Excluding Lit or Peace, have there ever been any of the Nobel Prizes that were duds?

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Little Nemo, you should be aware that comments on moderation belong in ATMB and don’t belong in GQ. No warning issued, but don’t do this again.

To everyone else: drop the hijack and get back to the subject of the thread.

General Questions Moderator

Many, many of the prize winners have been questionable:


There is the nobel prize awarded for “proving” worms caused cancer.

Understanding the defect with the proof serves modern medicine quite well.
The project didn’t include a control group , even though it would have been quite feasible to have a control group… The control group (aims to ) ensures that there is no unseen “laboratory conditions” influence on the experiment. In this case, the unseen laboratory condition was the diet (100% or nearly), of white bread. The experimenter assumed that the diet of white bread was a perfectly normal diet !. So in fact its a great experiment (to test the result of a diet of ONLY white bread… ) , he just didn’t form the correct conclusion from it !

Why the hell is this highly subjective topic still in the GQ?

Not all that subjective. Either the witch floats in science or a duck does.

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I’ve already pointed out that questions about moderation belong in ATMB, not here, and given instructions to stick to the topic of the thread. If you think the thread is in the wrong forum, report it (which you haven’t done). This is an official warning for violating moderator instructions. Don’t do this again.

In any case, since this is a discussion mainly about scientific validity, I think it belongs in GQ.

General Questions Moderator

The econ prize last year went to Lloyd Shapley and Alvin Roth. Shapley developed the theoretical foundation for certain matching algorithms, and Roth built on this work and applied these results to things like kidney donations. Alex Tabbarok describes it thus:

The algorithm, he goes on to note, has resulted in a record swap of 30 kidneys among 60 people. There’s a NYT article about it. This development has saved lives, and this wonderful practical application of economic theory was acknowledged by the people in Sweden.

But hey, that’s just “essentially bullshit”, right? It’s “always” been that way, huh?

Watson is definitely a tool, but of course he and Crick deserved the prize. Franklin died before it was awarded, there is no way she could have won it. If she hadn’t died, then there might be a legitimate controversy.

And Wilkins didn’t need her permission to show her results to W&C. He was her boss. I have lot of PhD-level people working for me. If I want to show their results to someone I have every right to do it.

Now, I do think Franklin should have been an author on the Nature paper.

OK, but the econ prize isn’t really a Nobel at all anyway. It does not stem from Nobel’s legacy, and does have “Nobel” in its official name.

Apparently which one seems to float sometimes changes over time though. (If not, your question will have zero answers; but I think we have some).

Do enlighten me, what are some of the fatal flaws in the work of people like Elinor Ostrom, Thomas Schelling, Daniel Kahnemann, Amartya Sen, Herbert Simon, Kenneth Arrow, or John Nash, that means that they are not worthy of being recognized internationally for their contributions? Please don’t hold back, I’m pretty familiar with their work so do go into as much detail as you see fit.

This is probably not the right forum, but the field of “economic sciences”, as the name of the prize has it, does not meet the customary criteria for the name of science. It’s a pile of hypothetical mathematical constructs, based on other constructs, with only occasional nods to the reality it purports to explain. The disconnections with reality are simply apologized for at best, ignored at worst, and are not resolved by adjusting or discarding those hypothetical constructs.

IOW the field as it exists, and as the Nobel award (which, you may note, was established only in 1968, and funded by a bank as an obvious PR stunt), is bullshit. An actual science would be derived from, and attempt to *explain, *reality.

Yeah, I’d limit the question to the Natural Sciences.

It would seem that controversies along the lines of those brought up by Saint Cad would not truly be in the spirit of the question, either, since *the fundamental research/discovery/theory would have been worthy *of award, and the problem being raised is with *to whom *it was awarded or how the committee reached the decision of what part of the body of work leading to the result was to be cited.
In the case of Fibiger’s theory of a parasitic cause of cancer his conclusion was wrong though he started off on a right path – that cancers could be induced by nonintrinsic factors that damage cells. As mentioned, he failed in not doing proper control tests that would compare other possible factors. So yes, he proved that that particular parasitic infection can lead to cancer, but afterwards it was shown it was a specific case, not a general rule. The Medicine award seems to have been at times vulnerable to “wonder cure” hype – e.g. Moniz’s work on lobotomy.

So nothing then. That’s what I thought.

Are you referring to the strength-of-swallows factor in the history of science?

