on keeping their discussions and documents surrounding potential candidates secret. But it won’t be long before we find out who’s name is on their list for this year.

Who could be in line for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize?

Today, the five-person committee for the Nobel Peace Prize is gathering for what is expected to be their final meeting to decide the recipient(s) of this year’s award.

As always, the press is exploring any signs or clues that could reveal who is in line for the prize. As Gwladys Fouche reports in Reuters, Thorbjørn Jagland, the chairman of the Peace Prize-awarding committee (officially known as the Norwegian Nobel Committee), says this year’s prize will be as interesting as the two others that have been awarded under his leadership. Given that the last two prizes went to the imprisoned Chinese writer and activist Liu Xiaobo, prompting a strident response from state authorities, and to President Barack Obama, less than a year into his term of office, all eyes are sure to be on Oslo next Friday to see whose names are read out.

The smart money, perhaps not surprisingly, seems to be on the Arab Spring. However, who could receive this prize is more difficult matter. Another Reuters article by Fouche has claims from the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s secretary Geir Lundestad there are “a few” candidates linked to the Arab Spring among this year’s nominees, though he declined to name them.

A regular in the pre-announcement guessing game is Kristian Berg Harpviken, the director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and he tells Forbes that the Egyptian activists Israa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Maher and the April 6 Youth Movement Facebook group they co-founded, would top his list of candidates. Other possible candidates are Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing executive, who galvanized protests on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni who began criticizing the Tunisian regime before the uprising began in December last year.

Although nominations are meant to be kept secret for 50 years, Peace Prize nominators tend to have looser lips than those for the other prizes. The Norwegian Nobel Committee does release the number of nominations — there’s a record 241 candidates (of which 53 are organizations) for this year’s prize – but every year a handful of nominators decide to make their choices public. The Peace Research Institute Oslo has a list of the leaked nominations as well as some speculative names. Among the known nominees this year is the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and its head Julian Assange. Their response? Well, you can see for yourself in this tweet.

Meanwhile, the future of the Confucius Prize, set up as a Chinese alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize, appears to have been thrown into doubt. Launched just days before the Peace Prize went to Liu Xiaobo, it is now claimed that the organizers didn’t seek permission from China’s Ministry of Culture to offer the prize. As the Daily Telegraph reports, the decision to ban the prize means that Lien Chan, a former vice president of Taiwan, could go down in history as its first and only winner. However, the Wall Street Journal quotes Confucius Peace Prize executive chairman Liu Haofeng as saying that another group under China’s Ministry of Culture plans to offer a similar award next year, called the Confucius World Peace Prize.