Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Of Nobels, Ig Nobels and Other Prizes

This year's Nobel Prizes were awarded recently.  You can check out the
details of the winners at the official Nobel web site:

For scientific fields, there is usually a large time lag between the
original discovery and the actual award.  For example, this year's
winner of the prize in economics, Paul Krugman, wrote the original
papers almost 30 years ago.  The lag allows enough time for the results
to be extensively verified.  This reminded me of an article I read last
year about the longevity of award winners:
"Nobel Prize Winners Live Longer"
According to the article, "an analysis of 524 nominees for the Nobels
in physics and in chemistry between 1901 and 1950 showed that the
group's 135 winners lived about two years longer than the also-rans."

The article concludes that receiving a Nobel improves the winner's
status and thus extends their life span.  I question the rationale
for this finding, and propose that the correlation may in fact be the
other way: living longer may help a scientist win a Nobel!  Here are
a couple of reasons:
1. Nobels are often awarded for the body of work over a lifetime, not
   necessarily just a single discovery.  Living longer means a larger
   body of work.
2. Only living persons can be nominated for a prize.  Any substantial
   time lag could deprive a worthy recipient of the prize.

Some other, lesser known, awards...

* "2008 Ig Nobel Prize Winners""

* "Best Microscopic Images of 2008 Announced"