Last year around this time I was keeping everyone updated on the Nobel winners. This year not so much. It just didn’t grab my attention as it did last year. For whatever reason.
But lucky for you, yesterday I went to the Nobel Museum. And so was reminded of some of the cool things the Nobel Prizes stand for. And even came away with a handy cheat sheet that described what each winner had done to be honored with this award.
And so, a quick rundown of the 2008 Nobel Prize winners.
Physics: The Nobel Prize in Physics was split two ways, between three people. Makoto Kobayashi and Toshide Maskawa were awarded the prize “for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature.” And Yoichiro Nambu “for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics.” I have no idea what this means. I do know that all three are much smarter than me.
Chemistry: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie, and Roger Y. Tsien “for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP.” This of course has garnered some attention, because one of the scientists who was in on this at the ground level is now driving a van for a living making $10 an hour. He says he isn’t bitter for missing out on the prize and the potential to split 10 million SEK. And for some reason, in all of the interviews I have read and heard, I believe him. That being said, it’s a damn shame and a waste that he isn’t working in science. Especially if he wants to be.
Medicine: The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to Harald zur Hausen “for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer” and Francoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier “for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus.” I’m going to give a nod to zur Hausen just because his discovery has led to a vaccination, which Sweden is handing out for free to young girls by the way. Granted, the discovery of HIV is damn important, but let’s get a cure already huh?
Literature: The literature prize this year was highlighted by a couple of different controversies. First, was Horace Engdahl going out of his way to point out the cultural ignorance of the United States and their inability to translate books, basically saying that they had no chance of winning the prize. Engdahl said: “The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.”
Some people think he was joking. Some people apparently have a strange sense of humor.
When the winner of The Nobel Prize in Literature was announced, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio from France was honored as an “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization.” But more controversy followed. Because, while, Le Clézio has long been on the short list of supposed winners over the past few years, the day before the announcement betting on him as the winner skyrocketed. Which brings up a couple of interesting points. First, that there may have been a leak somewhere in the literature committee. And of course, that people actually bet on who will win the Nobel Prize for literature.
Peace: The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo. Every year. According to the dying wish of Alfred himself. At the time, Sweden and Norway had a nice little union, and Nobel was a fan of the union. Some people think by giving Oslo the Peace prize he was trying to create his own version of peace between the two parties in their union which would dissolve just a short while after Nobel’s death. But no one really knows. Because he didn’t write it down. Let this serve as a warning to all of you who intend on leaving your vast fortunes to the creation of international awards. Explain everything.
Anyway, ex-President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize “for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts.” Most people feel this was completely well-deserved, and probably should have been awarded to him last year. Martti “So Many Vowels” Ahtisaari himself thinks so. And said so. In fact, this is exactly what he said: “Often, the prize has been awarded to parties involved in a conflict, and then possibly also to mediators in conjunction. But, of course, if this (mediation) was the awarding criterion, then my chances increased quite considerably. In the end, I had very few competitors in this category.”
Which takes some balls. But there’s something to be said for standing up after having won the Nobel Peace Prize and telling the world that they did the right thing and that he deserved to be recognized with this prestigious prize. Maybe that’s why he’s so good at negotiating peace between warring factions in places like Namibia and Indonesia.
Economics: Of course the economics prize isn’t technically a Nobel Prize but instead an honorary prize in memory of Alfred Nobel sponsored by Sweden’s banking system. Anyway, this year’s economic prize went to an American. Which seems a bit ironic considering the current state of the US economy. Paul Krugman was awarded The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences “for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity.”
So now everyone is just a little bit smarter. Not nearly as smart as those who took home a prize, but it is a step in the right direction.
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