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  • Prizes Galore

    Posted by Mitch Townsend on October 1st, 2006 (All posts by )

    The Nobel Prizes are announced in October each year. The scientific awards, starting with Medicine, begin tomorrow. Economics will be awarded a week from Monday, and the Peace prize on lucky Friday, October 13. None of the Chicago Boyz contributors have been nominated this year, so I feel free to make some predictions. France will probably not win its second Economics prize, since that discipline is so lightly regarded and little practiced there. Many of the prizes for actually discovering something will go to Americans, and the prizes for doing things that make Europeans feel good will go to anti-Americans (Rigoberta Menchu, Peace, 1992; Yasser Arafat, Peace, 1994; Harold Pinter, Literature, 2005). In his Nobel lecture, Pinter had the following helpful remarks to make, among others: “The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.” Perhaps his prize should have been in Medicine, for having discovered such widespread but unsuspected mental illness; perhaps he will spend some of his prize money on a subscription to the Guardian. That way he can check from time to time to see whether anyone has yet noticed that large, Engish-speaking evil empire.

    But on to the good stuff. The real action will be in Cambridge MA, where the Improbable Research institute will begin awarding the Ig Nobel Prizes next week. Good seats are still available. In the interest of Bad Science, here are some random links to show that the mission of Improbable Research has not been accomplished. Long may they mock!

    • The persistent belief that the Apollo moon landings were faked is proof that skepticism can be as foolish as credulity.
    • The Flat Earth Society may have fallen on hard times, but the remaining few struggle nobly against the moon hoax and the pernicious Copernican doctrine.
    • Others believe that the moon landings were real, but have a different explanation for how they were accomplished. The adjustment is necessary to account for the belief that there is no gravity in space. (See the other scientific myths at the site and vote for your favorite. Some of them turn out to be true.)
    • UFOs, alas, are not related to anything outside our planet, according to recently-released archives of the British Ministry of Defence. This will no doubt convince no one.
    • Try not to miss this site devoted to Bad Science. The guilty parties handing out erroneous information often turn out not to be hairy patchouli-intoxicated crystalmongers, but science teachers and textbook writers.
    • The James Randi Educational Foundation goes after frauds of the occult with a glee that is almost painful to see. He is following in a distinguished tradition.

    Have fun!


    12 Responses to “Prizes Galore”

    1. Jay Manifold Says:

      None o’ youse guys nominated me?
      Flat Earthers may be nearly extinct, but there are still some geocentrists around (this guy helped write the Kansas science standards that were in effect from ’99 to ’01).
      On second thought, perhaps my nomination merely got lost in the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the Swedish Academy.
      Dude! You left out Bad Astronomy!

    2. Helen Says:

      Our blog will do what it did last year and nominate the US Marines for the Peace Prize, on the grounds that they have brought more peace to more parts of the world than any of the other nominees or past recipients. (Then the year after we can nominate the US Army, then the Navy and after that the Air Force. Then we start again with the Marines.)

    3. Sub Specie AEternitatis Says:

      Two points:

      (*) France does not by any measure I am aware of have the most Nobel laureats. While counts differ depending on how individual laureats are assigned to countries and how split prizes are accounted for, there is no dispute that today the United States has by far the most Nobel laureats followed by the U.K. and Germany. France comes in at fourth with less than a third the noble laureats of the U.S. See, e.g., this list

      (*) What is wrong with Geocentrism anyway? If I remember my long-ago classes on General Relativity correctly, the laws of physics are the same in every frame of reference (inertial or not). If you chose to adopt a frame of reference in which the earth is at the center (and, if you will, at rest and not spinning), that may be inconvenient for many purposes or unconventional. It is not in any meaningful sense wrong. Your laws of physics will take the same form as in a more conventional frame of reference and, if you do the math correctly, all your predictions will be the same.

    4. Jay Manifold Says:

      Sure enough, two Americans got the Physiology & Medicine Nobel for discovering RNAi.

    5. Mitch Says:

      Thank you, S.S.A.

      Being stupid may not be as effective as being smart, but it’s a whole lot quicker. My eye must have slipped when I wrote this; France has 13 Nobel laureates for Literature (the most in that category), not in total. I fixed it.

    6. LotharBot Says:

      Sub Specie,

      there’s nothing particularly wrong with choosing the earth as a frame of reference for particular calculations etc. But it’s foolish to declare the earth as the “universal” frame of reference, which is what geocentrists typically do. (In the same way, it would be foolish to declare the sun, the center of the galaxy, or anything else as the “universal” frame of reference.)

      It makes sense to declare the sun as the center of the solar system, in the sense that it’s the most massive object in the solar system — with the understanding that the declaration is arbitrary but chosen for simplicity of calculation. That’s what’s lacking from the geocentric view: the understanding that it’s an arbitrary decision which is made in order to simplify calculations or descriptions, but that physics works the same even if you choose a different frame of reference. Too often, geocentrists declare that the earth simply *is* the center of all things, and that it’s the *only* valid choice. I have yet to meet any who declare that they have chosen the earth as their frame of reference for a particular set of calculations or descriptions, but that choosing the sun or the moon or Beta Ceti would also be valid choices.

    7. Jay Manifold Says:

      The Townsend Thesis is holding up well: two Americans got the Physics Nobel, for work with COBE, so there’s a bit of a U of C connection …

    8. Mitch Says:

      And I am proud to say that yesterday’s Medicine award was shared by Craig Mello, a professor at my son’s school, UMass Medical School.

      The school is a bit of an odd duck. It is heavily involved in biotechnology research and its researchers have patented many discoveries in that field. Some have gone off to start new companies. The school is not as well-known as it might otherwise be because it only admits Massachusetts residents as students for its MD program, which is geared toward producing primary care physicians. Its PhD program open to all applicants.

    9. Jay Manifold Says:

      Three for three. Say, Mitch, you wouldn’t happen to have any football picks? ;^)

    10. Jay Manifold Says:

      (Oops! link)

    11. Mitch Says:

      Five for five as of this morning. w00t, as they say. Still, let’s see if the predictions for economics, peace, and literature go according to the pattern.

    12. Alan K. Henderson Says:

      Since the Nobel isn’t awarded posthumously, I think we can count out Oriana Fallaci as a contender for the prize in Literature. But there are more pressing disqualifiers…