The early morning phone call (for North Americans)! The endless numbers of invitations to give lectures! Being taken seriously! There is no end to the inconvenience of having won a Nobel Prize, apparently. Doesn’t that make you feel better? I know it makes me feel better about my obscurity and mediocrity!
I like this guy:
“Frankly, I have no complaints whatsoever,” says Martin Veltman, a physics laureate at the Universities of Utrecht and Michigan. Veltman shared the 1999 prize with his former student, Gerard ‘t Hooft, for work that put the mathematics behind the Higgs boson on sound footing. But Veltman does raise an eyebrow at some of the other members of the Nobel club. “Sometimes I wonder about the other laureates,” he says. “In fact I have discovered the truth of a remark by [Enrico] Fermi. Someone asked him: ‘What have the Nobel prize winners in common? His answer: ‘Nothing, not even intelligence.’”
Here’s something this year’s prizewinners have in common: “Aside from the European Union, which was awarded the Peace Prize, all of this year’s Nobel laureates are men.” I guess Fermi completely overlooked the obvious in this case. But it’s not just because of women’s underrepresentation in the sciences that explains their underrepresentation as prize winners. Oh, noes!
Stephanie Kovalchik, a statistician at the National Cancer Institute who crunched the numbers for an article in Significance magazine, says that up until the 1970s, women’s Nobel Prize wins in the sciences overall kept pace with their participation in the fields. It’s after the 1970s, Kovalchik says, that a gender gap emerged in Nobel Prize awards. As women’s participation in the sciences began to grow at a faster rate, the Nobel Prizes did not keep up.
“It would suggest that there’s more evidence in more recent decades of a bias in the sciences than in earlier decades,” Kovalchik says.
Bias is also quite evident in the history of the peace prize, the category in which women have been most successful:
Even though women were largely limited from entering the sciences, women still earned prizes, mostly in literature and peace categories. Danny Dorling, of the University of Sheffield in England, says that women have been receiving the awards since the first years of the Nobel Prizes. In the 1940s, women took a higher percentage of the prizes — 8 percent — than in any other decade before 2000. Women took 9 percent of the prizes between 2000 and 2009.
“If you looked in the 1940s, you’d have thought there was some slow but gradual progress,” Dorling says. “Then it really collapsed after the war.”
Between 1948 and 1962, a number of women were nominated, Dorling says, but none were chosen. As the Cold War was settling in, he says, the committees opted for strong men.
“The Cold War was a massive thing in people’s mind,” Dorling says. “And we did think a third world war was likely, and we were on the brink, so it made sense to pick the strong men and do the macho thing.”
National biases are also on full display, as “[p]eople from developing nations, specifically, are few and far between in the ranks of the Nobels. Americans, Canadians and Europeans make up more than 90 percent of the laureates.”
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