Golden Medals of Great Controversy

(Inter)National Nitpickery

Curious about world news, events or the occasional Australian political blunder? Every edition, we’ll be deconstructing politics and topical events from the outside world, poking the shitty bits with a nice long stick and commenting on its tangy smell. Perhaps we’ll find a nugget of golden wisdom lurking within?


Nobel Prize season is upon us, and with it always comes a host of news tidbits; good, bad and ugly. From cells eating themselves, to unusual states of matter – the science side of the Nobel Prizes this year have certainly been interesting. The peace prize this year was awarded to Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian President, for bringing a 50 year civil war to an end, which is good to say the least.

You might be wondering, where is the shitty-ness in all of this? I must admit something. Although I write about politics and world news, I am in fact, a physics student in disguise. The reason I am writing about the Nobel Prizes this week, is in part due to Richard Feynman – a late famous physicist in the field of quantum mechanics who was himself a Nobel Laureate; and also one of the first notable recipients to call out the Nobel prizes on their bullshit. Feynman is quoted to have called them “Alfred Nobel’s other mistake” (the first being his invention of dynamite), and criticized them for placing too much importance on social status. I for one, along with many students, scholars, academics and researchers, have a huge massive fucking bone to pick with the Nobel prizes which is inherent to their very design. That is, they give credit to at most a few people, when in the natural sciences, research is done by teams and massive collaborations such as CERN, LIGO and ITER. Don’t get me wrong, we should celebrate breakthrough achievements in such fields, but not by handing one or two lead scientists a piece of gold and $1.5M. But hell, that barely even scratches the surface of the issues surrounding the Nobel prizes.

Now, I could go on a salty rant about there being no Nobel prize for mathematics, but there is in fact an entire (rather long) Wikipedia page dedicated to chronicling the slew of controversies that surround the Nobel prizes each year. This isn’t exclusive to the Literature prizes either, which have arguably the biggest shitstorm orbiting around them with authors declining prizes left and right due to political reasons. The Economics prize, for example, wasn’t even originally on Nobel’s list of disciplines to be awarded a prize – the Bank of Sweden funds it. For an academic field which has as much impact on the world as economics, hinging economic policy on a single economists who happens to also  be a Nobel Laureate is dangerous to say the least. Indeed, many financial policies in the past and present have been celebrated thanks to the “Nobel halo”, despite actually harming society and equality.

These are all peanuts of controversy compared to the type which encapsulate the Peace prizes however. Whilst these year it would appear to be well deserved (although just wait in the next few weeks someone somewhere will stir up shit about it), due to the political nature of the Nobel Peace prizes, it’s unavoidable that recipients and even entire countries get mixed up in trouble for it. An extreme example is the 2010 prize which went to Liu Xiabo, and promptly incited a diplomatic freeze between Norway and China. China actually tends to be butthurt about the prizes quite a lot funnily enough – mostly since Japan wins way more than them (22 more to be exact, since 1949).

Ultimately however, the Nobel Prizes are probably a better thing to have in the world than not. They put prestige in the eyes of the public for many academic fields, bringing much needed praise and idolization to science and academia as a whole which wouldn’t be there without it. That being said, the prizes probably make it too easy for Nobel laureates to go off and have significant influence, such as being Vice-Chancellor of a particular university and knocking down colleges.