Nobel Week in links

Nobel Week: General
For non-Scandinavians wondering how big an event NobelPrize Day is, this Swedish TV site gives you a good idea. http://svt.se/nobel

After each year’s Peace Prize is announced, the lovely people at the Nobel Peace Center have only a few weeks to create an exhibition in time for the Laureates to open it. This year’s exhibition is called SHEROES. http://nobelpeacecenter.org/english/?did=9087488

If you haven’t seen the inspiring and humbling Nobel Peace Prize speeches, I urge you to read them. http://bit.ly/rraufF http://bit.ly/sdM1YV http://bit.ly/uWv69t

… and see the CNN interview afterwards, where the question of tokenism is dispatched pretty sharpish.  http://bit.ly/tAnbnt

Nobel Prize Ceremony opening speeches have a different theme each year. This Year’s theme was fostering creativity & innovation through education. bit.ly/sYmhUz

If you care about your daughters, don’t let them watch the Nobel Prize ceremony. http://bit.ly/sZhYJF

But if you want royal fashions during the Nobel Prize ceremony, I’ll give you royal fashions. http://bit.ly/rRn1dL All eyes were on Crown Princess Victoria, who is 6 months pregnant. http://bit.ly/sUvqWVAnd here’s some other people you won’t recognize too. http://bit.ly/suu9NO

And here’s the slacker’s guide to winning a Nobel Prize http://ow.ly/7V8IZ

Nobel Week: Laureates
Nice New York Times profile of this year’s Economics Laureates – Intellectual sparring partners for 40 yrs & now reluctant celebrities. http://nyti.ms/vxCN6E

The perennial question of how Nobel Prize winners spend their money has been answered this year by Brian Schmidt – he’s donated $100,000 to an Australian primary school science programme. http://bit.ly/va4Xml

Excellent profile of Dan Shechtman, the Chemistry Laureate who was told he was a disgrace after showing colleagues his groundbreaking quasicrystal result. http://bit.ly/ul9qQx

Charming profile of Tomas Tranströmer, which provides a taste of how popular his award of the Nobel Prize is in his home country. http://bit.ly/vmAK75

Did you know this year’s Literature Laureate is a keen entomologist & even has a beetle named after him? http://bit.ly/v49zra

This year’s Nobel Prize Banquet menu… which for some inexplicable reason is always kept a secret until the guests are seated. http://t.co/P3kAKyZj

Don’t often see this. The Wall Street Journal ran an ad from NYU Stern congratulate Thomas Sargent on his Nobel Prize. http://ow.ly/i/n6Ir

And in other news… 

Physics
Physicists offer their thoughts on whether they think the Higgs boson real, including a limerick from one Nobel Laureate. http://bit.ly/rBg2Ig

If the Higgs boson is found, then which of at least 6 possible contenders would get a Nobel Prize for it? http://natpo.st/vrwoIn

Chemistry
Excellent piece of scientific history: Scientific American defends Marie Curie—and women scientists—in 1911. http://bit.ly/szbFI4 

Literature
Sotherby’s are auctioning manuscripts by only Arab writer to win Literature Nobel Prize. Cost? A cool £50-70K. http://bit.ly/vPs4uZ

Peace
“It’s become more than a movie, it’s become a lesson in life as well.” The new Aung San Suu Kyi film premiered this week. http://nyti.ms/uZBBou

Five Peace Prize winners have called for the release of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, arguing that the world has already begun to stop thinking about his case. http://on.wsj.com/vWRQsv

Meanwhile, China’s Nobel-naysaying alternative honours Vladimir Putin with Confucius Peace Prize. http://wapo.st/vPZXoQ

Week in links (27 Nov-03 Dec)

General
Plans for a new Nobel Prize Center in Stockholm have been announced, designed to be a contemporary meeting place for Nobel Laureates, researchers, students, school pupils and the general public. http://bit.ly/u0X22J

Interview with the new Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation, Lars Heikensten. Wish he had been pushed more on future directions, especially the three-person rule. http://bit.ly/v9tVMc

