Nobel Prizes

Over the last few weeks there has been a number of stories about Nobel Prizes and their winners in the news. At the end of November, James Watson, who was awarded the prize in 1962 for his part in resolving the structure of DNA, announced he was putting his prize up for auction. Following comments he made in 2007 linking intelligence to race, he says ‘no-one really wants to admit I exist‘. As a result of his comments, his income from public appearances and engagements dropped and he decided to sell the prize to free up some funds. In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, the richest man in Russia, Alisher Ushmanov, bought the prize for $4.1 million before giving the prize back to Watson. In a statement Ushmanov said “a situation in which an outstanding scientist has to sell a medal recognising his achievements is unacceptable“. Resolving the structure of the DNA was a huge, important scientific breakthrough shaping the field of biology, and one that of course should be celebrated. But just because a scientific development is worthy of our praise and awe, the scientist as person may not deserve our attention, especially if they are racist and sexist bigots.

2014 Medicine Laureate May-Britt Moser receiving her Nobel Prize at the Stockholm Concert Hall, 10 December 2014

2014 Medicine Laureate May-Britt Moser receiving her Nobel Prize at the Stockholm Concert Hall, 10 December 2014

© Nobel Media AB, Alexander Mahmoud

On a more positive note, this year’s awards list has included some interesting and fascinating stories and research including EMBL alumnus Stefan Hall who was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his revolutionary developments in breaking through the technical boundaries of light microscopy. This year’s Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine went to John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser “for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain”. Fascinating research, and although the science of course takes centre stage on such a occasion, I was really intrigued to read that May-Britt Moser wore a gown inspired by her research on neurons to the Nobel Award ceremony a week or so ago – a cool choice!

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