Also, SD Serendipity strikes again: a few days ago a letter by Crick to his 12-year old son sold for over $6 million, the highest amount ever paid for a letter, almost doubling the previous record which was set by a letter of Abraham Lincoln.

I can’t recall in which early news account I read it, but part of its value is ascribed to the fact that it has a good, illustrated summary of the work–clear as a bell and deeply endearing–set down six months before it was printed.

I’m sure historians–including you guys, of course–will have some yummy grist. The letter is reproduced here. Note that the the transcription does not reproduce the word underlines, shown here in italics.

Here is the complete text:

19 Portugal Place Cambridge
19 March ’53

My Dear Michael,

Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery. We have built a model for the structure of de-oxy-ribose-nucleic-acid (read it carefully) called D.N.A. for short. You may remember that the genes of the chromosomes — which carry the hereditary factors — are made up of protein and D.N.A.

Our structure is very beautiful. D.N.A. can be thought of roughly as a very long chain with flat bits sticking out. The flat bits are called the “bases”. The formula is rather like this

Sugar [line] base
Sugar [line] base
Sugar [line] base
[down dots]
and so on.
Now we have two of these chains winding round each other — each one is a helix — and the chain, made up of sugar and phosphorus, is on the outside, and the bases are all on the inside. I can’t draw it very well, but it looks like this

[drawing we know and love]
The model looks much nicer than this.

Now the exciting thing is that while these are 4 different bases, we find we can only put certain pairs of them together. Thee bases have names. They are Adenine, Guanine, Thymine & Cytosine. I will call them A, G, T and C. Now we find that the pairs we can make — which have one base from one chain joined to one base from another — are

A with T
and G with C
Now on one chain, as far as we can see, one can have the bases in any order, but if their order is fixed, then the order on the other chain is also fixed. For example, suppose the first chain goes [arrow to text column “A T C A G T T” letters on left, each letter followed by dashes to parallel column] must go [text column has dashes from first with T A G T C A A]

It is like a code. If you are given one set of letters you can write down the others.

Now we believe that the D.N.A. is a code. That is, the order of the bases (the letters) makes one gene different from another gene (just as one page of print is different from another). You can now see how Nature *makes copies of the genes. *Because if the two chains unwind into two separate chains, and if each chain then makes another chain come together on it, then because A always goes with T, and G with C, we shall get two copies where we had one before.

For example [double column of base pairs]

[Indent centered on columns, [Sugar [line] base
phosphorus arrows to same base pairs, wider column columns]
[down arrow]
[two columns by two columns, first column the dashed base pairs, second column their reverse]

In other words we think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life. The beauty of our model is that the shape of it is such that only these pairs can go together, though they could pair up in other ways if they were floating about freely. You can understand that we are very excited. We have to have a letter off to Nature in a day or so. Read this carefully so that you understand it. When you come home we will show you the model.

Lots of love,

That is a lovely letter. Must have been a bright 12 yo, mind.

There’s no duds amongst the chemistry prizes that I can see. There are controversies, omissions, and discoveries / people that should have been recognised but weren’t. But mistaken awards for scientific reasons? Don’t think so.

It’s hard of course to put yourself in the shoes of the scientific community 50 or 100 years back of course. The award in 1952, for example, to partition chromatography seems like a remarkably prosaic thing to win a Nobel for, and also one that might be expected to have 100s of people claiming discovery. It might have been the bomb-diggity at the time, though, and enabled serious advances in a lot of areas.

In actual Swedish, that would be:

:smack: Vad tänkte vi på?

(Really enjoying this thread, BTW.)

According to the OP’s criteria we have
Lippmann 1908 Physics
Fibiger 1926 Anatomy/Physiology
Moniz 1949 Anatomy/Physiology

Anyone want to argue these or add anymore?

I’ll throw in Dalén (1912, Physics), who was awarded the prize for an invention (a particular type of valve used in lighthouses) that, in retrospect, hasn’t really been earth-changing.

Did we reach a verdict on Penzias & Wilson? Dud or not according to the OP?

Fermi won his in 1938 “for his identification of new radioactive elements produced by neutron bombardment and for his discovery of nuclear reaction effected by slow neutrons.” but some sites say he didn’t create any new elements because the elements were not transurianic. Instead he discovered fission. That seems to me to be a dud by the strict reading of the OP i.e. Fermi was wrong in his conclusions.