NBA History of Science Seminar

Robert Marc Friedman, "Human Frailty Etched In Gold: The Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry."

The Nobel Prize in physics and chemistry may well be international in scope, but from the start the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences based its prize decisions on the recommendations of its respective five-member committees for the two fields.

Robert Marc Friedman, Professor of the History of Science, University of Oslo

During the first half century (for which the official archives are accessible) changing patterns of calculation and integrity, bias and insight, arrogance and prudence preclude capturing in a simple statement the committees’ actions. But the net result has been that the list of winners and the research specialties represented were not natural or inevitable choices.

Among other examples, the lecture will examine committee treatment of Albert Einstein, quantum mechanical theorists, Otto Stern, Lise Meitner, P.M.S. Blackett, and E.V. Appleton.

The talk is based Professor Friedman's recent book, The Politics of Excellence: Behind the Nobel Prize in Science (New York: W.H. Freeman, 2001).