Archive for the ‘Nobel Prize’ Category

The Nobel Brand needs to distance itself from the fecal brand of the Swedish Academy

April 14, 2018

Of course a few public executions of reputation are in order.

In any event, the remaining members need to be dismissed with great publicity and extreme prejudice.



The shameful vilification of James Watson

December 12, 2014

In a recent post about the Nobel ceremony I observed that James Watson who had sold his Nobel medal had it returned to him by the purchaser. Apart from his recognition along with Crick and Wilkins for their DNA work, he has been and still is one of the most important evolutionary biologists of our time. But he has become persona non grata now with the self-appointed guardians of public morality and the prevailing “political correctness” which disallows “intelligence” – however it may be defined – from being in any way dependent upon the genetic variations between different human populations. His vilification and downfall was a rapid business in 2007, even though, everything Watson got in trouble for saying was entirely correct” as Gene Expression pointed out in October 2007:

It’s difficult to name many more important living figures in 20th century biology than James Watson. He ushered in the current age of molecular biology with his achievements in 1953, he built up one of the world’s greatest biological research facilities from damn near scratch, and he is a former head of the Human Genome Project.
Given such an august curriculum vitae, you would think that this man perhaps understands just a few things about genetics. But given only the condescending media coverage, you’d think this eminent geneticist was somehow “out of his depth” on this one.
In his interview with the Times on Oct. 14th, we learned that:

… [Watson] is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address.

These thoughts were a continuation of an important theme in his book Avoid Boring People:

… there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.

Although Watson’s book had already been out for a month with these more euphemistic, but still obvious, comments on race and intelligence, no one expressed any outrage. In fact the reviews were reverential and universally positive.
The explicit reference to intelligence and people of African heritage in his interview was clearly a violation of a much more formidable taboo. Still I am not aware of there being much noise about it until Oct. 17th when the Independent caused an immediate stir by calling attention to the remarks: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners says DNA pioneer.
There’s no point in rehashing the rapid sequence of events in detail: several of Watson’s sold-out speaking engagements were cancelled, many critical articles appeared in the British press, trailed by the American press a few days later, hundreds of blogs were fuming with negative commentary, including ones by the editors of Scientific American and Wired Magazine, a number of associations issued statements condemning his words, and soon he was suspended from his chancellorship at Cold Spring Harbor. Watson cancelled his already ruined book tour and flew home to tend to the destruction. It was too late; the eminent biologist retired in disgrace on Oct. 26th. 
One thing, though, was conspicuously missing from this whole irritating denouement: any semblance of factual refutation. There is good reason for this: everything Watson got in trouble for saying was entirely correct!

Gene Expression goes on to show that the data support what James Watson said.

Unfortunately our esteemed band of sputtering media scientists forgot to provide, in all of these instances, any of their allegedly voluminous citations to the contrary. Allow me, then, to take a different position, with the added benefit of evidence: ………

………. 65 psychometric intelligence study citations for sub-Saharan Africa, collected in IQ & Global Inequality, Race Differences in Intelligence, and IQ & the Wealth of Nations. The citations cover 47% of SS African countries or 78% of the people by national population numbers. The studies vary in quality, sample size, and representativeness, but broadly agree in their findings. Representative studies of the school age population with large sample sizes do not exhibit higher scores, much less scores that approach anything like European norms. …..

….. Thus typical African IQ scores of 70 and below can still be taken as a reliable finding. It is not simply the manufactured data of racialist researchers, or a byproduct of inadequate testing procedures. And, more importantly from the standpoint of the Watson controversy, certainly no reliable body of evidence has shown anything like parity with typical European scores.

The entire episode and shameful treatment meted out to Watson by an unscrupulous and sensationalist media and by politically correct but cowardly members of the scientific community was based, I think, on

  • the intellectual laziness in defining what “race” is, and the sloppy way in which the term is used, and 
  • a fear of confronting the ideological notion that some meaningless, diffuse “equality” of all humans transcends and overrides the real genetic variations due to ancestry

We use the term “race” colloquially and loosely and for convenience. There is no firm scientific definition of what constitutes a “race”. Often it is taken – wrongly – to be just a difference of skin colour. The politically correct brigade claim that race is a “social construct” but this is just nonsense. An “African-American” carries genes from his African ancestry and not any particular social behaviour from his ancestors. But “race” is also a dynamic term and shifts with the generations of man. The races we recognise and classify humans into today, is based on the prevailing groupings of populations that are convenient today. Fifty generations ago the “races” of that time would have been quite different. And fifty generations from now they will be quite different to the “races” we recognise today. The classification is about ancestry and is based on (or should be based on) the separate packages of genetic characteristics (some visible and some not) which are discernible and allow the grouping and classification of populations.

