This morning, physicists Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Barry Barish received the Nobel Prize for Physics, for their discovery of gravitational waves—distortions in the fabric of space and time. The trio, who led the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) project that recorded these waves, will split the 9 million Swedish Kroner prize between them. Perhaps more importantly, they will carry the status of “Nobel laureate” for the rest of their lives.

But what of the other scientists who contributed to the LIGO project, and whose names grace the three-page-long author list in the paper that describes the discoveries? “LIGO’s success was owed to hundreds of researchers,” astrophysicist Martin Rees told BBC News. “The fact that the Nobel Prize 2017 committee refuses to make group awards is causing increasingly frequent problems and giving a misleading impression of how a lot of science is actually done.”

This refrain is a familiar one. Every year, when Nobel prizes are awarded in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine, critics note that they are an absurd and anachronistic way of recognizing scientists for their work. Instead of honoring science, they distort its nature, rewrite its history, and overlook many of its important contributors.

There are assuredly good things about the prizes. Scientific discoveries should be recognized for the vital part they play in the human enterprise. The Nobel Prize website is an educational treasure trove, full of rich historical details that are largely missing from published papers. And it is churlish to be overly cynical about any event that, year after year, offers science the same kind of whetted anticipation that’s usually reserved for Oscar or Emmy nominees. But the fact that the scientific Nobels have drawn controversy since their very inception hints at deep-rooted problems.

The very first prize in medicine was awarded to …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Best of

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