The not so Nobel prize

Every year (at this very date) there are the Nobel Prize festivities. The ceremony, and the feast later in evening, are rather illustrious. The prize is handed over by the King of Sweden. That reminds me of the old joke: "will you please step forward and recieve the hands of His Majesty the King". The Nobel Prize was founded according to the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel. The first prize(s) were given out in the year 1901. Among the first recipients was Wilhelm Röntgen.

There is a lot of excitement in Sweden over the Nobel Prize, at least in some quarters. The excitement is also quite big in the global science world, where being a Nobel laureate is a very fine merit and title. It is quite much money, too. The literature prize is often a bit controversial, it is harder to compare the value of different literatures than to compare the weight of scientific discoveries, theories and methods. Not to say that the science departments occasionally haven't flunked. E.g. in 1949, the prize in physiology or medicine went to the inventor of lobotomy. The irony...

All prizes are decided on and awarded by Swedish institutions, except the The Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded in Norway. Due to its political nature, it is far more controversial. In Nobel's will, the peace prize should go to work for disarmament, something that rarely happens. The peace prize is probably the one getting the most attention, and also the one taken least seriously, after quite a good amount of questionable recipients.

According to Nobel's will, the prizes would go to people whose work had benefitted mankind during the year. The time frame of course have been modified, since scientific discoveries and theories takes many years to test, evaluate, publish and evaluate again. Characteristically, the science prizes are usually awarded for work that goes one or several decades back. The benefit mankind criteria is not really a criteria anymore. The Nobel prizes in sciences are purely based on scientific merit. Literature benefits mankind, but the single author or work cannot be said to do that better than other works. Only preachers claim that of their words.

A cat among the ermines

In Swedish, we have a saying: "en katt bland hermelinerna", literally, "a cat among the ermines". In this case it refers to the winter fur of the ermine, the white fur that marks the bearer with power and high status. It is also used in heraldry. The cat fur is not seen as illustrious. In the Nobel prize ceremony, there is a cat among the hermines.

Since 1969, there has been a prize awarded in economics. It is not a Nobel prize, but it is handed over at the same ceremony. It is even listed on the official Nobel prize web site. It is the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, but usually referred to as the "Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics", or even (wholly incorrect) as "The Nobel prize in economics". It was founded by (and still funded by) the Swedish Central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, one of the world's oldest existing banks. Who recieves the prize is decided by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The economics prize is not in Nobel's will. He probably did not see economics, or any other social science for that matter, as science. They were quite much in their infancies anyway. Furthermore, he maybe couldn't see how they could benefit mankind anyway.

So, the prize in economics is a cat among the hermines for two reasons: it wasn't in Nobel's will, and it isn't hard science, in the sense physics, chemistry and medicine are. Economics is one social science among many, but it almost always paints itself as THE scientific social science. Other social sciences to a larger extent see human existence as something more complicated. Economics stands out among the social sciences not as the most scientifically sound, but as the one with the biggest ego. Quite often economists remind of high priests, rather than scientists. They have no qualms about predicting the future, which is not common among other social sciences. They usually have the ear of politicians, since politicians to a growing degree sees reality, human existence and politics through the cash register perspective. That there is a Prize in economic science from the Swedish central bank is not strange. There are many prizes and medals in science (natural, social, humanties) and art, but it is only economics who managed to sneak in and bask in the sun of the hard sciences, Nobel and grand ceremonies and festivities. It is actually quite comic.

Note on the title of this post

The somewhat archaic Swedish word "nobel" means "noble". Nobel (the name) and nobel (the adjective) are pronounced with different stress on the syllables. In Swedish, stress and pitch is important for meaning. The Nobel name does not come from "nobel" (noble) as far as I know, but I couldn't resist making pun in the title anyway.