Physics 
Two physicists have bet chocolate Nobel Prize medals on whether evidence for the Higgs boson will be found at the Large Hadron Collider. http://nyti.ms/ukFazo
(P.S. Another Physics Laureate appears to have made a bet on whether the Higgs boson will be discovered http://bit.ly/rJ2LhR)

Charming cartoon on how to win a Nobel Prize, according to this year’s Laureate Adam Riess. http://bit.ly/vqVWfN

Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose crowd-sourcing philosophy is gaining traction in the university classroom. bit.ly/tOCGtM

Medicine
Nobel Laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi says she is “furious” that funding into HIV & AIDS research is dropping. http://bbc.in/s7Owo5

Literature
Gabriel García Márquez wins 17-year legal fight with man claiming his life story provided the basis for the main character in Chronicle of a Death Foretoldhttp://bit.ly/t1WrU1

Will Bollywood’s Big B play Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in a new movie? http://bit.ly/rFFOwG

Hollywood is taking on the “impossible” challenge of trying to film literary works by William Faulkner, the Nobel Laureate famous for his stream of consciousness writing. http://tgr.ph/uDabKP

Polish poet and 1996 Laureate Wisława Szymborska is said to be recovering well after surgery. http://bit.ly/t3E0S6

Remember this New York Review of Books article on what’s wrong with the Nobel Prize in Literature? The president of the Nobel Committee has responded. http://bit.ly/ufwfK5

Peace
US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi have made an unprecedented public vow to work together and promote democratic reforms in Myanmar. http://bit.ly/uxrhG2

On Twitter @DigitisationSA is mining the Luthuli Museum archives to relive the stories and the controversies surrounding Albert Luthuli’s trip to Oslo 50 years ago, when he became the first African to receive the Nobel Peace Peace. http://bit.ly/vovb5c

The first English-language collection of works by Liu Xiaobo has been published in English on the first anniversary of his Peace Prize award. http://bbc.in/tqGXwS

The leaking of nominations for next year’s Nobel Peace Prize has begun… http://bit.ly/vVxktw

Economics
Readers of Freakonomics put their questions to Daniel Kahneman, father of behavioural economics. http://bit.ly/u15ngl

And finally…
In society news… Princess Madeleine is skipping this year’s Nobel Prize festivities in Stockholm to attend a women in science event in NYC. bit.ly/vIVeBf


When a Nobel Prize just isn’t enough

“You know what’s cooler then winning a Nobel Prize,” Sean Parker is unlikely to have said. “Winning a Nobel Prize and an Oscar.” Few people are lucky enough to receive a Nobel Prize, but the list of Laureates who record the highest achievements outside of their field is considerably smaller.

So, for any trivia buffs out there, here’s a list of Laureates and their endeavours that make them members of an even more exclusive club.

Academy Award

The Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw is the only Nobel Laureate to have received an Academy Award. (I know what many of you are thinking, but bear with me…).

Shaw followed his Literature Prize in 1929 with the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1938 for Pygmalion, which starred Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, and was adapted from Shaw’s 1913 play of the same name.

 

Incidentally, the noted critic and socialist accepted his Nobel Prize in a typically non-straightforward manner. He accepted the prize, but not the money, and said afterwards: “I can forgive Alfred Nobel for having invented dynamite, but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize.”

So what about Al Gore, I hear you cry? Well, the former Vice-President of the United States of America and 2007 Peace Laureate may have accepted the Academy Award for Best Documentary (feature) for “An Inconvenient Truth”; however, he didn’t actually win the coveted prize. The winner of the Academy Award for the film was in fact the producer and director Davis Guggenheim.

Olympic Games

Again, contrary to some opinion, there’s only one Nobel Laureate who has won an Olympic medal. Step up to the podium Philip Noel-Baker, British diplomat, 1959 Peace Prize winner, and who as a middle-distance runner won a silver medal in the 1,500 metres at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp.

