New Nobels Needed?

The Nobel Prizes need an overhaul, according to a panel of scientists assembled by New Scientist magazine. In an open letter to the Nobel Foundation published today, the scientists say that the prizes, scheduled to be awarded next week, don’t sufficiently reflect today’s science. Too many important areas of research are left out of the categories that Alfred Nobel specified in his 1896 will, they say. They ask the foundation to establish two new prizes, one for the Global Environment and one for Public Health advances, and for both they suggest allowing organizations to be eligible, as they are for the Peace prize.

They also want to expand eligibility for the Physiology or Medicine prize to all biologists. In an accompanying article, Jim Giles points out that plant scientists were miffed when the 2006 prize was awarded for RNA silencing. The fundamental work had been done in plants, but the award went to researchers who transferred the technique to worms—and were therefore eligible for the Physiology or Medicine prize. “Fundamental breakthroughs in areas such as neuroscience and ecology … are also going unrecognized,” the scientists write.

The chances of change are apparently slim—Giles writes that the Nobel Foundation is loathe to tinker with the prizes. For disappointed researches, there are always the IgNobel prizes, scheduled to be awarded tomorrow night in Cambridge, Massachusetts.