In 1995, European Union officials made the mistake of deeming the new European ICT Prize the "Nobel Prize" for innovation in information and communication technologies. Soon after, they received a friendly note from the Nobel Foundation saying they had infringed upon a trademark license, and could face legal action. EU officials promised to cease and desist from such comparisons, and everything resolved amicably.
As harmless as it may seem to invoke the name of Nobel to fashion prestige, the Nobel Prize has been under trademark license for more than 20 years, and Nobel Foundation employees keep a steady eye on news releases and current events, watching for the misuse of the name.
Over the past few years, Foundation employees have seen an increase in the number of illegal uses of the Nobel's good name. "We are currently sending approximately two to three letters of warning per month," says Jonna Petterson, public relations manager for the Nobel Foundation, in an e-mail. It's not surprising that Nobel staff see more misuses of the Nobel name, as the number of prize-awarding programs increases about 10%-15% each year, and has at least doubled since 1990, according to Larry Tise, professor of history at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.
A recent press release from Prix Galien called an award "the 'Nobel Prize' for applied medical research and development." The media has dubbed the Association for Computing Machinery's A.M. Turing Award "the Nobel of computer science." And even the Blue Planet Prize, awarded by the Asahi Glass Foundation, has been called "the Nobel of environmental science."
Not everything resolves as amicably as it did with the EU. "Usually the recipients of these letters are willing to cease from using the trademark; however, in a couple of cases, we have been forced to take legal action," Petterson says.
"It seems that many new prizes or other people try to benefit from the prestige which the Nobel awarding institution has built over the last century," says Michael Sohlman, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, declining to provide specifics about the Foundation's involvement in legal cases. "But it's not our prestige, it's the prestige of the Nobel laureates that is abused if [the name is] used in an inappropriate way."
Sometimes the comparison is merited, Sohlman notes, such as with the Lasker Award or Gairdner Award. Of the more than 300 Lasker Award winners, 71 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize; 65 of the 290 Gairdner Award winners have also received Nobels.
Nobel Foundation staff can place a friendly phone call to organizations that infringe upon the Nobel trademark in press releases, but they have little control over the media's proclivity towards embellishment. They've read articles dubbing the National Academy of Engineering's Russ Prize as the Nobel of bioengineering. Some examples are particularly egregious: Jefferson Award: Nobel of public service? The Templeton Prize: Nobel of research and discoveries about spiritual realities? Moreover, EU media continue to refer to the ICT prize as the "Nobel" of its field.
It's an understandable temptation when trying to fashion interest in a scientific award, given that the Nobel is one of the few awards known to both scientists and nonscientists. This raises the question: What makes a prize prestigious? A 1983 essay by Eugene Garfield (founder of The Scientist) notes that factors that affect how the public perceives a prize include the prize award amount (the higher the better), how often it is awarded (often enough to not be forgotten, but rarely enough to remain important), and how many recipients there are (not everyone in the field should get one). But it's not a magic formula: The American Chemical Society's highest honor, the Priestly Medal, is often termed the Nobel Prize of chemistry, but it carries no cash prize. The Fields Medal, awarded by the International Mathematical Union, is considered "the Nobel of math" and yet is awarded only once every four years.
While some uses of the Nobel name are easily forgiven, the worst cases involve companies that use the word Nobel to make a buck, Sohlman notes. The Foundation has confronted an automotive company trying to name a new car "the Nobel." It has had to correct schools or educational services that say attendance guarantees students a Nobel Prize. Even a liposuction clinic was called the "Nobel Clinic," at least for a while.
An undeserved Nobel Prize
by Ruth Rosin
[Comment posted 2007-07-27 15:38:30]
While TheScientist notes that "not everyone in the field deserves a Nobel Prize", the worst problem the Prize faces is not at all due to "copy-cats", but to the manner in which the Nobel Committee handles the admittedly very rare cases, where the Prize was awarded undeservedly. Any criticism submitted to the Committee about any such case, is not disclosed until 50 years after the Prize has been awarded. By then, the award can tremendous damage.
The worst case concerns the 1973 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology, awarded to K. v. Frisch for the discovery of the "instinctual" communication system of honeybees, known as the honeybee "dance language" (DL), and shared (not surprisingly) with K. Lorenz & N. Tinbergen (the 2 co-founders of a general approach to behavior, that is based on the belief in the existence of "instincts").