It seems perfectly logical, and is highly probable, that humans, though they may have originated from just a few relatively small populations out of Africarabia, have then over the next 5,000 generations, continued evolving in situ, giving the genetic diversity and the consequent physical diversity that we see today. The geographical populations we observe today are the result both of evolution in situ and a plethora of admixtures as people have migrated and mixed over the last 100,000 years. There were no “African-Americans” 50 generations ago. But already “African-Americans” today are different to “Africans” and both continue to evolve and develop in situ. It is quite unlikely that “African-American” or “Asian-British” or “Turkish-Germans” or “Chinese-Indonesian” will be classifications of race or ethnicity that will be used 50 generations from now. This geographically evolved and still evolving diversity, already shows up as genetic differences not only of skin, eye and hair colour but also as differences in disease resistance, physical characteristics, athletic capabilities, behaviour and surely many more invisible (including mental) characteristics.

We have no difficulty in accepting that different populations (effectively different races in colloquial usage) have differences of physical characteristics due to their genetic ancestry. There is no great outrage now that recent studies point to some genetic differences that Tibetans have which may give them an advantage in absorbing oxygen at high altitudes. Similarly there are no screams when other genetic studies suggest that East Africans (Kenyans and Ethiopians in the main) have some genes – or combination of genes – which give them better endurance and therefore – given good nourishment – lead to better performance as long distance runners. West Africans, or those of West African descent, it seems may have some genetic advantages which make them the fastest sprinters over short distances. African genes also seem to give a lower fat content in body mass – which is genetic – and may be one explanation why their performance as swimmers is less than exceptional. That Indians are more prone to Type 2 diabetes than other “races” is not indignantly opposed but just taken for the observation it is. Indian-Americans (3 generations) are already exhibiting lower rates than their Indian ancestry would indicate. Japanese have very low rates of heart disease but already (in less than 6 generations) Japanese-Hawaiians have heart disease rates that are 2 -3 times higher.

It is illogical to assume that these genetic variations between different geographic populations ( colloquially “races”) have only manifested themselves as physical variations. It is highly probable and probably inevitable that these genetic developments will also have affected the brain, its functioning and behaviour. And intelligence.

“Intelligence” is many things to many people and – by most definitions – more than just an IQ test. The IQ test only really measures the ability to do the test. Nevertheless the IQ test results do seem to correlate well to whatever we may choose to call intelligence. There is without doubt a genetic component to both intelligence and IQ test results. IQ test measurements do show that results are significantly lower – for whatever reason –  among sub-Saharan African populations – on average. If intelligence has a genetic component and the colloquial use of the term “race” refers to an identifiable population exhibiting a certain package of genetic characteristics, then it is quite likely that the different genetic packages lead to some differences of intelligence.

If it is acceptable – and not racist – to observe that there are genetic differences in physical characteristics between the “races” of today, then it is just as acceptable and no more racist to observe that there are genetic differences of intelligence between the “races” of today.

That is all that Watson said.

(What “intelligence” actually is or may be is another story for another day).

Glittering Nobel ceremony, disrupted peace prize and Watson gets his medal back

December 11, 2014

In Sweden, 10th December every year is Nobel Awards Day. This year the ceremony in Stockholm – as always – was a glittering occasion. It was very ritualised but not solemn and carried out with pomp and precision without being pompous. The music all through is especially apt. Crown Princess Victoria, I thought, stood out and stole the show. The speeches all followed protocol and were – as expected – eminently forgettable.

The Peace prize was awarded in Oslo in parallel with the celebrations in Stockholm (just offset a little to allow uninterrupted TV coverage). The Oslo ceremonies are not as impressive as in Stockholm and the music they use is awful. Their security isn’t up to much either. This year saw the ceremony disrupted by an unknown intruder with a Mexican flag. He came within a metre of the prize winners, but fortunately had no malicious intent and apparently shouted “Don’t forget Mexico” before he was hustled off. I have little respect for the Peace prize and the Norwegian committee who choose the laureates. The winners this year, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and India’s Kailash Satyarthi, are very worthy people working in very difficult circumstances on very worthy causes. But their work has a very tenuous connection – if any – with the promotion of World Peace. In fact in the last 10 years the only winner who had anything to do with Peace was Martti Ahtisaari. None of the other choices has had anything to do with peace but has had everything to do with a fawning – almost sickening – observance of the perceived political correctness of the time. Barack Obama, the EU, the IPCC, the OPCW and Liu Xiaobo had achieved nothing of any significance for peace at the time of their awards but were “in the news”. I observe that they have not achieved very much since either.

