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The literal truth

11 October, 2007; 11:08 Leave a comment Go to comments

nobel_medal_dsc06171.jpgYou may have heard some of the quotes from past years’ Nobel Prize laureates on their reactions when finding out that they won the prize–in particular, I seem to have the impression that it’s always a middle-of-the-night thing, making it more than one kind of shock when they get the phone call. Why is that? Can’t they show a little more consideration and call during the recipient’s daytime hours? Well of course since I’m American, the stories I’ve heard have been from Americans. And to understand the middle-of-the-night phone calls, one must understand that the Nobel Prize isn’t something that’s been decided ahead of time, at least not completely. The truth is, the final decision on each award is decided only moments before that phone call.

Yet the full process is very long and deliberate, starting even before the previous year’s awards ceremony. For each prize, it involves sending out requests in September for nominations to several thousand experts in the field. The nominations are received by the end of the following January or early February. During February, the committees screen the nominees and choosing the best several hundred in each field. Then during March to May, select panel of specially appointed experts to assess the candidates’ work. In June to August, the Committee writes a report and prioritizes 15 candidates as finalists. Lastly, during October, each prize’s Assembly (e.g. the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences) meets to vote on these finalists. Everything up to now takes place in secrecy, and all records are sealed for 50 years. Only moments after the Assembly’s vote is finalized, the laureate is telephoned by the committee, and following that, a press announcement is made.

The announcements are usually made around midday, Central European Time. This means that if the phone call is made at, say, 11 a.m., and the laureate is in North America, then the phone call will be at 2, 3, 4, or 5 a.m., depending on the time zone in North America. Not the most convenient of times! But I don’t think any laureate has complained.

And now, back to the show: The winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature…


This is considered a classic of feminism, or that’s what I read. The Nobel Prize Foundation has a web site listing all of the female Nobel laureates. Interestingly, there has never been a female laureate for the Economics prize. Sure, it hasn’t been around as long, but never? Seems a bit strange to me. As I think about it, economics does seem to be a male-dominated academic field, much more so than, say, urban planning, and possibly more so than civil engineering as well. Yet, I can certainly think of several examples of transport academics with an economics emphasis who are women. Surely it’s just a matter of time.

Categories: awards
  1. 25 October, 2007; 1:22 at 1:22

    Certainly, this year’s winner of Nobel Price in Literature is a woman who is “fire and visionary power”. Her comment on the US current president is “Everyone is tired of this man. Either he is stupid or he is very clever.” However, she also described Americans as “a very naive people, or they pretend to be”. In addition, she also said the 11 September attacks were not as significant as the terror campaign waged by the IRA.

    You can find the news I read from BBC.

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