V. Frisch first announced in a scientific journal in 1946, the discovery that waggle-dances, performed by honeybee-foragers, contain information about the approximate distance & direction if the source visited by the foragers. He, then, claimed to have experimentally confirmed that new-recruits obtain & use that information, to help them find the source on their own. However, in spite of an almost endless series of attempts, undertaken during more than 60 years, by many scientists all over the world, to experimentally confirm the existence of such a DL, no one has ever been able to accomplish that. No one ever did, or could, experimentally confirm the existence of that DL, simply because the DL hypothesis was stillborn when v. Frisch, fully justifiably, concluded on the basis of his first study on honeybee-recruitment, (published in an extensive summary in 1923), that honeybee-recruits use only odor, and no information about the location of any food-source. A brief summary can be found in . von Frisch, K. pp. 423-431 in Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution (1939); reprint of von Frisch K. Science Progress 32(125), 29-37 (1937); cited in Rosin, R. J. theoret. Biol. 84, 775-800 (1980); reprinted again (with introduction by Wenner) in Bee World 74(2),:93-98 (1993).
How a stillborn DL hypothesis rose all the way to become a Nobel Prize winning, revered ruling paradigm, is a complex story that cannot be told here. One argument that played a major role in that was, however, the conviction by v. Frisch, and very many other scientists, that a DL that used the spatial information contained in the dances simply had to exist, because otherwise there would be no way to explain the adaptive value of honeybee-dances. The claim that there is no other way to explain the adaptive value of the dances, is correct. The assumption that they have to be adaptive as one whole behavior is, however, totally incorrect. The dances are explainable as a numerically complex combination of many different responses, that each occur also outside the dance, and separately from the others, and most occur also in other insects. Problems of adaptivity must, therefore, be addressed to the separate responses, but the combination does not require an additional adaptive value of its own as a combination.
I shall not go into further details about such an explanation, which requires expertise in insect behavior, except to note that v. Frisch himself had already, inadvertently, pointed towards an explanation of the dances as a combination of different responses. When the dances are performed out in the open, on the horizontal landing plane in front of the hive, the angle between the azimuth (non-dip compass direction) of the sun, and of the waggle-run of the waggle-dance, equals the angle between the azimuth of the sun and the foragers'-feeder. But, when the foragers dance, as they usually do, on the vertical combs inside the dark hive, the direction in relation to the direction of a directional light-source (the sun), is transformed to a direction in relation to gravity. ("up" now serves as the direction of the sun.) V. Frisch, however, knew, and stressed in print, (in his 1967 definitive book about the honeybee DL), that such a transformation occurs in honeybees also outside the dance, and is known in various other insects. Moreover, it was first discovered in a species of beetles (Geotrupes) that are solitary. Obviously, whatever the adaptive value of such a transformation may be, it has nothing to do with any communication. And, obviously, this is not the only response involved in honeybee-dances.
Confused by Ruth Roslin
by John Collins
[Comment posted 2007-07-30 06:21:19]
I find the proposal by Ruth Roslin that Karl von Frisch's contributions were unworthy of a Nobel prize a little confusing. I was under the impression that the theory still stands and is well validated (see Riley et al., Nature (2005) 435, 205) and no solid alternative exists.
The sociobiological extrapolations from this work make it a hot topic so I would be interested on further comments from experts in the field.
Is the criticism that the original experiments were badly planned and/or wrongly interpreted in that the conclusions were beyond what could be directly interpreted from the data, or that his brilliant insight in combining it with an adaptive functional requirement allowed him to go beyond what had previously been accepted dogma.?
Response to John Collins who is "Confused by Ruth Rosin"
by Ruth Rosin
[Comment posted 2007-07-31 23:15:50]
I am, if I may say so, one of the world';s best experts on this issue.
