The Prize - Section 1

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Some Sort of Sordid History

Born 7 February 1979, Tawakkol Karman is a woman of several firsts. As co-recipient [along with two other women] of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, she was the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman, and the youngest person to date to win the prize. These three women were also the last women to be specifically named for any Nobel Prize.


“A journalist by profession and human rights activist by nature…” this rebel rouser won the Peace Prize.  “Amongst Yemen’s opposition movement, she is known as ‘mother of the revolution…’” retrieved 2012-11-03


Such is the history of the Peace Prize. Causing war does not seem to disqualify a person, especially if, in the bigger picture, it is believed that they contributed the world becoming a more peaceful place. No wonder existing governments see these awards as an insult. How peaceful is that? Clearly, peace is interpreted as being supported if justice is being brought and the Committee thinks women’s rights are justly equal to men’s. While I agree women should have equal rights, I do not think that will bring peace. Perhaps I should think of them as the Justice Awards.

So what are the sources controversies here? It does not seem to be greed. It does not seem to be power. It seems to me to be a question of peace as well as equality for women. The Committee seems to be the cause. They use a non-peaceful [right or wrong] situation to compensate for non-equalities of women in the Nobel Prizes, how ironic.

In 1901 the very first Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Wilhelm Röntgen for his discovery of X-rays. In more recent years, the Physics Prize has been awarded for both pioneering discoveries and groundbreaking inventions. retrieved 2012-11-04


The trouble is, Wilhelm did not “discover” X-rays. Many others experimented with X-rays prior to Wilhelm. Early researchers in X-rays were Ivan Pulyui, William Crookes, Johann Wilhelm Hittorf, Eugen Goldstein, Heinrich Hertz, Philipp Lenard, Hermann von Helmholtz, Thomas Edison, Charles Glover Barkla, Nikola Tesla, Max von Laue, as well as Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. So why Wilhelm?


In 1877 Ukrainian-born Pulyui, a lecturer in experimental physics at the University of Vienna, constructed various designs of vacuum discharge tube to investigate their properties. … In April 1887, Nikola Tesla began to investigate X-rays using high voltages and tubes of his own design, as well as Crookes tubes. From his technical publications, it is indicated that he invented and developed a special single-electrode X-ray tube. …. On November 8, 1895, German physics professor Wilhelm Röntgen stumbled on X-rays while experimenting with Lenard and Crookes tubes and began studying them. retrieved 2012-11-04


Some have rationalized that Wilhelm’s research was the first “systematic” exploration of the subject. Translate that into, he had the “credentials,” or he was part of the scientific club. Really, first was not what counted. For me, “first” and “discovered” need to go together. In the “club” getting the first paper properly published excludes the “others.” I guess the Committee just got off on the wrong foot.

In 1909 The Nobel Prize for Physics went to Guglielmo Marconi for the “invention” of radio.


In 1893, Nikola Tesla demonstrated the first public radio communication. ["Nikola Tesla, 1856 - 1943". IEEE History Center, IEEE, 2003. (cf., In a lecture-demonstration given in St. Louis in [1893]—two years before Marconi's first experiments—Tesla also predicted wireless communication; the apparatus that he employed contained all the elements of spark and continuous wave that were incorporated into radio transmitters before the advent of the vacuum tube.)] retrieved 2012-11-04


It seems that in this case, Marconi caught the public imagination with the first trans-Atlantic transmission. This world opinion seems to have affected the U.S. Patent Office [which later reversed itself] and the Nobel Committee. Perhaps greed played a roled in this example. Marconi's grandstanding helped him found a radio empire, but Tesla had higher ideals. And while the Physics Prize has been awarded for “both pioneering discoveries and groundbreaking inventions” in the cases of x-ray and radio nether was really true.

Okay these examples may be of pioneering work, but not the “discovery” of x-ray; groundbreaking work but not the “invention” of radio. Tesla may have missed the value to humanity of the x-ray, still, his general body of work was focused on its value to humanity not fame or fortune so he dropped his work on x-ray. Tesla did know he had both pioneered discoveries and developed groundbreaking inventions for humanity in the field of radio. More will come about this man of integrity.

