Friday, July 04, 2008
Sweden was home to Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and other explosives. He left most of his fortune to endow the annual Nobel Prize awards in the disciplines of physics, chemistry, literature, physiology or medicine, and peace.
Sweden has been a prolific issuer of stamps related to Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prizes. In 2001, Sweden commemorated the 100th anniversary of the first Nobel Prizes awarded by issuing stamps depicting Nobel and the actual medals.
The 4-stamp set was engraved by master engraver, Czeslaw Slania. He expertly depicted Alfred Nobel in profile view, as well as the fine detail of the medals. This set of stamps is a beautiful addition to any collection due to its historical commemoration and the sheer beauty of the engravings.
If you are like most people, you may be under the impression that only the best of the best get awarded Nobel Prizes. You may think that the carefully thought out opinions by the selection committees would highlight lasting improvements in the sciences and the peace process. You may also be aware that the Nobel Prizes are never given out posthumously. If you believe any of those, like I did, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Here then are some curious facts about the Nobel Prizes, the recipients, and the non-recipients that may challenge your knowledge.
1. Technically, the prize awarded in Economics is not a Nobel Prize, as it was not specified in Alfred Nobel's will. It has been nicknamed the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, and is selected by the same committee that selects the physics and chemistry prizes, but has only been awarded since 1969. It is award in memory of Alfred Nobel.
2. Nomination records are sealed for fifty years, and except for "leaks" in the process, the nominees are not publicly acknowledged. Agents and publicists will often tout a person's nomination, but until the records are unsealed fifty years later, there is no way to confirm or deny this.
In a related story, I've been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the past several years. :)
3. Nominations for the Nobel Prizes can only be made for living persons. However, should a person die after their nomination, they can still be awarded a Nobel Prize. This has occurred two times, most recently in 1961 when Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously, after dying in a plane crash in Africa.
4. Provided that the individual is living at the time of the nomination, anyone can be nominated. Incredulously, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Joseph Stalin were all nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize!
5. Amazingly, the person probably most likely to have deserved the Nobel Peace Prize was never awarded one. Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi, Indian leader who advocated non-violence in the struggle for Indian independence from colonial rule, never won the award. He was nominated five times, but failed each time. He was assassinated just two days before the nominations for the 1948 prize were due, which, since he was deceased, disqualified him from the nomination and, therefore, the prize.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee considered selecting Gandhi for the award in spite of the rules, but because he left no legal heirs, they were not sure of who to award the prize to. Instead, the committee elected to withhold the award that year, stating that "there was no suitable living candidate" for the award, a clear reference to the recently-deceased Gandhi.
6. Winning a Nobel Prize will bring lasting fame throughout one's lifetime. Pity poor William Vickrey, who, just 3 days after being selected for the 1996 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car, dead of an apparent heart attack.
7. Some prizes are awarded to technology that on later review just doesn't seem to pan out. Consider Antonio Moniz's 1949 Nobel Prize in Medicine for leukotomy, the brain-altering operation that was the forerunner of pre-frontal lobotomies.
8. Likewise, the award given to Johannes Fibiger wasn't very prescient. His 1926 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was for discovering that parasites had caused cancerous tumors in laboratory mice, prompting many to believe a cure for cancer was just around the corner. The trouble was, upon further review, the tumors were caused by simple vitamin deficiencies.
9. Julius Wagner von Jauregg won the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery that, by purposely injecting syphilitic patients with fever-causing malaria, the patients were sometimes cured. Sometimes, however, the malaria cure was as bad as the original illness.
10. Not all Nobel Peace Prize recipients have backgrounds in diplomacy or political science. For example, the 1970 winner, Norman Borlaug, won for his efforts in plant pathology/genetics which led to better worldwide food supplies, and, so the argument went, a more peaceful world.
11. The United Nations' Peacekeeping forces have won the Nobel Peace Prize, even though rapes, bribery, bullying, and other crimes have been allegedly committed by the so-called peace keepers.
12. At least one Nobel Peace Prize recipient has admitted to embellishing her autobiography, which had obviously helped her to win the prize. Rigoberta Menchú, native of Guatemala and 1992 recipient, acknowledged making changes in her autobiography I, Rigoberta Menchú that details atrocities performed by guerrilla forces in her native Guatemala. While her cause is just, her augmentation of her background, exposed by researcher David Stoll, has given a black eye to her cause. In an effort to ease the situation, the Nobel Prize committee has since declared that her award was not based solely on her autobiography, but on the aggregate of her efforts.
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