No wonder you are confused. You were taught as gospel that honeybees have a "dance language" (DL), which they are able to use "instinctively". This, unfortunately is "the greatest goof in the history of science". You can read much more about it in several very long messages, which I had posted, under that title, among others on the "irishbeekeeping" website, in 2005. To properly deal with the DL controversy in full detail, would require a very heavy tome. The DL controversy has become very complex and convoluted, because it represents the most important reflection of a far more important, basic, general controversy over the very foundations of the whole field of behavioral science, between European Ethology (funded by K. Lorenz & N. Tinbergen, in the mid-30,s of last century), and Schneirla's School in Behavior. Very briefly, European Ethology is based on the belief in the existence of "instincts", at one time assumed to be genetically predetermined behavior. By now, even those who firmly believe in their existence, while Schneirla's School, in contrast, is based on Morgan"s Canon, and all the ideas that led Lloyd C. Morgan to formulate his well-known Canon, and on replacing the belief in the existence of "instincts" with the conclusion that all individual traits (including behavioral traits0 of all living organisms, develop ontogenetically (in the individual organism), under inseparable (!) effects of both (!) genes & environment.
Scientist can obtain and use the spatial information contained in honeybee waggle-dances. But to do that they must rely on a considerable amount of database, which must be separately obtained for each honeybee species, and strain, through preliminary scientific research. No one questions that honeybees do not engage in scientific research. So how do honeybees obtain the information? DL supporters take it for granted that the bees do it "instinctively". The utterly erroneous belief that the existence of the honeybee DL had already been properly experimentally confirmed, provided European Ethology with its most impressive "validation". It is, thus, not surprising that v. Frisch's 1973 Nobel Prize (6 years after Wenner & his team had already launched their fully justified criticism of the DL hypothesis), was shared by the two co-founders of European Ethology.
Soon after, in 1975, European Ethology then spawned Wilson's "Sociobiology" (an application of European Ethology to social insects), which then spawned "Evolutionary Psychology" (an application of Wilson's "Sociobiology" to humans). All three are misguided, and misleading!
I urge you to start by reading the publications for which I had already provided references. Add to these Rosin, R. (1999). What is wrong with the honey bee "dance language" hypothesis? American Bee Journal139(9): 659 (which provides only a partial list of arguments that each alone suffice to completely discredit the whole DL hypothesis). Add to these the book by Wenner, A. M. & Wells, P. H. (1990). Anatomy of a Controversy: The Question of a "Language" Among Bees. Columbia Univ. Press; Wenner, A. M. (2002). The elusive honey bee dance "language" hypothesis. Journal of Insect Behaviour, 15(6); and Wenner, A. M. (2007), in the June issue of Bee Culture.
All of v. Frisch's "proofs" for the existence of the honeybee DL, and most proofs provided after that, were based on distributions of new-arrivals among small, man-made sources of attractive odor, distributed in the field. Wenner & his team discovered and published in 1967, that honeybee-recruits use only odor, and that the distributions of new-arrivals are totally independent of DL information. They were, however, very quickly, and totally undeservedly, turned into pariahs, for having unknowingly re-discovered what v. Frisch himself had already discovered at least as early as 1923, and faithfully held on to until 1937.
The DL hypothesis was stillborn; which means that, in spite of an almost endless series of utterly futile attempts undertaken by scientists all over the world, starting with v. Frisch more than 60 years ago, by now at the cost of millions of dollars, no one ever did, or could, experimentally confirm his sensational DL hypothesis.
In fact, the simplest way to completely discredit the DL hypothesis is to study not where recruits arrive, but how they arrive. The DL hypothesis predicts that recruits using DL alone, would often arrive at their foragers'-feeder through a direct flight from the hive. It predicts that they would often get , by use of DL information alone, into points that are within the odor-plume from the feeder, and also very close to the feeder, and then arrive at the feeder through a very short upwind zigzag. Instead, it is by now well known that when they arrive alone, they invariably (based on thousands of observations), arrive at small, man-made sources of attractive odors (including their foragers'-feeder), arrive through an upwind zigzag (a response to attractive odors), from as far as only spotted by observers at the sources (i.e. from 10-15 m away). The fact that they never arrive even at the feeder, coming directly from the hive, or through a very short upwind zigzag, alone suffices to completely discredit the whole DL hypothesis. (The point had already been briefly raised by Wenner in print in 1974. You can find the reference in the 1990 book by Wenner & Wells.)
