Controversies Over Nobel Recipients

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Controversies Over Nobel Recipients

Lech Walesa, the leader of the Polish Solidarity trade union, once said that he gave his son a sound beating a few days before he was informed that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

One could be forgiven for questioning the propriety of the Peace Prize having gone to a father who resorts to violence at home. Actually, Walesa''s conduct since becoming the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize has been a disappointment to some. In no way should this tarnish his achievements and contributions to freedom and democracy in Poland.

War clouds are hanging low over the Middle East again, but this does not mitigate the significance of the Nobel Peace Prize accorded to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1995. The ongoing process, rather than the outcome, should be recognized and valued.

Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel decreed in his will that the prizes should be accorded to "those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind." It is extremely difficult, however, to determine on a yearly basis which among the important scientific achievement, literary works and the peace efforts are most deserving of the award. This is why there are endless debate over the selection of prize recipients.

The Nobel prizes were once sarcastically called an annual "ceremony in honor of the old," in reference to the Nobel Committee''s habit of conferring the award on elderly scientists, authors and statesmen for their lifetime achievements. Conscious of such criticism, the committee began to turn its attention to the younger nominees with newer ideas, and to ongoing research. The new criterion had its own risks, however, as when the award was given for research that had not been sufficiently validated. In one case, two economists who shared the Nobel were later found to be part of the management of a bankrupt hedge fund.
Perhaps one of the most valid criticisms of the committee concerns the notable absence of a prize for engineering, an area directly linked to the lives of people. The engineering profession decided to fight back by giving the Charles Stark Draper Prize every two years since 1989.

Another conspicuous omission is a prize for work in the field of mathematics, which spurred mathematicians of the world to create the Field''s Medal.

It is easy to understand the difficult decisions faced by the Nobel Committee. This year''s choice for the physics award was surprising in two respects. Seemingly indifferent to the work of Stephen Hawking, widely regarded as the greatest living physicist in the world, the committee decided to let three scientists share the prize for their achievements in the practical realm of microchips, semiconductors and optical communications. The committee''s explanation for the decision was also unprecedented, as it stated that Hawking''s achievements, while of paramount importance, were purely theoretical, and that their practical application has yet to be validated.

One of the winners of the physics prize, Jack Kilby, invented the integrated circuit in 1958, and the other co-inventor Robert Noyce is deceased.

Acknowledging the invention now seems belated. The Nobel Committee explained, "The physics prizes are about the electronics of today, the chemistry prizes are about electronics of the future."

It is no easy task to measure "the greatest practical benefit to mankind," especially in the realm of literature. There are also persistent calls on the committee to give the prize in economics not to the scholars in their ivory towers preoccupied with mathematical models, but to the policymakers, businesses leaders and international financiers who contribute directly to the economy. For various reasons, it seems that there should be changes made with regard to the category and selection process of the Nobel.

There were endless controversies in Korea over President Kim Dae-jung''s winning the Noble Peace Prize, before and after the official announcement. This is nonsense. President Kim deserves the Peace Prize for irrefutable reasons.

No other peace efforts of the preceding year can surpass the early stages of reconciliation between the two Koreas, which began with the June summit between Mr. Kim and the North''s leader, Kim Jong-Il; continued with the reunion of separated families; and was followed by the two Koreas marching together at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics.

The Peace Prize is thought to represent the Mr. Nobel''s "atonement" for having invented dynamite, which has been used as an instrument of mass destruction. Regardless of one''s political position or a personal like or dislike of Mr. Kim, his winning the prestigious prize should be seen as a recognition for his relentless pursuit of peace on the Korean Peninsula.
By Byun Sang-keun
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