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.

 

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

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.

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.

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.