The Nobel Prize Is Bad And We Should Feel Bad

Matthew Francis in Forbes:

ScreenHunter_1239 Jul. 05 18.11The Nobel Prizes are not the final say in good science, and Nobel laureates are not necessarily the best scientists — much less the wisest human beings.

It’s easy to forget that. No other prize in science has nearly as high a profile. Nobel laureates are in demand as book authors, university faculty, and speakers to both scientific and public groups. In addition to the prize money itself, they can command large fees for their activities: people pay lots of money to be associated with a Nobel Prize winner.

And like it or not, people listen to Nobel laureates when they speak, even when they are out of their areas of expertise. Sometimes the prize seems to go to the winners’ heads so much that they seem to lose it entirely. William Shockley, a co-discoverer of the transistor, and James Watson, who won the Nobel for discovering the structure of DNA, both used their reputations to promote very racist ideas. Most recently, Tim Hunt said some sexist and insulting things in front of a group of female Korean scientists — who had invited him to speak, no less.

More here.