April 11, 2014

Nobel Prize Candidates Wait Often Over 20 Years To Win Their Prize

Candidates for a Nobel prize often have to wait more than 20 years to receive this highest of scientific accolades.

According to a Correspondence by Santo Fortunato of Aalto University in Finland and colleagues, such nail-biting delays are becoming the norm — to the point that aspiring laureates may themselves have expired by the time the medal is due to be presented.

Before 1940, Nobel prizes were awarded more than 20 years after the original discovery for only about 11%, 15% and 24% of physics, chemistry and physiology or medicine prizes, respectively. But by 1985, delays of this order were featuring in 60%, 52% and 45% of the awards in these respective fields. Fortunato and co-authors find that average waiting times are continuing to increase exponentially.

As the wait lengthens, so the average age at which laureates are awarded the prize goes up.

- By the end of this century the predicted average age among prizewinners for receiving the award could even exceed his or her life expectancy. Given that the Nobel prize cannot be awarded posthumously, this lag threatens to undermine science’s most venerable institution, say Professor Fortunato.


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