Why are Nobel-winning scientists old, male, white and Western?


Vera Rubin, astrophysicist who confirmed the existence of Dark Matter

Somehow, Nobel Week always sneaks up like a Swedish cat burglar, stealing me from my bed very early in the morning to hear breaking news about the latest laureates. On one level, the annual ritual is a celebration of scientific discovery, and it’s wonderful to learn about the winners’ accomplishments. But the Nobels are burdened by arcane rules and biases that, for me, have removed some of the luster. As our Michael Greshko notes, when you look at the science laureates between 1901 and 2016, they are overwhelmingly older, white, male, and Western.

Last week’s batch of science winners did little to move that needle, perpetuating stereotypes about who can be a brilliant scientist. Some pundits even noted that the Physics Nobel was awarded in part for theoretical work on the mysterious cosmic substance known as dark matter—just a few years after the death of dark matter pioneer Vera Rubin. Since the awards can’t be given posthumously, Rubin is forever snubbed.

The awards have also permanently overlooked some very worthy science, and they continue to ignore the contributions of large collaborations. If anything, Nobel Week for me has become a reminder that science is a complex and messy human endeavor, and we should not shy away from looking at it critically even as we celebrate it.

By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor

I’ll second that emotion!

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.