Anyone who owns a honeybee colony can observe the invariable manner of recruit arrivals by simply training a few marked foragers to a feeder with scented sugar-water, within the waggle-dance range, and then observing how new bees arrive at the feeder, while capturing and removing them all (to prevent the formation of a thick stream of foragers flying back and forth to the feeder). Such a test is the easiest, simplest, and cheapest way to completely discredit the DL hypothesis, because you do not need more than a single source, and you can ignore all additional odor-contamination of that source, (which, due to the exceptionally high sensitivity of honeybees to odors, must be meticulously prevented in tests on where recruits arrive).
How was the stillborn DL hypothesis elevated to the status of a Nobel Prise winning revered ruling paradigm?
By DL supporters suppressing "bad" results; by their continually revising the DL hypothesis, through never experimentally confirmed, or even tested, often contradictory ad hoc revisions, to accommodate anomalous results; by suppressing the opposition; by conducting improperly controlled experiments; by interpreting their data on the basis of groundless, or even manifestly erroneous assumptions; by assuming that the DL simply must exist, and, therefore, striving only to confirm it; and by evermore incredible feats of self-delusion (often turned into mass-delusion).
Re the study by Riley et al. (2005), I obtained from the authors much more information about the study, than they were able to present in print. I have been trying for month to get Nature to post online, at least a very brief critique of that study. But this is practically impossible to achieve, because the journal allows only "Brief Communications Arising" (BCA), that cannot exceed 700 words, and 10 references, and must be understandable by non-professionals. This way you are obliged to use all the allowable space, when you have barely started.
I shall give you only very few pointers about that study:
I found out through personal communication with one of the authors, that the only 2 bees reported to have "landed on the feeder", actually landed only on the feeders'-stand, but never found the feeder itself. What this means is that Riley et al. never even tested the DL hypothesis. Their experimental design resulted in none of their radar-tracked bees finding any source. The DL hypothesis was, however, intended specifically to explain how recruits find, on their own, the source visited by their dancing foragers. Obviously, you cannot address this issue by studying only bees that never found any source.
Riley et al., however, relied on earlier claims by others, to have experimentally confirmed that recruits use DL information. The claims are based on distributions of new-arrivals. And, as I had already explained, such claims are utterly non-valid.
I knew of the study for more than a year and a half prior to publication, because it was touted on the website of the Rothamsted Radar Entomology team; though I knew none of the details. I said I was curious about the study, but I was not holding my breath, because no radar could ever refute the observations made with the naked eye, about the invariable manner of recruit-arrivals; which alone suffice to completely discredit the whole DL hypothesis. I could not believe my eyes when I found out after the study was finally published, that Riley et al. excluded all upwind zigzags from their study. What they actually very deliberately, and at great efforts, excluded, were all odors from the foragers'-feeder and its food. As a result, none of their bees responded through any upwind zigzags, to any non-existent odors from the feeder & its food; which totally unnecessarily, and unjustifiably, suppressed the evidence about the invariable manner of recruit-arrivals, that alone suffices to discredit the whole DL hypothesis.
I finally found out from a response of an anonymous author of the study by Riley et al. (in response to my third BCA), the justification the authors introduced for excluding all odor from the feeder & its food. It involves their own self-delusion, which they, incredibly, deluded themselves into transferring to DL opponents. They believe that we are so stupid to the point that, unless they excluded odors, we might delude ourselves into claiming that all their radar-tracks, and not just the final phase of arrivals, were due only to odor. And they wanted to preclude having to deal with any such arguments from us. Except that we could never be stupid enough to raise any such arguments, because we know perfectly well that any portion of a honeybee's flight that is not in the form of an upwind zigzag, cannot be due to odors at all. Moreover, we know that for recruits to sense any odors from the feeder upon leaving the hive, the wind had to blow these odors towards the hive. But Riley et al. deliberately made sure to place the feeder in a non-upwind position in relation to the hive. In other words, they insured that had any odors even existed in the feeder & its food, recruits could not sense such odors upon leaving the hive. Therefore, when those recruits started flying, they could not have been responding to any attractive odors.