Noel-Baker (later Baron Noel-Baker) received the Peace Prize for his lifelong commitment to disarmament and international peace, and he participated in the formation of the League of Nations and the United Nations. Blessed with a talent for middle-distance running, he took part in three Olympics, captaining the British track team at the 1920 and 1924 Games. (The 1924 Games were immortalized in the film Chariots of Fire.) His official biography on Nobelprize.org contains a line you don’t often find on other Laureates’ pages: “Although his days of active participation in track have long since passed, Noel-Baker retains the lean look of the athlete and an absorption in athletics.”

Some sources claim that the Danish physicist Niels Bohr was part of the Danish soccer team that won a silver medal in the 1908 summer Olympics. But that honour went to his younger brother Harald. Niels may have played in goal for the same Danish club side as his brother, but Harald was the only Bohr selected to play for the silver-medal winning national side. Harald also studied mathematics, and such was the public response to the team’s achievement in the 1908 Olympics, it’s claimed that when he defended his doctoral thesis a few years later, the audience contained more football fans than mathematicians. I wonder what they chanted during his defence.

Number 1 pop song

Nowadays, Charles Gates Dawes is perhaps remembered more for his contribution to pop music than his 1925 Nobel Peace Prize. Dawes was a self-taught pianist and composer, and lyrics were added to his 1912 composition, “Melody in A Major”, to become a song called “It’s All In The Game”, which became a number 1 hit in the US and UK for Tommy Edwards in 1958. A host of artists have covered this song since then, including Nat “King” Cole, Elton John and Keith Jarrett.

 

For the record, Dawes received his Peace Prize for his League of Nations report on German reparation payments after World War I. Like Al Gore, Dawes also held the position of Vice-President, though Dawes’ term is generally considered to be one of the worst ever. “Hell’n Maria” Dawes (as he was known, this being his favourite expression) wasn’t Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge’s first choice as running-mate, they were barely on speaking terms with each other, and Dawes didn’t attend cabinet meetings. Even his Senate biography says witheringly: “[H]is tenure was not a satisfying or productive one, nor did it stand as a model for others to follow.

Cricket

Being a Brit and a cricket lover I have to include this one, but if you have no appetite for the sound of leather on willow, or have no idea what that expression means, I suggest you skip this part… 

There’s only one first-class cricketer to win a Nobel Prize, and horror upon horrors, he isn’t British. This honour goes to the Irish-born playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett, best known for the absurdist drama Waiting for Godot. The 1969 Literature Laureate played two first-class games for Dublin University against Northamptonshire in 1925 and 1926. Described in the cricketing bible Wisden as “a left-hand opening batsman, possessing what he himself called a gritty defence, and a useful left-arm medium-pace bowler”, Becket never lost his affection for cricket.

Million-dollar quiz prize

When George Smoot received the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for years of work that recorded the faint echoes of the birth of the universe, he received one half of the prize amount, around $800,000. Three years later, he won a bigger cash prize on the US TV quiz “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Appearing as the final contestant on the last episode of the game show, which posed grade-school level questions to adults, he reached the final question: “What U.S. state is home to Acadia National Park?” Smoot gave the correct answer “Maine”, and in doing so became the second person (and the first man) to win the $1million top prize.

 

China, Norway and the continuing Peace Prize row

So far, this blog has looked at coverage of his year’s Nobel Prizes, but there’s been a notable lack of coverage for one prize that is worth highlighting here.

While news spread far and wide of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”, full marks to The Atlantic for noticing that the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, only ran a three-paragraph brief on the news. Other major Chinese sites didn’t cover the news at all (see here, here and here).

If you recall, last year’s Peace Prize went to imprisoned dissident Chinese writer and human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo. Neither Liu nor his wife, Liu Xia, were allowed to attend the prize ceremony last December in Oslo — the medal placed on an empty chair providing one of the most defining images of last year’s awards.

