Brain Pickings

What’s Wrong with the Nobel Prize


How come only fifteen women were ever awarded the prestigious accolade in science?

Inspired by this piece on the surprisingly dark origin of the Nobel Prize, Joe Hanson of the wonderful It’s Okay To Be Smart breaks down the inner workings of the esteemed accolade and discusses a darker aspect still — its chronic, hegemonic Middle-Aged White Man syndrome: Why was Rosalind Franklin snubbed? How come Alice Munro’s 2013 win made her only the fifteenth woman to ever win a Nobel in science? Isn’t it disheartening to hold Marie Curie, remarkable though she was, as such a dramatic outlier rather than one of many merited women?

Except for the size of the pile of Swedish krona you get, not much has changed about the awarding of Nobel prizes in, well, ever. This begs the questions: Is it time to overhaul the Nobel prizes? Do they really represent how science is done? And what are they for, exactly?

Complement with this visual history of Nobel prizes and laureates and this rare look at Alfred Nobel’s will.

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