The suppression of all upwind zigzags, just happened to b e an unfortunate result of excluding odors. But that did not matter to Riley et al., because, as that anonymous author stated, they were not concerned with the final phase of arrival. In their eyes, this did not suppress evidence that alone suffices to completely discredit the DL hypothesis, because , as far as they were concerned, no evidence could ever discredit that hypothesis, since they already had evidence earlier provided by others, that confirmed the hypothesis. That evidence, based on distributions of new-arrivals, was anything but valid. But don't expect Riley et al. to understand that the whole DL controversy began when Wenner & his team discovered that the distributions of new-arrivals are totally independent of DL information. Why should Riley et al. be impressed by that, when they know that Gould (1975), whom they cite, already "proved" that honeybees use DL information under v. Frisch's conditions, vs. Wenner's conditions, again based on useless distributions of new-arrivals, and on Gould's assumption that when recruits use only odor, they still use information about the approximate site of the foragers'-feeder, which they obtain not from foragers'-dances, but from the specific natural locale-odors the foragers carry from the locale of their feeder, in conjunction with maps of the "olfactory landscape" over the whole foraging area of the colony. This assumption make Gould's interpretation of his data totally irrelevant to the whole DL controversy, because DL opponents always took it for granted that honeybee-recruits use only odor, as do flying insects in general, including solitary insects, that have no one to dance for them, or bring them any natural locale-odors from any source.
If you are more than confused by now, don't worry. All this unnecessary confusion can be avoided by the simple test on how recruits arrive, because they arrive in exactly the same manner under v. Frisch's conditions, Wenner's conditions, or any other conditions, as long as they arrive on their own!
The results obtained by Riley et al. still grossly contradict the expectations from v. Frisch's DL hypothesis.
You stated: "I was under the impression that the theory still stands and is well validated (see Riley et al., Nature (2005) 435, 205) and no solid alternative exists". I hope I have by now disabused you of that groundless impression. Let me add one more point to that. If by stating that no solid alternative exists", you mean that there is no solid alternative interpretations for the results obtained by Riley et al., let me point out to you that Riley et al. could not even have tested the DL hypothesis, let alone experimentally confirmed it, totally irrespective of whether I can, or cannot, explain their results. Personally, I suspect that, contrary to their claims, their tracked bees were not regular recruits, but re-recruited experienced foragers. To exclude such a possibility they had to include an identical odorless control-feeder, with its own group of marked foragers, preferably the same distance from the hive, but in the opposite direction. Only if they could show that the same bees that flew basically due east, would fly basically due west, after attending dances of foragers from the control-feeder, would I be satisfied. My intelligent guess is, that this is never going to happen!
You greatly admire v. Frisch's "brilliant insight in combining it with an adaptive functional requirement".If you read & understand my explanation of the dance, you would realize that an adaptive functional value for honeybee dances as one whole behavior, is not at all a requirement. And achieving a solution to a non-problem is anything but brilliant!
Nobel pseudo prizes
by Ward Chesworth
[Comment posted 2007-08-01 07:56:23]
The original Nobel prizes were for physics, chemistry, medicine, peace and literature. Bertrand Russell received a Nobel for literature, since philosophy doesn't have its own. The economists brought off the greatest coup with their "Nobel". It was set up by the Swedish central bank "in memory of Alfred Nobel". So it's really the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, though everybody calls it simply the Nobel. A brilliant piece of PR - a pseudo Nobel for a pseudo science.
P.S. to John Collins who is
by Ruth Rosin
[Comment posted 2007-08-02 08:41:18]
My earlier response became so long that i forgot to include 2 brief points I had originally intended to include.
Here they are:
1. Here are two quotes from the study by Riley et al. (2005), that so impressed you:
"Karl von Frisch concluded that bees ?recruited? by this dance used
the information encoded in it to guide them directly to the
remote food source, and this Nobel Prize-winning discovery
revealed the most sophisticated example of non-primate communication
that we know of3,4."
"We hope that together with earlier
studies, particularly those of Gould10, Srinivasan et al.13 and Esch
et al.14, our results will also be accepted as a vindication of the von
Obviously there is something utterly incongruous about the combination of these 2 statements:
In 1973 v. Frisch was awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the honeybee "dance language" (DL). Yet, more than 30 years later Nature still publishes the study by Riley et al. (2005), whose authors express the hope that their work, (together with previous work done by others), will be accepted as a vindication of v. Frish's DL hypothesis???
