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Should you win a Nobel if your views aren’t always conventional?

By Hamish Johnston

There’s just 18 hours and 21 minutes until the physics Nobel is announced – or so says the tacky countdown on the Nobel Foundation website.

So there’s time for just one more Nobel-related blog entry.

Yesterday’s Observer had an interesting article about the British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, who famously didn’t share the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics with Willy Fowler and Subramanyan Chandrasekhar.

Fowler bagged his half for his work on nucleosynthesis – the process by which stars create heavy elements out of hydrogen. He was apparently shocked to learn that his long-time collaborator Hoyle was snubbed by the Nobel committee.

Why? According to the science writer Robin McKie, it’s because Hoyle believed, among other things, that outbreaks of flu are sometimes caused by microbes from outer space.

Should you win a Nobel if your views aren’t always conventional? The answer is apparently no.

You can read more here.

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  1. Kasuha

    According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the Nobel Prizes in Physics should be given “to the person who shall have made the most important ‘discovery’ or ‘invention’ within the field of physics.” (see Wikipedia). The winner therefore does not have to be perfect, it’s his discovery or invention that should count.
    Even though rules for recognition are constantly changing due to practical reasons, I believe they still should stick to this one point.

  2. Chaz

    Hello? Philipp Lenard? William Shockley? Brian Josephson? Kary Mullis?
    So, um, yeah, controversial views don’t disqualify you from a Nobel. Period.

  3. deepak

    It wasn’t the microbe theory. Hoyle was one of the co-founders, with Jayant Narlikar, of the steady state theory in cosmology. 1983. Guth’s work had just come out two years before and the Big-Bang model had become the star of the show. Steady state cosmology was considered discredited and not-“respectable”, much like some other theories are at present.
    That was the unconventional point of view which the Nobel committee couldn’t digest.


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