This archived article was written by: Carlie Miller
While watching the news a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see President Barack Obama speaking of his “honor and gratitude” for receiving the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. I am not saying that I was surprised because he is a “bad president” but because he is the first president to receive the Nobel Peace Prize his first year in office.
Being curious, I wanted to know more about the Nobel Prizes and why our president was given one, so I turned to the omniscient Internet.
The Nobel Prizes were created from the “last will and testament” of a scientist, inventor, author, entrepreneur and pacifist combined in one man: Alfred Nobel. Though his life is full of amazing works and contains interesting events, Nobels became his universal claim to fame. In 1895, Nobel signed his last will in Paris but, what it contained, shocked his homeland Sweden and the international community.
Most of Nobel’s vast fortune was to be “annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on humankind. The interest shall be divided into five-equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Nobel died in 1896 but, his family objected to the establishment of a “prize” and those named to be the prize awarders plainly refused to fulfill the Nobel’s request. Five years later, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Karolinska Institution (Stockholm, Sweden), the Norwegian Storting (the Norwegian parliament which is in charge of choosing five Norwegian Nobel Committee members) and the Swedish Academy awarded the first Prizes in 1901.
Six Nobel Prize categories are given: physics, chemistry, medicine (or physiology), literature, peace, and economics (or the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economics in Memory of Alfred Nobel, established in 1968.) Each prize is given in the form of a diploma, medal and a large cash grant.
Before continuing with the processes of nomination and selection, a few interesting facts are needed. A prize receiver is called a laureate instead of a winner because the Nobel Prize people (Foundation, Academy, Committee, whatever) declared that, “the awarding of the Nobel Prizes is not a competition or lottery, and therefore there are no winners or losers. Nobel Laureates receive the Nobel Prize in recognition of their achievements.” So it is politically incorrect to say “Nobel Prize Winner”.
There have been 822 Nobel Laureates, 802 individuals and 20 organizations but, the Nobel has been awarded to 829 Laureates, some have been awarded more than once. Though the Nobel has been awarded to 829 individuals and organizations, there have only been 537 Nobel Prizes. This is possible because prizes are awarded jointly to one to three people. 327 Nobels were awarded to singular individuals and organizations, 128 awarded to groups of two and 82 to groups of three, the groups of two and three many not have to be a team to be grouped together (ex: in a group, say literature category, one might write a book on France, while another writes a book on the art of tattooing, they both receive the same prize but, for different topics.)
Out of the 822 Laureates, 40 were women; two in physics, four chemistry, 10 medicine, 12 literature, one economics and 12 peace. That adds to 41 but, Madame Marie Curie received Nobels in physics and chemistry. The first woman to receive the Nobel was Baroness Bertha von Suttner who was awarded the Peace Prize in 1905 and was a close friend of Nobel (it would be another 26 years before another woman was awarded.)
The oldest Laureate average is 87 but, the oldest laureate, Leonid Hurwicz, was 90 when he received the Nobel in economics in 2007. The oldest living Laureate is Rita Levi-Montalcini who received the 1986 Nobel Prize in medicine. She celebrated her 100th birthday in April 2009. The youngest Laureate is Lawrence Bragg who was 25 when awarded the physics Nobel in 1915. Four individuals and two organizations were graced with multiple Nobel Prizes. John Baradeen was awarded the Nobel in physics twice, Fredrick Sanger received the Nobel in chemistry twice, Linus Pauling received Nobels for chemistry and peace (and is the only person who has been awarded two unshared prizes) and Curie was awarded Nobels in physics and chemistry. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) received three Nobels in peace and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received two Nobels in peace.
The first people to receive the Nobel Prizes (in 1901 and 1968) are: Wilhelm Rontgen in physics, Jacobus Hoff in chemistry, Emil Behring in medicine, Sully Prudhomme in literature, Jean Dunant in peace and Ragnar Frisch and Jan Tinbergen in economics (1968). The 2009 Laureates are: Charles Kao and Willard Boyle and George Smith in physics, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz and Ada E. Yonath in chemistry, Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider and Jack Szostak in medicine, Herta Muller in literature, Obama in peace and Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson in economics.
Receiving the Nobel Prize is a privilege that billions will never know, so it seems that nations take great pride in their Laureates and that the Laureates feel deep gratitude for being awarded. Apparently it was not so in some areas of the world and in some minds. Two Laureates actually declined the Nobel Prize. Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Literature Nobel in 1964 but, declined because he always declines official honors! Le Duc Tho was awarded the Peace Prize in 1973 along with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger but, he also declined because “he was not in a position to accept the prize”referring to Vietnam as his reason.
We know that individuals felt a personal need to decline but, what about a country, more specifically a leader or government of a country forcing the rejection of a Nobel? It has happened to four unfortunate Laureates. Richard Kuhn, Adolf Butenandt and Gerhard Domagk were forbidden to accept the Nobel Prize by their country’s leader, Adolf Hitler. In 1958, Boris Pasternak accepted the Literature Nobel but was later told to decline by the authorities of his country, the Soviet Union.
So many names and I will bet most of you reading this don’t know who half or maybe more of these people are, I believe that the next few facts will be of more interest to many of you. Here are some names of those nominated for the Peace Prize: Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler. This is no typo. Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler were nominated for the Nobel PEACE Prize. Stalin was nominated for his efforts to end World War II (this was after he murdered seven million people) and no one knows why a member of the Swedish Parliament nominated Hitler.
To continue with my curiosity on how and why President Obama was nominated and became a Laureate, I have looked into the nomination and selection processes of the Nobel Prizes, this process is fairly simple and is quick (only one year to choose from hundreds of nominees and to research their backgrounds, etc.) Each year, the Nobel Committees send invitations to thousands of university professors, scientists, members of academies, previous Laureates, members of governments and so on, asking them to submit candidates for the Prizes (so this is not a global voting where anyone can vote, just powerful, smart people.)
There are three different selection processes; the selection for Peace Prize, Literature Prize, and the other Prizes (which have pretty much the same process.) The Peace Prize selection process has six steps: invitation letters are sent in September, the deadline for submission on Feb. 1, the making of a short list (like a top-10 list), adviser review (list is reviewed by advisers with knowledge of candidates), Laureates are chosen in October, and the Dec. 10 brings the award ceremonies in Oslo, Norway.
For literature, the process is the same except there are two candidate selection points and the Academy reads the works of the chosen candidates, then the Laureates are chosen and the ceremonies are on the Dec. 10 in Stockholm, Sweden.
The process for selection for the science prizes is more impressive to look at (consider the one-year time limit.) The invitations are sent, deadline Jan. 31, consultation with experts (committee sends names to experts for the assessment of candidates’ work), writing of the report (committee puts the reports and some recommendations together), committee submits recommendations to the academy, then the Laureates are chosen, with ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden.
The process doesn’t have many rules, so any and everyone can be nominated and can be nominated as many times as the nominator wants. Jane Addams was nominated 91 times before she finally received the Nobel Peace Prize and the number of nominations for the Peace Prize in 2009 is 205, which beat the Peace Prize record of 2005.
The process is carefully, though, to make sure that the nominators are “chosen in such a way that as many countries and universities as possible are represented over time.” This is part of the heart and soul of the Nobel Prize, to see to it that nominators and nominees have equal opportunities to vote and to become a Laureate no matter the country, color, social status and so on. In his will, Nobel said, “It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.”