Madame Curie was born Maria Sklodowska on 7 November 1867. She pursued higher education in spite of government persecution. Under Henri Becquerel she received her Doctor of Science. She worked with Pierre Curie and subsequently married him. After that she signed her name as Marie Sklodowska-Curie.


In December 1903 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Pierre Curie, Marie Curie and Henri Becquerel the Nobel Prize in Physics, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel." At first, the Committee intended to honour only Pierre and Henri, but one of the committee members and an advocate of woman scientists, Swedish mathematician Magnus Goesta Mittag-Leffler, alerted Pierre to the situation, and after his complaint, Marie's name was added to the nomination. retrieved 2012-11-05

Marie and Pierre Curie were dedicated scientists and completely devoted to one another. At first, they worked on separate projects. She was fascinated with the work of Henri Becquerel, a French physicist who discovered that uranium casts off rays, weaker rays than the X-rays found [researched and named but not discovered] by Wilhelm Roentgen.

…. Curie also passed down her love of science to the next generation. Her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie followed in her mother’s footsteps, winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. Joliot-Curie shared the honor with her husband Frédéric Joliot for their work on their synthesis of new radioactive elements. retrieved 2012-11-05

To sum up, Madame Curie won two Nobel Prizes, her husband won one and both her daughter and son-in-law won a prize, totaling five times she and her family received a Nobel Metal. This amazing history becomes astonishing in light of the social standards of the time. If Madame Curie had been properly recognized by the Committee, Henri would have received one-third of the prize money, not one-half. Her first prize was given in the third year of the Committee, thus a precedent could have been established, but it seems her prizes would eventually become an exception to the rule.

In 2009 after only twelve months, no let’s see, weeks, no; after only twelve DAYS in office [February First], nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize closed. Then in October it was announced that Barack Obama won the prize. Somehow, he had “…paved the way for new negotiations with the Russian Federation about nuclear arms” in only twelve days.


In 1989 the Fourteenth Dalai Lama won the peace prize although the Chinese government classifies him as a violent dissident who staged a coup de’tat supported by the USA.


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the archetype for non-violent civil disobedience and "walked his talk" such that he could say, “My life is my message.” He was nominated five times and never won the peace prize. His actions personified the notion that violence was not the path to peace. In 2006, Geir Lundestad, Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee said, “…Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether [the] Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question.”


One precedent set in 1935 may shed some light on the Gandhi “oversight.” Carl von Ossietzky, a German journalist and pacifist, became the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in exposing the secret German re-armament in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. He was convicted of high treason and espionage in 1931. The prize led two committee members to resign and King Haakon VII of Norway to boycott the award ceremony. One story said, “…lasting peace between peoples and nations can only be achieved by respecting the existing laws”. Did the Committee feel Gandhi was disrespecting the existing laws with his non-violent civil disobedience. Okay, he was, but there is reasonable point of view that the "laws" were illegal [and unjust] and therefore not laws.


Shockingly [smiles], in 1956 a prize went to John Bardeen, Walter Houser Brattain and William Bradford Shockley “for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect.” Again, this is a case where the work done may have been noteworthy, but the three did not “discover” the transistor effect. Julius Edgar Lilienfeld patented several transistor types starting in 1928. In 1934, Oskar Heil patented a field-effect transistor, a patently more important transistor.


As to Shockley specifically, the original design he presented to Brattain and Bardeen did not work. His share of the prize resulted from his development of the practical bipolar-junction transistor, which became the foundation of the transistor revolution and the virtual demise of tube or valve amplifiers. He also excluded Brattain and Bardeen from the benefiting from this bipolar process, even though the idea may have been theirs. Another controversy about Shockley was his support of eugenics, which he considered his most important work.

NEXT:  The Prize, Section 2 – A Not So Sordid History A87776798

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