The Peace prize degrades the Nobel brand.

And yesterday Alisher Usmanov revealed that he had bought James Watson’s Nobel medal for $4.8 million and would be returning the medal to Watson. Interestingly, if Watson was receiving the award today he would get one-third of 8 million SEK or about $350,000. In 1962 when he was awarded the prize he received 85,740 Swedish krona as his one-third share. The 1962 Nobel prize for Medicine was won jointly with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. Crick’s medal was sold at auction in 2013 for more than $2m (£1.3m).

Crown Princess Victoria with Chemistry laureate Eric Betzig arriving at the City Hall Stockholm for the Nobe banquet. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg /TT

Crown Princess Victoria with Chemistry laureate Eric Betzig arriving at the City Hall Stockholm for the Nobel banquet. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg /TT

Peace prize disruption Oslo 2014

Peace prize disruption Oslo 2014

A story in 3 maps: EU and NATO push and Russia pushes back

March 19, 2014

It is the play of simple geopolitical forces which itself is based on the drawing of lines on maps. The creeping expansion eastwards of the EU and NATO has given little thought to the response it must inevitably invite. I put much of the Ukrainian crisis down to the thoughtless behaviour of the EU. That behaviour itself is inevitable given that foreign policy in the EU is driven by a confused mix of 28 countries and by the insatiable bureaucratic hunger in Brussels for an ever-increasing bureaucracy by including ever-more countries into the pot (providing that they are non-muslim). The rush to expansion is – in part – the reason why the EU is mired for so long in the financial crisis. With 28 countries involved policy is often clumsy and heavy-handed with little place for nuance and diplomatic skill.

The current breaking point was reached when the EU (aiding and abeting the US in the expansion of NATO) clumsily encouraged internal dissent in the Ukraine and activated the far-right, neo-Nazi forces. Did they really expect no response? And does the EU really want to be associated with the neo- Nazis of Ukraine who are carrying on their traditions from the 1940’s? I think it was the rise of the neo-Nazis as the final straw which Russia found unacceptable. I find the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU a travesty and only confirms that the Peace Prize tarnishes the Nobel brand.

Today the response is in the Crimea. Logically, the EU and NATO expansion pressure will invite Russia to exercise even more control over the Eastern Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and Turkmenistan.

1. Expansion of the EU.

2. Expansion of Nato

nato expansion (image mike faille)

nato expansion (image mike faille)

3. Where will Russia push-back?

where next for Russia

where next for Russia

Could Chemistry Nobel today go to evolutionary genetics?

October 10, 2012

UPDATE! Awarded to Robert J Lefkowitz and to Brian K Kobilka for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors“.


Thomson Reuters predicts conventional areas of research for the Chemistry Nobel

1. Louis E. Brus

For discovery of colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals (quantum dots)

2. Akira Fujishima

For the discovery of photocatalytic properties of titanium dioxide (the Honda-Fujishima Effect)


3. Masatake Haruta and Graham J. Hutchings

For independent foundational discoveries of catalysis by gold

But Swedish Radio is predicting / hoping that it might be awarded to a Swedish scientist Svante Pääbo who is himself the son of a Nobel laureate. He is Director, Department of Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. In February 2009 the Max Planck Institute completed the first draft version of the Neanderthal genome. In 2010 they discovered the Denisovan genome. The techniques developed by Pääbo and his team for the DNA analysis of ancient specimens is what might be acknowledged.

Physics Nobel today – update — awarded to Haroche and Wineland

October 9, 2012


Well the rumours were wrong and the prize has been awarded to Serge Haroche of France and David Wineland of the US.

UPDATE: There is a rumour doing the rounds in Sweden this morning that the Physics prize will go to Alain Aspect of France and Anton Zeilinger of Austria.


There is still some speculation that the Physics Nobel to be announced today could go to Higgs and CERN scientists for the much-hyped,  “non-discovery” of the Higgs Boson but somehow I doubt it.

