Sunday, October 07, 2007

Nobel Week

With the announcement of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine tomorrow, the 2007 Nobel Week will be upon us. Aside from the annual question of whether any Israelis will win any prizes (David Grossman and Amos Oz are always mentioned as top contenders for a Literature Nobel), which applies to all categories, I'm most interested in which political controversies will be conjured up by the various Nobel committees.

I don't expect controversies in the first three prizes to be announced, unless they involve embryonic stem cell research or cloning. The picks for medicine, chemistry and physics might cause debates among scholars as to whether or not the winners were the most worthy scientifically, but the winners there are usually selected truly because of scientific merit. The last three prizes, literature (to be announced Thursday), Peace (Friday) and Economics (next Monday) are the interesting ones. The peace prize is purely political. No matter who is chosen, controversy will quickly follow. Bloggers will start analyzing what message the Norwegian committee is sending President Bush. It could be someone big and famous (a world leader, Bono, Bill Gates etc.) or it could be someone relatively unknown, like when Shirin Ebadi and Wangari Maathai were awarded the prize in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

Literature and economics are less political. Economic research has more direct political impact than the exact sciences, though usually this prize is awarded according to merit. I'm sure the committee didn't give Robert Aumann the prize in 2005 for his extremist right-wing views. It will be interesting to see if the winner of the literature prize will be a critic of President Bush like 2005's Harold Pinter, or a persecuted writer like last year's winner, Orhan Pamuk.

Anyway, brace yourselves for some international discontent this week.

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