Everything is set straight when you realize that according to the "dance language" hypothesis recruits use spatial information contained in their foragers'-dances, to help them find, on their own, the source visited by their dancing foragers. But v. Frisch had already discovered at least as early as 1923, that they use odor alone, and no information about the location of any food-source. After the inception of his sensational DL, he suppressed the results which led him to his initial, fully correct conclusion, that recruits use no information about the location of any food source, to the point where Wenner & his team were obliged to unknowingly re-discover in 1967, what v. Frisch had already discovered in 1923. Wenner & his team were, however, quickly turned into pariahs, for claiming that "the emperor had no clothes!"
2. Wenner (personal communication, 2007), now views the belief in the existence of the honeybee "dance language" as a "religious faith", which has nothing to do with science. And I fully agree.
Incidentally, the incredible feats of self-delusion that DL supporters have achieved, encompass not only an ability to avoid "seeing" experimental evidence they refuse to "see". It encompassed even an ability to "see", due to none other than wishful thinking, that which does not exist at all. This is utterly amusing, and also utterly scary, because it illustrate to what extent serious scientists, trained to think verya accurately and rigorously, can delude themselves.
This is just one very important lesson to be drawn from the whole honeybee DL controversy. I could bring up specific, glaring examples, but will skip that, stressing instead, that any scientist who believes he is completely immune to self-delusion, is deluding himself!
by Bruce D. Parker
[Comment posted 2007-10-05 15:03:17]
As we consider the possibilities for error in making awards such as the Nobel, we should not only acknowledge errors of commission, such as the example already provided in detail, but also errors of ommission. Perhaps the best documented example of one such travesty was the failure to recognize Rosalind Franklin for her pivotal role in deciphering the structure of the DNA molecule. The self-imposed rule that Nobel Prizes are never given posthumously has meant that many students are left to believe that Watson and Crick were solely responsible for one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever made. It has only been in recent years that textbooks are even considering the role Franklin played in that breakthrough. Yet, her experiments provided the vital information needed for Watson and Crick to assemble their model correctly. It could be argued that they did not produce any significant experimental data of their own, but relied on results they obtained, perhaps unethically, from Franklin.
If there could ever be a case for reversing history and recognizing a scientist for their brilliant and significant contributions to our understanding of the natural world, it would be this one: by ALL accounts, Rosalind Franklin should be awarded a Nobel Prize. Furthermore, the people of the world deserve the opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of this amazing woman.
Biggest Nobel boo-boo
by Want A Revolution
[Comment posted 2007-10-08 10:02:12]
Since (for the general public, at least) the Nobels function as a way of stamping the research so honored as the "most important", and thus the most critical to further scientific advancement, the no posthumus prize rule is really stupid. My favorite egregious example is Oswald Avery, discoverer along with Colin MacLeod and Mac McCarty the DNA is the genetic material. What could be more worthy of a Nobel Prize than that? Yet it was never considered because by the time that the Nobel Committee decided that it was sufficiently non-controversial the make it eligible, Avery had died (though MacLeod and McCarty were still living). Consequently, while Watson and Crick are remembered for deciphering the structure (and some even think they are responsible for Avery's accomplishment) because they won the prize, Avery, McCarty and MacLeod languish in obscurity. I also take issue with the way prizes are awarded to the "marquee" name, leaving out the those who might be most responsible because the committee doesn't want to make the award to more than 3 people. Roger Kornberg's prize for chemistry last year springs immediately to mind. The crystal structure of RNA Polymerase II was a 10 year long project, with several people (Dave Bushnell, Pat Cramer and J. Fu among the most critical) contributing techniques and ideas crucial to the success of the project. I believe the rules are long overdue for change: honor the research, not the laboratory head. That way it won't matter if the lab head has died, or there's too many people involved. Maybe that's not as exciting to the popular press, but it's the work which counts most in the long run.
The strangest Nobel of all
by Subhadeep Chakrabarti, PhD
[Comment posted 2007-10-08 15:20:22]
On a much lighter note, it is surprising that nobody has so far mentioned the Ig Nobel prizes. Unlike the other me-too prizes, this one actually provides a fresh perspective on science and has wonderful PR value for science and scientists. For those still in dark, here is a link: