Bayo Ogunmupe: How Swedish academy picks Nobel laureate
WINNERS of this year’s Nobel prizes began to be announced on October 14, 2013. The winners of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences were the last to be announced. The awards went to Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago, USA, Lars Peter Hansen also of the University of Chicago and Robert Shiller of Yale University, New Haven, USA. The trio gained the award for their empirical analysis of asset prices. The Laureates and their collaborators have demonstrated that stock prices could be predicted over three to five years.One approach interprets research in terms of the response by national investors to uncertainty in prices. High future returns are then viewed as compensation for holding risky assets during unusually risky times. Another approach focuses on departures from rational investor behaviour. So-called behavioural finance takes into account institutional restrictions, such as borrowing limits, which prevent smart investors from trading against any mispricing in the market. The laureates have laid the foundation for the current understanding of asset prices.
Other achievements being honoured in 2013 are as follows. The Nobel Peace Prize went to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which is currently destroying chemical weapons in Syria. The prize for Literature was given to Canada’s Alice Munro, hailed by the award giving Swedish Academy as a “master of the contemporary short story.” The 82 year-old winner is often called “Canada’s Chekhov.”
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was given to three U.S. based scientists for developing computer models that predict complex chemical reactions that can be used for tasks like creating new drugs. The winners are Martin Karplus of both University of Strasbourg, France and Harvard University; Michael Levitt of the Stanford University School of Medicine and Arieh Warshel of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
The prize in Physics was awarded for a theory of how subatomic particles get their mass. The prize was shared by two men who proposed the theory independently of each other in 1964. Peter Higgs of Great Britain and Francois Englert of Belgium.
The medicine prize honoured breakthrough in how key substances are moved around within a cell. Disturbances in the delivery of the substances can lead to neurological diseases, diabetes or immunological disorders. The prize was shared by Americans James Rothman of Yale and Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley and German American Dr. Thomas Sudhof of the Stanford University School of Medicine.
However, the most important issue germane to the public is how to win and be nominated for a Nobel prize. This prize is any of five prizes until 1969 when the sixth, the prize for Economic Sciences was added. The prizes are awarded yearly by four institutions three Swedish, one Norwegian, from a fund established under the will of Alfred Nobel (1833-1896). Distribution was begun on December 10, 1901 on the fifth anniversary of the death of the founder.
In his will, Nobel specified that the awards should be made “to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” The six prizes are those enumerated above. The Economics prize was set up in 1968 by the Bank of Sweden and the first award was given in 1969. The awarding institutions are the Royal Swedish Academy, for physics and chemistry; the Royal Caroline Medical Institute, for Physiology or medicine, and the Swedish Academy for Literature, - all in Stockholm – Sweden; the Norwegian Nobel Committee, for peace, located in Oslo, Norway – and appointed by the Norwegian Storting (parliament).
Each award consists of a gold medal, a diploma bearing a citation, and a sum of money, the amount depending on the income of the Nobel Foundation. The selection of the prizewinners starts in the early autumn with prize awarding institutions sending out invitations to nominate candidates. Those competent to nominate are required to do so on the basis of professional competence and international range-federal character basis in our own parlance.
Self-nomination automatically disqualifies a person. Nomination must reach the appropriate authority in writing by February 1. From the first of February, six Nobel committees, one for each prize group, start their work on the nominations received. If necessary, the committees may call in experts, irrespective of nationality. During June and July, the committees submit recommendations. The final decision by the awarders must be made by September 15. The committee recommendations are usually but not always followed.
The deliberation and voting are secret at all stages. Prizes may be given only to individuals, except the peace prize which may also be given to an institution. An individual may not be nominated posthumously, but a prize duly proposed may be so awarded, as with Dag Hammarskjold (for peace in 1961) and Erik Karlfeldt (for literature in 1931.) Awards may not be appealed against because the awarders are independent of the state.
A prize is either given entirely to one person, divided equally between at most two works, or shared jointly by two or three persons. Sometimes a prize is withheld until the following year. It also happens that a prize is neither awarded nor reserved. Two prizes can be awarded in the same field in one year. If a prize is declined or not accepted, the prize money goes back to the funds.
Motives for non-acceptance of prizes may vary; mostly the real reason has been external, such as Hitler’s decree of 1937 which forbade Germans to accept Nobel Prizes because the Peace Prize to Carl von Ossietzky in 1935 was taken as an affront. Prizes are withheld or not awarded when no worthy candidate in the meaning of Alfred Nobel’s will can be found or when the world’s situation prevents the gathering of information required to reach a decision, as happened during the two World Wars. Nobel Prizes, the greatest accolade of achievement in the world are open to all, irrespective of nationality, race, creed, or ideology.
They can be awarded more than once to the same recipient. The ceremonies take place in Stockholm, Sweden but that of Peace takes place in Oslo, Norway on December 10 the anniversary of Nobel’s death. The laureates usually receive their prizes in person, each presents a lecture in connection with the award ceremonies. The principles governing the awards were modified in 1900 to clarify ambiguous words. The basis for the Economics Prize was scientific, mathematical or statistical rather than political or social. The first two economics laureates: Ragnar Frisch (Norway) and Jan Tinbergen (The Netherlands) were given the prize for their work in econometrics – the analysis of economic activity by means of mathematics. Which is why the scientific and medical prizes have proved least controversial. The literature and peace awards have been the most exposed to criticism.
A special regulation gave the right of nomination to members of the Swedish Academy and other academies. Others so empowered are institutions and societies similar to academics, university teachers, professors at universities and university colleges. The right to nominate was also extended to previous prize winners, or presidents of societies of authors and the like.
The statutes also provided for Nobel Committee to give their opinion in matters of the award of the prizes, and for a Nobel Institute with a library which was to contain a substantial collection of mainly modern literature.
For the founder Nobel, he was a Swedish chemist, engineer and industrialist. He invented dynamite and many other explosives. Through his mother, Nobel descended from the Swedish naturalist Olof Rudbeck. From his father, Immanuel Nobel, he learned the fundamentals of engineering and like his father, he was a versatile inventor, educated mainly by tutors and was a competent chemist by 16. He was fluent in English, French, German and Russian. He spent a year learning chemistry in Paris and four years in the U.S.A studying building under John Ericsson the builder of the warship-Morutor.
Nobel’s interests in explosives and his large holdings in the Baku oil fields brought him immense fortune. He was a recluse and he never married. Nobel had an abiding interest in literature, writing poetry in English. He left his immense fortune in trust to establish this most highly regarded of all awards, the Nobel Prize.
• Ogunmupe is a columnist with The Guardian.