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The Dark Side Of The Nobel Prizes

•,By Mark Jackson
When physicist Richard Feynman was asked which now-deceased person from history he would most like to speak with, and what he would say, he said: “My father. I would tell him that I won the Nobel Prize.” The prestige of a Nobel Prize is not in doubt, but its 112-year history has been controversial and colourful.

The story behind the Prize is well known: industrialist Alfred Nobel stipulated in his 1895 will that most of his fortune be used to establish a fund to award five annual prizes “to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” Prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace were first awarded in 1901; economics was added in 1969.

The Nobel Prize is held in such regard that other prizes are sometimes defined in terms of it. The Fields Medal is informally known as the “Nobel Prize of Maths”. The recent Milner Fundamental Physics Prize has been called the “Russian Nobel”. The Israeli Wolf Prize referred to as the “Pre-Nobel” prize, because of the many recipients who later win the Nobel. Conversely, the Ig Nobel Prize* is an American parody of the Nobel, given to “honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think”.

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