Any idea the Peace Prize Committee had in their Award Ceremony speech that highlighting the connection between human rights and peace would provide “a prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations, of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will” has not come to fruition. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Chinese officials blasted the Nobel committee for awarding the prize to a convicted man who they say was trying to subvert the Chinese government. The Confucius Prize was set up as a domestic-based alternative but as I noted before its future already appears to be in doubt. Though the Norwegian Nobel Committee operates independently from the government, diplomatic ties between China and Norway, which were chilly even before the announcement in 2009 (according to the published cables from WikiLeaks), have become deep frozen – trade rules over salmon being the latest episode in this saga.

Meanwhile, Liu is still in jail, serving out an 11-year sentence. Liu Xia, who had enjoyed relative freedom even after her husband was sentenced in December 2009, was placed under unofficial house arrest in Beijing shortly after the 2010 Peace Prize announcement, where she still remains.

“As far as I know, the way she is treated is unprecedented in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize,” Norwegian Nobel Committee secretary Geir Lundestad told Associated Press. “Her situation is extremely regrettable.”

The day of the 2011 Peace Prize announcement was described as an “awkward anniversary in China” by Evan Osnos on the New Yorker blog. As Osnos notes, the country’s obsession with the Nobel Prizes runs to the extent that the title of a science programme on Chinese state television a few years ago was entitled “How far are we from a Nobel Prize?

The term “China’s Nobel complex” was coined by Professor Julia Lovell to define the paradox that the country faces since re-entering the international community in the 1980s. China sees Nobel Prizes like Olympic gold medals, demonstrating global recognition as a modern world power, yet the authorities resent seeking validation from outsiders. This resentment grows to anger when the state perceives outsiders to be exploiting “Western” values to discredit their history and traditions, as was the case with the 2010 Peace Prize, and also with the 2000 Literature Prize to the dissident writer Gao Xingjian.

It’s an obsession I have experienced first-hand. As an editor at Nature Publishing Group who helped to organize a conference series in China and who visited several laboratories, the burning question almost all senior academics wanted me to answer was what would it take to have a “homegrown Nobel Prize?” (My answer, rather weak I admit, was to say that while there might be the talent, you have to create and nurture a culture and environment similar to what you would find in so-called “Nobel-worthy” institutions.) My first experience of Nobel Week in December 2007 coincided with a visiting delegation from China, with the question foremost in their minds. Nobel committee members have come under fire for accepting paid-for trips to China, though a probe by the Swedish government anti-corruption body found no evidence of bribery, concluding that the prize selection process is too complex for any individual to have a significant influence.

Despite last year’s Peace Prize, China’s Nobel obsession hasn’t dimmed, reports Osnos. Over the past few months the state press has feverishly covered anything that can be associated with the Nobel name — from headlining this year’s Lasker Award to the Chinese scientist Tu Youyou as ‘America’s Nobel’, to reporting the opening of the recent Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting on Economic Sciences. And as far as I can tell, science laureates visiting China are still treated like celebrities, with lectures packed to the rafters, unlike similar lectures in say, the US and UK.

But any thought that China might concede some ground on the Peace Prize in pursuit of their Nobel dreams in science has received a rude shock in the last few days. Last week, Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre wrote some conciliatory words in a full-page commentary in Norway’s leading business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, saying that the Norwegian government has taken China’s angry reaction seriously, understands that they are upset, but hopes that moves can be made to restore relations. This olive branch offering was rejected by China yesterday; a statement from the Chinese embassy in Oslo saying that the Norwegian government “supported this wrong decision”, and that “we expect that the Norwegian side will make tangible efforts to restore and develop the bilateral relations.”

What form these “tangible efforts” could take isn’t clear. As this article notes, it could require an apology from the Norwegian government for supporting the Peace Prize, which would be an unprecedented move, or perhaps a statement of regret from the Norwegian government regarding China’s offence at Norway’s support for the prize. Whatever the outcome, it looks like China’s response to “losing face” over the Peace Prize is to push the Norwegian government towards a similar outcome.