 Thomson Reuters proposes three possible winners:

1. Charles H. Bennett, Gilles Brassard and William K. Wootters

For their pioneering description of a protocol for quantum teleportation, which has since been  experimentally verified

2. Leigh T. Canham

For discovery of photoluminescence in porous silicon

 3.Stephen E. Harris and Lene V. Hau

For the experimental demonstration of electromagnetically induced transparency (Harris) and of  ‘slow light’ (Harris and Hau)

There is an outside chance that it may be awarded for work straddling Physics and Chemistry – in the world of  nano-particles perhaps.

Economics Nobel goes to Sargent and Simms as one financial crisis is followed by the next

October 10, 2011

This year’s Economics Nobel has been awarded to Thomas J. Sargent,  William R. Berkley Professor of Economics and Business, New York University and Christopher A. Sims, Harold B. Helms Professor of Economics and Banking at Princeton University, “for their empirical research on cause and effect in the macroeconomy”.

Press Release:

Considering the financial troughs and valleys of the last decade one would be justified in thinking economics to be a “black art” rather than a science. Economists blame greedy bankers and profligate and irresponsible governments (read politicians) while the bankers and speculators blame the inaccurate and arrogant economists and their flawed models. Alan Greenspan was a darling of the right and is now seen as being one of the key individuals responsible for the sub-prime fiasco. Paul Krugman, a noted critic of George Bush, won the Nobel prize in 2008 for his work (or perhaps his obsession) with international trade. Yet his solutions for the sub-prime crisis seem simplistic, have been heavily criticised and don’t seem to work.

There is a school of thought that Economics should never have been elevated to the status of the Nobel prize.  It is not one of the Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895, but is commonly identified with them. Officially it is the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel and was first awarded in 1969.

In his speech at the 1974 Nobel Banquet Friedrich Hayek stated that if he had been consulted whether to establish a Nobel Prize in economics he would

“have decidedly advised against it” ….  primarily because “the Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess. .. This does not matter in the natural sciences. Here the influence exercised by an individual is chiefly an influence on his fellow experts; and they will soon cut him down to size if he exceeds his competence. But the influence of the economist that mainly matters is an influence over laymen: politicians, journalists, civil servants and the public generally.”

2011 Chemistry Nobel awarded to Prof. Dan Shechtman for the discovery of quasi-crystals

October 5, 2011

The Nobel prize for Chemistry 2011 has been awarded to Prof. Dan Shechtman, Philip Tobias Professor of Materials Science at the Technion for the discovery of quasi-crystals.

Dan Schechtman

Daniel Shechtman, Israeli citizen. Born 1941 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Ph.D. 1972 from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. Distinguished Professor, The Philip Tobias Chair, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

The official press release states:

A remarkable mosaic of atoms

In quasicrystals, we find the fascinating mosaics of the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms: regular patterns that never repeat themselves. However, the configuration found in quasicrystals was considered impossible, and Daniel Shechtman had to fight a fierce battle against established science. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 has fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter.

On the morning of 8 April 1982, an image counter to the laws of nature appeared in Daniel Shechtman’s electron microscope. In all solid matter, atoms were believed to be packed inside crystals in symmetrical patterns that were repeated periodically over and over again. For scientists, this repetition was required in order to obtain a crystal.

Shechtman’s image, however, showed that the atoms in his crystal were packed in a pattern that could not be repeated. Such a pattern was considered just as impossible as creating a football using only six-cornered polygons, when a sphere needs both five- and six-cornered polygons. His discovery was extremely controversial. In the course of defending his findings, he was asked to leave his research group. However, his battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter. 

Aperiodic mosaics, such as those found in the medieval Islamic mosaics of the Alhambra Palace in Spain and the Darb-i Imam Shrine in Iran, have helped scientists understand what quasicrystals look like at the atomic level. In those mosaics, as in quasicrystals, the patterns are regular – they follow mathematical rules – but they never repeat themselves.


Atomic model of an Ag-Al quasicrystal: Wikipedia

When scientists describe Shechtman’s quasicrystals, they use a concept that comes from mathematics and art: the golden ratio. This number had already caught the interest of mathematicians in Ancient Greece, as it often appeared in geometry. In quasicrystals, for instance, the ratio of various distances between atoms is related to the golden mean.

