Nobel Prize Season

The last post discussed the Ig Nobel, so it seems natural to follow with a discussion of the Nobel Prize. On Monday, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for their role in discovering that mature and specialized cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body, or becoming pluripotent. Today, Serge Haroche and David Wineland were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work on the fundamental interactions between light particles and matter. This year’s Nobel prize season wraps up next Monday with the awarding of prize for Economics, while the remaining Nobel prizes will be awarded this week; Chemistry on Wednesday, Literature on Thursday, and Peace on Friday. But before you finish filling out your office pool cards, it might be helpful to look back at some of the past winners to try and identify the safe bets. Fortunately the BBC Future section has complied the relevant stats from the past winners into a handy inforgraphic.

Based on the past winners, they determined the formula for winning a Nobel: American male, aged 60, born in the spring, attended Harvard, Cambridge, or Columbia, has good eyesight and is clean shaven. I find the lack of glasses and beards among winners in the sciences to be somewhat surprising. It is also interesting to note that nearly half of the Peace Prize recipients were unmarried. But neither of those facts are as noteworthy as the lack of female winners, in nearly every category.

Correlation between national chocolate consumption and Nobel prize winners per capita.

A recent study The New England Journal of Medicine, working on the assumption that chocolate consumption could hypothetically improve cognitive function not only in individuals but also in whole populations, examined the relationship between national Chocolate Consumption, Cognitive Function, and Nobel Laureates. The study found a significant linear correlation (r=0.791, P<0.0001) between chocolate consumption per capita and the number of Nobel laureates per 10 million persons in a total of 23 countries. The author acknowledges certain limitations in the study, including whether the consumption of chocolate is the underlying mechanism for the observed association with improved cognitive function, and what the cumulative dose of chocolate that is needed to sufficiently increase the odds of winning a Nobel. The author reiterates that correlation does not imply causation and that these findings are hypothesis-generating only and will have to be tested in a prospective, randomized trial. Where does one sign up?

As with any award, there are bound to be some discussion about the worthiness of the winners, and those who were snubbed. Regardless of ones personal views of the winners, the fact that there is discussion about them, and the science they worked on and became experts in, is something unquestionably wonderful.


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