The Nobel prizes 2021: between the search for equity and the best discoveries

The 2021 Nobel Prizes were awarded from October 4 to 11, in the categories of chemistry, physics, medicine or physiology, literature, peace, and economics. The best discoveries have been awarded since the Nobel Prize Foundation, highlighting the importance of highlighting global efforts for a better universal society.

The first prize awarded on October 4 went to scientists David Julius (1955, New York) and Ardem Patapoutian (1967, Beirut, Lebanon), for their discoveries on “temperature and touch receptors”. The prize in physics was awarded on October 5 to Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann “for innovative contributions to our understanding of complex systems.” His research is based on the physical modeling of the Earth’s climate, “quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.”

Furthermore, Giorgio Parisi received the same award “for the discovery of the interaction of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from the atomic to the planetary scale”; this created a trio of winners in the category, an unusual occurrence for the awards. Regarding the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which was awarded on October 6, Benjamin List (1968, Frankfurt, Germany) and Scottish scientist David MacMillan (1968, Bellshill, United Kingdom) were recognized for “the development of organocatalysis asymmetric ”.

This research highlighted a great impact on pharmaceutical research and has made chemistry greener. List and MacMillan created a simple and ingenious system where they showed that organic catalysts have a stable framework of carbon atoms, to which more active chemical groups can be attached. “These often contain common elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur or phosphorus,” highlights the research published on the foundation’s official website, “which means that these catalysts are both environmentally friendly and economical to produce.”

On October 7, writer Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded for “his uncompromising and compassionate insight into the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gap between cultures and continents.” “A kind of greed,” this is how the Zanzibar writer Adam Smith, the Nobel laureate’s scientific director of extension, described the attitude of some in Europe towards refugees in an interview with Adam Smith. After all, he said, “the arrival of Europeans into the world is nothing new” and suggested that those seeking relief are also seen as “talented and energetic people, who have something to give.”

As for the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the most coveted and controversial, it was awarded on October 8 to journalists Maria Ressa (1963, Manila, Philippines) and Dimitry Andreyevich Muratov (1961, Kuybyshev, Russia) “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace ”.

The Filipino journalist and the Russian journalist were honored as “representatives of all journalists who defend this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.” The works of these professionals highlight the use of freedom of expression to expose the abuse of power, the use of violence and the growing authoritarianism in their native countries.

For its part, the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel was divided: the first half to David Card (1956, Guelph, Canada) “for his empirical contributions to the economics of labor”, the other half jointly to Joshua D. Angrist (1960, Columbus, Ohio) and Guido W. Imbens (1963, Holland) “for their methodology and contributions to the analysis of causal relationships.” As mentioned by the Nobel Prize Foundation in its presentation, the work of the laureates has provided “new insights into the labor market” and has shown what conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn from natural experiments. “His approach has spread to other fields and revolutionized empirical research.”

Many of the great questions in the social sciences are about cause and effect. How does immigration affect wage and employment levels? How does a longer education affect a person’s future income? These questions are difficult to answer because we have nothing to use for comparison.

However, this year’s awardees have shown that these and similar questions can be answered through natural experiments. “The key is to use situations in which fortuitous events or policy changes cause groups of people to be treated differently, in a way that resembles clinical trials in medicine,” the research noted.

Imbens said in a press conference compiled by the outlet Euronews, who was “absolutely stunned” when he received the call and was “excited to hear the news” and share it with his friends, Card and Angrist. Last year’s Nobel Prize in Economics went to two American economists from Stanford University, Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson, who discovered how to make auctions work more efficiently.

Merits for efforts, not for gender

Although the Nobel Prize has honored various women since its inauguration in 1901, over the years the variation in these recognitions becomes more visible, and with the change in paradigms and courses of social action, the efforts of the Fundación del Nobel Prize winners for gender inclusion have been seen as “controversial” in the public arena.

So far, only two women have been awarded the prize in economics: Elinor Ostrom, in 2009 and Esther Duflo, in 2019. The Nobel Prize and the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel have been awarded 59 times. women between 1901 and 2021. Only one woman, Marie Curie, has been awarded twice, with the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics and the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, according to foundation records. This means that 58 women in total have been awarded the Nobel Prize between 1901 and 2021, which represents only 6.2% of all the prizes.

However, in 2021, only one woman received the recognition, among a dozen men: Philippine investigative journalist Maria Ressa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the few won by women in turn. Göran Hansson, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, pointed out to The Guardian that there are “so few women” who enter the race for the awards, but admitted that the award, ultimately, is given to those who “consider themselves the most worthy.”

In 2020, only four women were awarded the Nobel Prize: Andrea Ghez (Nobel Prize in Physics, “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object in the center of our galaxy”); Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “for the development of a method for genome editing”); and Louise Glück (Nobel Prize for Literature, “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”).

“It is sad that there are so few Nobel laureates and it reflects the unjust conditions in society, especially in recent years, but that still exist. And there is much more to do, “Hansson said at a press conference yesterday,” we have decided that we will not have gender or ethnic quotas. We want all laureates to be accepted because they made the most important discovery, and not because of their gender or ethnicity. And that is in keeping with the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s last will ”.

Hansson stressed that the academy would ensure that “all deserving women have a fair chance to be evaluated for the Nobel Prize” and said “significant efforts” have been made to encourage nominations by women scientists. “We make sure we know the problem and also the subconscious biases, etc. in committees and academies [de entrega de premios]”Added the permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences,“ we have had sociologist conferences, we have had group discussions, we have put a lot of effort into it ”.

In the last five years there has been a mixed distribution of award-winning women: in 2016 and 2017 no women were awarded, but in 2018 and 2020 four women took home the awards. On average, fewer than 2 women won a Nobel Prize each year between 2010 and 2020.

The number of Nobel prizes awarded to women since 1901 has been drastically lower than the 885 awarded to men; in addition, some 25 awards have been given to institutions and organizations. “Since the #NobelPrize program was created 126 years ago, fewer than 60 women have been named Nobel Laureates. Women’s achievements are routinely erased from the history books they belong to, ”tennis player Billie Jean King tweeted Monday in response to the news. “Gender equality is something we all have to work for, today and every day.”

In 2017, the Nobel Prize Jury Committee highlighted that efforts would be made to improve the selection of works with respect to female nominations. Now, the work increases with the echo of generations of women who have been “invisible”. “We will ensure that we have a growing portion of female scientists invited to nominate. And we will continue to make sure we have women on our committees, but we need help, and society needs to help here. We need different attitudes towards women who are dedicated to science so that they have the opportunity to make these discoveries that are being awarded ”.

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The Nobel prizes 2021: between the search for equity and the best discoveries

Hank Gilbert