Science

Scientists urge more Nobel Prizes

Ten scientists and engineers have written as a group to the Nobel Foundation asking for new categories to be included in the prestigious science prizes.

Ten scientists and engineers have written as a group to the Nobel Foundation asking for new categories to be included in the prestigious science prizes.

The Nobel committee might ignore innovations in public health, genetics and environmental science because such research doesn't fit well into the existing categories, the group wrote.

"If the World Health Organization were to eradicate malaria, for example, the achievement might not qualify for any of the existing prizes," the letter reads.

The group, which includes 2001 Nobel laureate in medicine Tim Hunt, suggests adding categories in global environment and public health, which would reward applications of science rather than basic research.

The environmental Nobel Prize could be awarded for "successes in promoting sustainability, mitigating climate change or reducing biodiversity losses," the group wrote, while the public health prize could recognize achievements in health on a global scale.

The group also suggests reforming the existing medicine or physiology category, either by adding eligibility to researchers working in other biological fields or by adding new prizes.

The new prizes would be awarded for research in fundamental biology, including genetics, evolutionary biology and ecology, and behaviour science, including "the rapidly expanding field of neuroscience."

Started by explosive's inventor

Named after Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite who established the prizes in his will, Nobel Prizes have been given out nearly every year since 1901, with breaks mostly during the First World War and Second World War.

The Nobel Foundation currently awards annual prizes in three science categories: chemistry, physics, and medicine or physiology. There are also Nobel Prizes in literature and for promotion of peace.

The foundation added a sixth category in 1968 — economics — although that prize, officially called the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, is awarded in conjunction with Sweden's central bank, Sveriges Riksbank.

The letter writers said they recognize that the prize categories are based on Nobel's will, but that Nobel "could not have anticipated threats such as climate change and HIV/AIDS."

However, Michael Sohlman, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, told the BBC that prizes have been awarded in both of those areas, and said the foundation has "different views to these scientists about the immobility of the prizes."

French scientist Luc Montagnier and his colleague Françoise Barré-Sinoussi were co-winners of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of HIV in 1983.

Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were awarded the 2007 peace prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change."

Hunt told the BBC the fact that work in climate change was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize demonstrates that new categories need to be created, and that the peace prize risks becoming "a kind of catch-all."

The 2009 prizes will be announced in early October, starting with the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Oct. 5.

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