Editor's Own / History

The Nobel Prize: A History of Controversy


Last year Nobel Laureates receive their awards. The choice of ‘Abolish Nuclear Weapons’ to receive the Peace Prize has stirred up no small debate. But it’s not the first time a winner has left people confused…

Xander Brett

1918: Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the invention of the Fritz-Haber Process, a process that permitted the large scale production of ammonia. Haber was known to develop chlorine gas during the Great War, defending its use even after receiving his award.

1945: Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming, creator of penicillin, admitted his discovery was a complete accident.

1948 (2006): Mahatma Ghandi

A once notorious terrorist, Ghandi founded religious pluralism in post-colonial India. Ghandi never picked up the award in person, having been assassinated a few months before the ceremony. It took until 2006 for the committee to declare him winner, as in 1948 no prize had been awarded because it was thought there was no living person worthy.

1949: António Egas Moniz

Portuguese neurologist António Egas Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology for devising the lobotomy (an operation where part of the brain is cut away) as a cure for mental disorders. The practice has since been all but abandoned.

1973: Henry Kissinger and Lê Đức Thọ

1973 saw a stand-off between US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam’s negotiator Lê Đức Thọ when Kissinger was praised for his role in brokering peace just eight months after ordering a bombing raid of Hanoi. Đức Thọ declined his half of the award and two members of the Nobel committee resigned in protest.

1974: Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson

Native bias was most obvious in 1974 when joint winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, little-known even in Sweden, fended off competitors that included Graham Greene, Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov.

1994: Yasser Arafat, Yitzhat Rabin and Shimon Peres

In 1994 Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his foreign minister Shimon Peres returned to Oslo, the city in which they’d signed their legendary peace accords. Like the accords, the Peace Prize did little to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations. Arafat continued to order drive-by shootings and kidnappings until his death in 2004.

2008: AstraZeneca plc

The Nobel Prize gained a murky reputation when it emerged that AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company that held large shares in HPV vaccines, had strong links with two of the committee’s members. Swedish anti-corruption police raided committee members’ homes and company headquarters, but charges were later dropped.

2009: Barack Obama

Barack Obama was awarded the Peace Prize just nine months into his first term leaving many, even his own supporters, questioning its legitimacy. Former director of the Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, wrote in his autobiography that the committee had only awarded Obama the prize as they hoped it would strengthen his policies in the future.

2016: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, who won the Literature Prize last year, is not the only winner to have refused it. So have Jean-Paul Sartre in 1964, Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternak in 1958 (forced to do so by the Soviet Politburo) and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1970, who was allowed to collect the prize but didn’t, as he feared he wouldn’t be re-admitted to the USSR (he was expelled in 1974, so could collect it then).

For the latest Nordic news, follow @FikaOnlineBlog on Twitter.

This article is a Fika Online exclusive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s