Timeline: History of the Nobel Prizes

There’s only a week to go before the 2011 Nobel Prize Announcements begin in earnest. So, in addition to covering the news and stories in the run-up to next week, I also plan to post a few explainers, beginning with this timeline covering some of the most important milestones and controversies that the prizes have witnessed in its 110-year history.

Admittedly, this is a first working version of the timeline, I’ll add to it over the coming days. If you feel something is missing or there are any errors, please leave a comment below.

I should add that this form of explainer was inspired by Ed Yong’s use of timelines to capture the stories behind scientific breakthroughs, which in turn, was inspired by John Rennie’s manifesto on how to improve science journalism.

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Let the predictions begin

Nobel season always unofficially begins when the first predictions start rolling in, and today Thomson Reuters published its annual predictions for the Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Economics Prizes.

Since 1989, the Science business unit at Thomson Reuters has been making these predictions in one form or another, based on analyses of highly cited research papers in the prize fields. I’ll leave it to ScienceInsider to tell you a bit more about the selection process, but top of Thomson Reuters’ 2011 prediction lists are:

PHYSICS
Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser and Anton Zeilinger for “their tests of Bell’s inequalities and research on quantum entanglement.”
Sajeev John and Eli Yablonovitch for “their invention and development of photonic band gap materials.”
Hideo Ohno for “contributions to ferromagnetism in diluted magnetic semiconductors.” 

CHEMISTRY
Allen J. Bard for “the development and application of scanning electrochemical microscopy.”
Jean M. J. Fréchet, Donald A. Tomalia, and Fritz Vögtle for “the invention and development of dendritic polymers.”
Martin Karplus for “pioneering simulations of the molecular dynamics of biomolecules.”

PHYSIOLOGY OR MEDICINE
Brian J. Druker
, Nicholas B. Lydon and Charles L. Sawyers for “their development of imatinib and dasatinib, revolutionary, targeted treatments for chronic myeloid leukemia.”
Robert S. Langer and Joseph P. Vacanti “for their pioneering research in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.”
Jacques F. A. P. Miller for “his discovery of the function of the thymus and the identification of T cells and B cells in mammalian species,” with Robert L. Coffman and Timothy R. Mosmann for “their discovery of two types of T lymphocytes, TH1 and TH2, and their role in regulating host immune response.” 

ECONOMICS
Douglas W. Diamond
for “his analysis of financial intermediation and monitoring.”
Jerry A. Hausman and Halbert L. White, Jr. for “their contributions to econometrics, specifically the Hausman specification test and the White standard errors test.”
Anne O. Krueger and Gordon Tullock for “their description of rent-seeking behavior and its implications.”

Last year, David Pendlebury, Citation Analyst at Thomson Reuters was quoted as saying: “People who win the Nobel prize publish about five times as much as the average scientist and are cited 20 times as often as the average scientist.” Sounds persuasive, but how good are these predictions? Well, John Matson at Scientific American says that despite a few notable triumphs the overall success rate of the individual picks has been low. Only 13 of the 111 picks made between 2006 and 2010 went on to receive a Nobel Prize, either in the year of their selection or in subsequent years.

If those odds aren’t attractive enough to persuade you to bet the house on any of the above names, you could try some of the predictions made on science blogs, like ChemBark  or Everyday Scientist, and I’ll update this post as the predictions continue to come in. Or perhaps you might not fancy what the pros think, instead heading straight to Springfield, and see the list of names predicted last year by none other than the Simpsons.

22/09 UPDATE: If crowdsourcing is more your thing, Chemistry Views magazine is asking for the crowd to demonstrate its wisdom on who will get this year’s Chemistry Prize.