Do black sci­en­tists mat­ter to the No­bel Prize Com­mit­tee?

Daily Observer (Jamaica) - - EDITORIAL -

DE­SPITE not be­ing a global prize in its ori­gin, the No­bel Prize is widely re­garded as such, ri­val­ing even the high­est awards by the United Nations in pres­tige.

No­bel awardees are in­ter­na­tion­ally seen as hav­ing made unique and im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions to mankind in their re­spec­tive fields.

The No­bel Prize for peace – awarded by a com­mit­tee of five ap­pointed by the Stort­ing (the Nor­we­gian Par­lia­ment) – has been given to a va­ri­ety of in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­u­als that rep­re­sent the eth­nic, cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal di­ver­sity of the world.

Less so, the Swedish Acad­emy is re­spon­si­ble for the se­lec­tion of the No­bel Prize in lit­er­a­ture, with the mea culpa of the re­view­ers and judges not read­ing lan­guages other than English. There have been 117 No­bel lau­re­ates in lit­er­a­ture from 1901 to 2020, of which less than 10 were non-euro­peans.

The sit­u­a­tion in the sciences in which the awards are de­cided by the Karolin­ska In­sti­tutet of Nor­way or the Royal Swedish Acad­emy of Sciences – whose mem­ber­ship con­sists only of cit­i­zens of those coun­tries – is a cause for con­cern.

Us­ing na­tion­al­ity as a proxy for eth­nic­ity re­veals an al­most ex­clu­sive award to peo­ple of cau­casian eth­nic­ity. This is the case with the No­bel Prize in medicine since its in­cep­tion in 1901 un­til 2019.

The to­tal num­ber of win­ners is 209, of which 100 were Amer­i­cans, 64 from Europe, 30 from the United King­dom, seven from Aus­tralia, four from Canada, with four from Ja­pan be­ing the ex­cep­tion.

Dur­ing a sim­i­lar time pe­riod, the prize in physics was awarded to 218 peo­ple – 94 Amer­i­cans, 119 Euro­peans, with the other pal­try five go­ing to China, two; In­dia, one; Pak­istan, one; and Morocco, one. The prize in chem­istry has been awarded since the in­cep­tion in 1969.

The No­bel Prize in eco­nom­ics has been awarded to 184 lau­re­ates – 71 Amer­i­cans, 97 Euro­peans, eight Ja­panese, six

Is­raelis, five Cana­di­ans, and two New Zealan­ders. The rare ex­cep­tions were one In­dian, who hap­pened to be an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen teach­ing at a US univer­sity and one black St Lu­cian, Sir Arthur Lewis.

Only once (1979) in 50 years was the prize awarded for “pi­o­neer­ing re­search into eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment re­search with par­tic­u­lar con­sid­er­a­tion of the prob­lems of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries”.

No in­di­vid­ual black sci­en­tist has been awarded the No­bel Prize in medicine, chem­istry and physics. The clos­est was Pro­fes­sor An­thony Chen, a Ja­maican at­mo­spheric physi­cist, who was among the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) re­searchers awarded the No­bel Peace Prize for their work in 2007. This was a group award and not for science.

Es­sen­tially, the man­ner in which the No­bel Prize is awarded is say­ing that only cau­casians work­ing in cau­casian coun­tries pro­duce science. Put an­other way, it is sug­gest­ing, and not sub­tly, that no black per­son any­where in the world in the last 120 years made any new or no­table con­tri­bu­tion to science.

What could be the ex­pla­na­tion? We know that the nom­i­na­tion process is a very open one. Is it be­cause re­search and de­vel­op­ment ex­pen­di­ture and ca­pac­ity just hap­pens to be con­cen­trated in the de­vel­oped coun­tries peo­pled by cau­casians?

This data does prompt the ques­tion of whether there is an un­wit­ting eth­no­cen­tric­ity in the recog­ni­tion of science that cer­tainly war­rants ex­am­i­na­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Jamaica

© PressReader. All rights reserved.