[FOUNTAIN]Musings on the Nobel Prizes

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[FOUNTAIN]Musings on the Nobel Prizes

Holding out the prospect of a prize to a person who has not performed up to standards could be considered an inducement to improve, while rewarding a winner is considered compensation, along with encouragement to even better performance. An old saying speaks of "whipping a fast-running horse."

There are obviously impudent people who desperately seek a prize for its inherent value, but prizes are the result of endeavor, not mere objects to be displayed.

The double implications - of stimulating greater effort in hope of reward, and of rewarding past efforts - are present in most prizes. They take on dignity and life when the fairness of selection and a reasonable sum of money are guaranteed.

The Nobel prizes celebrate their 100th anniversary this year. The Nobel is an Oscar for intellectuals and an Olympic gold medal for the arts and sciences. It retains its sheen as the most prestigious award in the world even after 100 years because the prize money is generous and the selections are seen as fairly serving the lofty ideals embedded in the will of Alfred Nobel, whose fortune was made by inventing dynamite.

The first Nobel prize winners in 1901 each received 150,000 Swedish krona as prize money. The 150,000 krona was the equivalent of 20 years of annual salary for Swedish university professors at that time. The current amount of the prize money is 10 million krona, or $1 million. Considering the supplemental income that the prestige of a Nobel prize can attract, those prizes provide the biggest physical compensation among all awards around the world.

There are a lot of controversies, however, about the fairness and objectivity of the selection process. Though the Nobel prize aims to reward the person who "shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" in various fields, it is obviously no easy task to pick the person who meets that standard. There have been jokes about the Nobel prizes for literature and peace, with some critics saying winning those prizes is like winning a lottery. How can one explain why Winston Churchill won a Nobel prize for literature, but Leo Tolstoy did not; and that Mahatma Gandhi did not win a Nobel Peace Prize but Le Duc Tho did? During the last century, 107 people have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but during the same time, 110 million people died in 250 wars.

Jean-Paul Sartre was the only writer to reject the Nobel prize for literature. Considering that winning the Nobel prize was the "kiss of death" for the creativity of numerous winners of the prize, Sartre might have been wise.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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