Banner image by Allan Lasser
It’s Nobel Prize week, the one week every year when people from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe celebrate science, read about ribosomes and give understanding particle physics a shot. It’s also the one week when science is guaranteed some prime headline space on mainstream news outlets. And yet the science Nobels (in medicine, physics, and chemistry) present an antiquated, sexist, racist, and thoroughly incorrect view of science.
The problem starts with the number of prize-winners selected every year. The statutes governing the Nobel Prize limit it to just three winners in each category. This means that for every discovery awarded a Nobel, the vast majority of contributing scientists are ignored in favor of just three people selected by the Nobel committee (who also get to split the approximately $1 million in prize money between them).
But science has never been an individual endeavor. Isaac Newton stood on the “shoulders of giants” and Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” was a dream realized by hundreds of thousands of engineers and scientists. Science is, and always has been, an iterative process where individuals draw on discoveries made by others to advance the boundaries of human knowledge in minuscule increments. Yes, Albert Einstein famously won the Nobel Prize all by himself for a paper he alone authored, but he could not have made his discoveries without previous work by Max Planck, James Maxwell, and several others.