It’s a brief but respectful response, and it’s difficult to know what will happen next, as this is unchartered territory. As the secretary of the Nobel Assembly, Goran Hansson, told The Guardian, this appears to be the first time since the posthumous prize rule changes were made in 1974 that the prize has been awarded to someone who had died.
As I mentioned in my last post, under the current Nobel statutes posthumous awards are not allowed unless a Laureate dies after the announcement, but before the award ceremony. So, it’s worth noting the sentence in the statement that reads: “This message was conveyed by The President of The Rockefeller University, where Professor Steinman worked, at 2.30 pm (CET), Monday October 3, 2011, after the decision and announcement about this year´s Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine.” [emphasis mine].
Steinman died three days ago, so whether knowledge of a Laureate’s death after a decision and announcement falls under the same definition as a Laureate dying after a decision and announcement, we’ll soon find out. The Medicine Prize Committee are no doubt examining the rules in minute detail in order to work out the next steps to take.
UPDATE (10/3): Nobelprize.org has published an official statement to say that the decision to award Ralph Steinman still stands. As I suggested above, the key issue is that Ralph Steinman was believed to be alive at announcement time – I’ve pasted the relevant section of the statement below.
Kudos to the Nobel Assembly for making a tricky but honourable decision.
“The decision to award the Nobel Prize to Ralph Steinman was made in good faith, based on the assumption that the Nobel Laureate was alive. This was true – though not at the time of the decision – only a day or so previously. The Nobel Foundation thus believes that what has occurred is more reminiscent of the example in the statutes concerning a person who has been named as a Nobel Laureate and has died before the actual Nobel Prize Award Ceremony.
“The decision made by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet thus remains unchanged.”
Med djup sorg har Nobelförsamlingen vid Karolinska Institutet mottagit beskedet att professor Ralph Steinman, en av årets tre Nobelpristagare i fysiologi eller medicin, avled under natten mellan 30:e september och 1:a oktober. Detta besked gavs av rektorn för Rockefeller University, där Steinman var verksam, kl 14.30 (CET) måndagen den 3:e oktober 2011, efter beslutet och tillkännagivandet om årets Nobelpris. Våra tankar går till Ralph Steinmans familj och medarbetare.
It is with deep sadness and regret that the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has learned that Professor Ralph Steinman, one of this year´s three Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, passed away on September 30. This message was conveyed by The President of The Rockefeller University, where Professor Steinman worked, at 2.30 pm (CET), Monday October 3, 2011, after the decision and announcement about this year´s Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine. Our thoughts are with Ralph Steinman´s family and colleagues.