Following Shechtman’s discovery, scientists have produced other kinds of quasicrystals in the lab and discovered naturally occurring quasicrystals in mineral samples from a Russian river. A Swedish company has also found quasicrystals in a certain form of steel, where the crystals reinforce the material like armor. Scientists are currently experimenting with using quasicrystals in different products such as frying pans and diesel engines.

Chemistry Nobel: 102 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry have been awarded since 1901. It was not awarded on eight occasions: in 1916, 1917, 1919, 1924, 1933, 1940, 1941 and 1942. Of 160 Laureates Frederick Sanger was awarded twice and there are 159 individuals (but including only 4 women) who have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. All previous winners of the Chemistry Nobel are here. Chemistry was the most important science for Alfred Nobel’s own work. The development of his inventions as well as the industrial processes he employed were based upon chemical knowledge. Chemistry was the second prize area that Nobel mentioned in his will.

In 1901 the very first Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Jacobus H. van ‘t Hoff for his work on rates of reaction, chemical equilibrium, and osmotic pressure. In more recent years, the Chemistry Laureates have increased our understanding of chemical processes and their molecular basis, and have also contributed to many of the technological advancements we enjoy today.

The award of this year’s Chemistry Nobel has attracted many predictions at ChemBark, Thomsons Reuters, Curious Wavefunction and Interfacial Digressions among others but few (if any) predicted Schectman.

Dan Schectman 0n You-Tube

Physics Nobel goes to Perlmutter, Schmidt and Riess

October 4, 2011

Staffan Normark has just announced that the Physics Nobel has been awarded half to Prof. Saul Perlmutter and half to Prof. Brian P Schmidt and Prof. Adam G Riess for work on the universe and supernovae. They discovered separately that the expansion of the universe was accelerating and not slowing down.

The Press release is here:

“Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice…” *
What will be the final destiny of the Universe? Probably it will end in ice, if we are to believe this year’s Nobel Laureates in Physics. They have studied several dozen exploding stars, called supernovae, and discovered that the Universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. The discovery came as a complete surprise even to the Laureates themselves.

In 1998, cosmology was shaken at its foundations as two research teams presented their findings. Headed by Saul Perlmutter, one of the teams had set to work in 1988. Brian Schmidt headed another team, launched at the end of 1994, where Adam Riess was to play a crucial role. ….. All in all, the two research teams found over 50 distant supernovae whose light was weaker than expected – this was a sign that the expansion of the Universe was accelerating. The potential pitfalls had been numerous, and the scientists found reassurance in the fact that both groups had reached the same astonishing conclusion.

…. For almost a century, the Universe has been known to be expanding as a consequence of the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago. However, the discovery that this expansion is accelerating is astounding. If the expansion will continue to speed up the Universe will end in ice.

The acceleration is thought to be driven by dark energy, but what that dark energy is remains an enigma – perhaps the greatest in physics today. What is known is that dark energy constitutes about three quarters of the Universe. Therefore the findings of the 2011 Nobel Laureates in Physics have helped to unveil a Universe that to a large extent is unknown to science. And everything is possible again.

None of the winners were among the Thomson Reuters predictions.

Storm in a Nobel tea-cup

October 4, 2011

Yesterday the party atmosphere for what was to be a week of celebrations at the Nobel Foundation was converted into a confused round of frantic phone calls and emergency meetings when it became known that the medicine prize winner Ralph Steinman had died last Friday. The media have been full of stories about the embarrassment this has caused and the chaos that ensued. Nevertheless the Foundation came to the decision  – fairly quickly and quite rightly in my opinion – that Steinman would retain the award.

But it does create a minor quandary for the Nobel Awards Committee. In future they will have to check that their award winners are alive at the time of making their decisions, but they will still have to maintain secrecy about the identity of the winners. Indirect checking through 3rd parties could probably lead to some identity leaks.

But I think this is a storm in a Nobel tea-cup. The solution is fairly simple as probability comes to their aid. Such occurrences as Ralph Steinman’s death some hours before the decision was finally taken are likely to be extremely rare. And they handled the unprecedented situation swiftly and quite well.  Moreover the Nobel Foundation could quite easily and simply clarify their award rules to be “that individuals known to have died before the decision shall not be considered”. The critical time is, I think, when the decision is made and not the time of the award announcement.

The Physics prize will be announced today.

In the Press:

Svenska Dagbladet – Reactions after Nobel prize blunder

Telegraph – Nobel jury left red faced by death of laureate

Herald Sun – Nobel jury caught off guard by death of laureate

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