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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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October 13, 2002

Nobelity and Lesser Nobelity

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Posted by Derek

When I referred to Nobels this year as being well-deserved, that got me to thinking. How many scientific Nobels haven't been? If you go back to the early years of the awards, there actually are some stinkers. And there are a few mild head-scratchers, like Einstein winning for the photoelectric effect (rather than the still-controversial-at-the-time relativity.) But in recent decades, it's hard to find many problematic Chemistry, Medicine, or Physics prizes. As a chemist, when I look back over the list of laureates in my field, I don't find much to argue about.

The three-awardee limitation has caused problems now and then. And the timing of the awards in general has been arguable - sometimes the committees just wait too long beforing honoring someone. (Maybe that's why the Karolinska folks went out on a limb by honoring Stanley Prusiner and the prion hypothesis a couple of years back, probably the most out-on-the-edge medicine Nobel ever. Fortunately, the hypothesis seems to be holding up.) And there are always people that could have won, but never did.

But just check out the other prizes - you couldn't ask for a clearer example of the differences between the sciences and the humanities. Whatever controversies there are in the science prizes start to just look like quibbling compared to what goes on with Literature and Peace. Think of the percentage of those that have been won by people considered by many to be frauds or windbags. Then subtract out the nonentities, and make allowances for clearly deserving candidates who never won - and what do you have left?

You find blunders on the order of say, tapping Maurice Maeterlinck over Tolstoy for Literature. And while we're on the subject, how about ignoring James Joyce, ignoring Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges. . .write your own list, it's easy. Meanwhile, just in English-speaking awards, we have Sinclair Lewis (hrm,) John Steinbeck (hrmmm,) Pearl Buck (hrrrrrrmmmmm.) Other languages get to join the fun, too - how about Dario Fo in Italian? Why not give it to George Carlin while you're at it, a reasonably close equivalent in English?

I won't even get started on the Peace prize. Deserving people and organizations have won it, but so have have blood-drenched maniacs, delusional self-promoters, and insufferable twits. (You can attach your own names to those as you wish; I can assure you that I'm thinking of my selections right now.)

No, the science prizes are oases of sanity compared to those two: Literature winners who have produced nothing except rivers of drivel, and Peace winners who wouldn't know peace if it crawled up their leg. Heck, as long as they award the Chemistry prize to someone who knows what the periodic table is, we're ahead of the game.

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