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In an era of team science, are Nobels out of step?

By Marlowe HOOD

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LOL ... wish I could go back and correct typos and edit for brevity and impact, but against the rules.

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For those who still read books:

1 — Thomas S. Kuhn's 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'. The writer of this article appears to be familiar with the all-too-human politics of paradigm shifts ... and pointing to a postmodernist / premodernist mind-set. Modernism, and its underlying assumption of technological progress, are meaningful only within provisional social constructs, which in the present era, seem to be on very shaky ground. But rather than Hegelian dialectics, I think emergence theory / fractal theory / chaos theory would be a better description of natural processes — including the present political or STEM context. Though mandelbrot sets are so pretty ... I would not be the least surprised to see the next 'war to end all wars' erupt, proving Einstein's prophecy correct ... that though he did not know with which weapons WWIII will be fought, WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones.

By the way, a lot of people do not know that Einstein did not receive the Nobel Prize for the most famous equation of the 20th century. He was blackballed for his 'Jewish Science' ... and given a Nobel a little later as a post-hoc consolation prize ... and as a bit of 'hansei' for the short sighted selection process of the committees. Though no fan of the CCP, I can understand why they are so dismissive of the Nobel Prizes and have constructed their own equivalence. Like any social context, conscious or not, there are always underlying dynamics of political (human organizational) assumptions. In the classroom or in a typical Japanese office, it just takes one glance at how the seating arrangement is laid out to catch a hint.

2 — Robert Marc Friedman's 'The Politics of Excellence: Behind the Nobel Prize in Science'. He gives us a peak behind the very secretive curtain of the selection process ... the three countries (Finland, Norway, and Sweden), schools, and departments involved ... and the rivalries between and within departments regarding the selection process. If petty politics and personal temperaments are this salient with prizes for the natural sciences, one can imagine how messy the process is likely to be for Literature and Peace prizes.

This was one of the better articles I've read on this site, but necessarily skips over some of the more relevant implications for Japan. For example, just last Sunday, a former Nobel prize winner from Japan lamented the government's short sighted vision in funding basic research which may, or may not, lead to immediate financial windfalls in new technology. During that same news clip, the NHK reporter pointed out the continuing drop in percentage of Japanese who decide to pursue a terminal degree in STEM sciences ... because private and government employers do not financially compensate for those extra years of study or passion. And yet, the next day, NHK is anticipating a Japanese 'winner' in a mistaken (or more likely, a purposely propagandistic) 'science-as--international-competition' ... as verification that uniquely Japanese institutions and processes are equal to, if not better, than international counterparts. But the elephant in the room, 1 Billion yen is earmarked as the budget for the 210 members of the Science Council of Japan ... a lot of moolah, above and beyond their regular salaries in tenured positions at Waseda, Tokyo University, etc. And the word from on-high for excluding six of those members (for obvious political reasons) is that there are no connections between academic freedom (scientific objectivity?) and political maneuvering? My guess is that 'there are no connections' is a euphemism for 'I refuse to acknowledge connections' ... not a very sound basis for science as the best problem solving heuristics we have.

After working with college students in their All Japan English speech contests, I am skeptical of the advantages of reducing science to a mere competition. As previous Japanese Nobel winners have warned, it is not a competition ... the prize should be seen as recognition of excellence above and beyond petty politics. Alas, neither most reporters nor politicians (and to be fair, most researchers) have such similar values or insight, otherwise, they, themselves, might have become nominees. Competition simply encourages the same perverse incentives we have long seen in the commodification of science ... from Monsanto's Roundup to those old cigarette adds extolling 9 out of 10 doctors who prefer the smooth taste of Camels.

Ha. Reminds me of the first time a Yakuza sitting beside me at a yatai offered me a 'Golden Bat'. Daring not to refuse, I just about died gagging from my first and only drag, but did manage to be on the receiving end of free sake for the rest of the night.

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Good article, much to think about.

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Discovery, but not the vaccine or cure. Discoveries were found with HIV and with cancer treatments,but they're still very much around.

The discovery rapidly led to the cure. That was only as late as 1989


Prior to the identification of HCV in 1989, so little was known about the virus that it was simply called non-A, non-B hepatitis. Since identification, effective treatments have been relatively rapidly developed. Compared to the first-ever HCV treatment approved in 1991, in which a patient faced cure rates of around 6%, drugs today have more than a 95% success rate over short treatment courses. That makes HCV the fastest viral disease ever to be identified and cured. It remains the only chronic viral illness that can be completely cured, allowing millions of people to regain their health and live full and productive lives.

I could understand you're trying to show you got jokes.But... nah! That's why someone gave the thumbs down.Lol.

They say sarcasm doesn't work in Japan, lol

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Nobels get handed out for stuff that has nothing to do with everyday lives.Cell this,atom that.The average person doesn't know or particularly care

This year's Noble Prize in Medicine was just handed out for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus

People don't know nor care about hepatitis

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As for the Nobels, they are probably harmless enough in themselves,

Right, if they were so "harmless" then please explain why one rather loud-mouthed world leader seems to cry because they were awarded one? (While his predecessor got one for basically just getting elected!)

The Nobel prizes have been political since like forever, but they have been getting progressively worse lately,

See James Burke's "Connections", WHICH IN MY OPINION IS possibly the greatest tv programme ever made.with people lobbying to get nominated for doing nothing!

There fixed it for ya!

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Japanese researchers have heavy handicap of language for collaboration with foreign researchers. In an era of collaboration, Japanese researchers may owe disadvantage increasingly. However, in an era of AI, human study may be outperformed by AI and the Nobel Prize may disappear.

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The basic image of the individual working alone and making fantastic new discoveries tends to be a fallacy. See James Burke's "Connections", possibly the greatest tv programme ever made.

As for the Nobels, they are probably harmless enough in themselves, so long as academia, the press, and politicians don't start using them as political footballs or some goal or standard by which to value research.

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I have chuckled recently when these elderly Japanese scientists have won Nobel prizes, knowing that it was their research teams that did the heavy lifting, with the sempai's name as lead researcher. But when you watch the interviews etc. there is no mention of anybody else but this old dude who laps up the spotlight and never mentions anyone else

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It's time the Nobel prize started being awarded to POC and women.

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I wonder how many of the actual winners of the award did their research with the intent or purpose of winning the prize?

Maybe it's time to put the "prizes" to bed, as they have become political tools for people and countries.

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WOKE Nobel participation trophies. Now there's a novel idea. Why not, its still 2020.

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I have no doubt that every Nobel recipient since it’s inception in 1901 was working as part of a team of scientists.

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