The 2011 Nobel Prizes in quotes

“The decision to award the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to the late Ralph Steinman shall remain unchanged… The events that have occurred are unique and, to the best of our knowledge, are unprecedented in the history of the Nobel Prize… 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.”

Statement from the Nobel Foundation to confirm that Ralph Steinman would still be awarded the Medicine Prize, despite dying three days before the announcement was made.

 

“We got the first call from a reporter from Sweden, who asked me how I felt. And I said “How do I feel about what?” And he told me that we’d won the Prize and my wife, of course, rushed to the computer to check to see whether this was a hoax!”

Saul Perlmutter, 2011 Nobel Laureate in Physics, on not knowing he had been awarded the prize.

 

“The phone rang, it was 5:30, and it was Swedish-sounding people, and I knew they weren’t from Ikea.”

Adam Riess on being woken up by the call to tell him he had been awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

 

“The biggest day of my life, I am trending on the Australia twitter… but I am still behind Happy National Taco Day? I have a lot to learn.”

Brian Schuldt, 2011 Nobel Laureate in Physics, on Twitter (aka @cosmicpinot)

 

“Danny Shechtman is talking nonsense. There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.”

Criticism Daniel Shechtman said he received from two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, who never accepted the findings that eventually led to the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

 

“2am in Haifa. What a day. If you’re a scientist and believe in your results, then fight for them. Even when Linus says you’re wrong. Danny”

Daniel Schechtman on Twitter (@danschechtman)

 

“Transtömer!”

Headline on the front page of the Culture section of Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter to celebrate the Stockholm-based poet’s Nobel Prize in Literature — the first Swedish Literature Prize since 1974.

 

“At first we had him down as a rank outsider but the committee have been known to spring a shock and punters the world over feel Dylan will be the beneficiary.”

Ladbrokes commenting on a rush of bets on Bob Dylan that brought his odds down from 100/1 to 5/1 favourite the day before the Literature Prize announcement.

 

“It sends out a message to the Arab world that you can’t ignore women if you want a democratic society.”

Thorbjørn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee during the 2011 Peace Prize announcement.

 

“Truly women have a place, truly women have a face, and truly the world has not been functioning well without the input, in every sphere, of women.”

Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate on the message she hopes her award will bring to the world.

 

“I feel very happy and I want to be like my mum in the future.”

Tawakul Karman’s 14-year-old daughter in response to the celebrations for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

“I’m not so sure it’s right to say we have worked together; it’s more that we have a series of continuing arguments many of which are still going on as I slowly persuade him of the error of his earlier positions.”

Christopher Sims on fellow Economics Laureate, Thomas Sargent, at a joint press conference.

 

 

“We are basically statistical historians”

Thomas Sargent, 2011 Economic Sciences Laureate with Sims, at the same press conference

2011 Nobel Peace Prize goes to three women

“It sends out a message to the Arab world that you can’t ignore women if you want a democratic society.”

So said Thorbjørn Jagland in his announcement of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

It certainly fulfils Jagland’s cryptic clue earlier this week when he said the prize would go to “Not necessarily a big name, but a big mission — something important for the world.”

The prize also makes Nobel history this is the first time ever that a Nobel Prize in any area has been shared between three women.

As the press release says Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa’s first democratically elected female president in 2006, and “has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women.” Leymah Gbowee “mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections.” And Tawakkul Karman “has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen.”

You can see Sirleaf talking about some of the leadership challenges a woman faces in this video from the TEDWomen conference, or watch this AlJazeera interview below:

Here’s a video of Leymah Gbowee accepting the 2009 JFK Profile in Courage Award

And here’s a Guardian profile of Tawakkul Karman from earlier this year, plus an article Karman wrote for The Guardian’s Comment is Free section. When Jagland was asked by the press after the announcement why the committee selected an activist from Yemen, he said “she showed courage long before the revolution started’, and that it was “a signal to the whole Arab world that one cannot set aside the women if one wants to build democracies”.

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?”