Nobel Laureates We’d Like To Forget

WORLD

Racists, frauds, and misogynists: Meet the rogues’ gallery of Nobel Prize winners. (Nat Geo News)

Use our resources to check out less controversial Nobel winners, including Malala Yousafzai, the teenager who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

British scientist Francis Crick, left, and his American colleague James Watson revolutionized the field of genetics when they discovered the double-helix structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the genetic blueprint for all living organisms. And then Watson distinguished himself by saying things like “some anti-Semitism is justified” and “our social policies are based on the fact that [Africans’] intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really.” Watson auctioned his Nobel Prize for $4.1 million. Illustration by Ned M. Seidler, National Geographic

British scientist Francis Crick, left, and his American colleague James Watson revolutionized the field of genetics when they discovered the double-helix structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the genetic blueprint for all living organisms. And then Watson distinguished himself by saying things like “some anti-Semitism is justified” and “our social policies are based on the fact that [Africans’] intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really.” Watson auctioned his Nobel Prize for $4.1 million.
Illustration by Ned M. Seidler, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • What is a Nobel Prize?
    • Nobel Prizes are awarded every year by different Swedish and Norwegian committees. Nobel Prizes are considered the most prestigious professional honors in all categories in which they are awarded.
    • Nobel Prizes are awarded in chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and peace. The related Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics was established in 1968.
    • The awards are named after Alfred Nobel, the millionaire Swedish inventor perhaps most famous for his patent on dynamite. Nobel outlined the basic structure of the prizes in his will, and the first prizes were awarded in 1901.
    • Both Swedish and Norwegian committees participate in the annual awards, because at the time of Alfred Nobel’s death, the two kingdoms were part of a “personal union”—meaning they were basically discrete states but shared the same monarch.

 

 

 

  • Have there been any controversies surrounding people who did not receive a Nobel Prize but perhaps should have?
    • Again, of course. It’s a competition—there’s always controversy!
      • And again, the Nobel Prize in Literature is one of the most divisive, because everyone’s a critic! Some of the authors not recognized by the good folks at the Swedish Academy include Mark Twain, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, August Strindberg, Jorge Luis Borges, and Chinua Achebe.
      • The story behind the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is a great one. The laureate, Otto Hahn, was a genuine class act who helped discover the process of nuclear fission. (Ho-hum.) Hahn was unable to attend the ceremony, as he was being held with other German scientists at an internment center in the United Kingdom. Still, he was in a better position than his collaborator, Lise Meitner. Meitner, an Austrian Jew, had been forced to flee to the Netherlands and, ultimately, Sweden. Critics contend that Meitner should have shared the prize with her good friend and colleague Hahn. (She was nominated for the Nobel 47 times, by such luminaries as Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and Max Planck.) Meitner herself later recalled: “Surely Hahn fully deserved the Nobel Prize for chemistry. There is really no doubt about it. But I believe that Otto Robert Frisch and I contributed something not insignificant to the clarification of the process of uranium fission—how it originates and that it produces so much energy and that was something very remote to Hahn.”
        • Meitner brings up a good point not addressed in the Nat Geo News article. Speaking to Hahn and Heisenberg: “You all worked for Nazi Germany. And you tried to offer only a passive resistance. Certainly, to buy off your conscience you helped here and there a persecuted person, but millions of innocent human beings were allowed to be murdered without any kind of protest being uttered.”
      • The most famous omission in Nobel history is probably the absence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi from its list of laureates. “Was the horizon of the Norwegian Nobel Committee too narrow? Were the committee members unable to appreciate the struggle for freedom among non-European peoples? Or were the Norwegian committee members perhaps afraid to make a prize award which might be detrimental to the relationship between their own country and Great Britain?” Read about “the missing laureate” here.

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Nobel Laureates We’d Like To Forget

Nat Geo: All about Nobel Prizes and Nobel Laureates

NobelPrize.org: Nobel Prize Facts

4 responses to “Nobel Laureates We’d Like To Forget

  1. Pingback: 11 Things We Learned This Week | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  2. Pingback: Nobels are Pouring Across the Border | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  3. What about Obama? He won the nobel prize in peace, and after that he started a war….

  4. I would love to know why the committee chose to award Barak Obama with the Nobel Peace Prize.

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