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Thread: Honorary posthumous Nobels

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    Honorary posthumous Nobels

    Are there great discoveries in Science which never got a Nobel Prize because the Discoverer died before (s)he was chosen?

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    Einstein for relativity.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim View Post
    Einstein for relativity.
    Which was 50 years before his death. His actual Nobel was for work in the same year, according to Wikipedia:
    He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect",[10] a pivotal step in the evolution of quantum theory.
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    The topic prompted me to go googling for more information since, on the face of it, the theory of relativity is so fundamental and so central to much of physics that you have to wonder why it wasn't awarded in Einstein's lifetime.

    Why Einstein never received a Nobel prize for relativity

    From the Guardian article:

    By [1919], Einstein had a decade's worth of Nobel nominations behind him. Yet each year, to mounting criticism, the committee decided against his work on the grounds that relativity was unproven. In 1919, that changed. Cambridge astrophysicist Arthur Eddington famously used a total eclipse to measure the deflection of stars' positions near the Sun. The size of the deflection was exactly as Einstein had predicted from relativity in 1915. The prize should have been his, but the committee snubbed him again.

    Why? Because now dark forces were at work.

    Antisemitism was on the rise in Germany; Jews were being scapegoated for the country's defeat in the war. As both Jew and pacifist, Einstein was an obvious target. The complexity of relativity did not help either. Opponents such as Ernst Gehrcke and Philipp Lenard found it easy to cast doubt upon its labyrinthine mathematics.

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    Nobels aren't awarded posthumously, period. They just don't do it.
    Solfe, Dominus Maris Pavos.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Solfe View Post
    Nobels aren't awarded posthumously, period. They just don't do it.
    I know. That is why I asked if there were any that should be awarded, but aren't because the discoverer is dead.
    And there were a few where the recipient died after being chosen but before the award.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Mazanec View Post
    Are there great discoveries in Science which never got a Nobel Prize because the Discoverer died before (s)he was chosen?
    I don't know whether you will consider this one of the "great discoveries in Science" (upper-case for "Science"!), but the 1997 price in economics went to Myron Scholes and Robert Merton. Merton had worked largely independently, but Scholes had worked together with Fisher Black, who died in 1995, and therefore did not share in the prize. It is possible that this is the last year when they could have won, because the next year, Long-Term Capital Management blew up, and the two winners had their fingerprints all over it - despite what I posted in another thread, I suspect that might have been a disqualifier.

    So even if you call this one of the great discoveries of science (and if you mean physical sciences, it clearly doesn't qualify), it still doesn't quite fit your description (a prize was awarded), but one of the principal discovers had died and did not receive it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Mazanec View Post
    And there were a few where the recipient died after being chosen but before the award.
    I thought in that case, the award still stands - does it?

    I guess there hasn't been a case where an investigation had to be conducted to determine whether the potential recipient died one minute before or one minute after being chosen

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    Quote Originally Posted by gutterfly View Post
    I thought in that case, the award still stands - does it?

    I guess there hasn't been a case where an investigation had to be conducted to determine whether the potential recipient died one minute before or one minute after being chosen
    The prize committee can't pick somebody they know has died, but they have picked people who died between the award decision amd the notification; this happened as recently as the last decade or so. The Nobel committees probably have staff checking for death notices, but it usually takes a few days for those to be published.

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    GN Lewis almost certainly should have been awarded a Nobel in chemistry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    The prize committee can't pick somebody they know has died, but they have picked people who died between the award decision amd the notification; this happened as recently as the last decade or so. The Nobel committees probably have staff checking for death notices, but it usually takes a few days for those to be published.
    In 2011, one of the recipients of the prize for Medicine had actually died three days before the announcement was made. After much discussion and consternation among the committee, they decided to let it stand, since they hadn't been aware of his death when the decision was made.

    In 1948, the year Gandhi died, the committee chose not to award the prize for Peace, stating that there were no suitable living candidates (and perhaps regretting that they had not given the prize to Gandhi in a previous year when he was still alive).
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    Rosalind Franklin is the obvious example.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    Rosalind Franklin is the obvious example.
    Jocelyn Bell is probably another.

    There is, also, I believe some level of fashion in the science awards. There are also important areas of science which simply don't fit any if the categories: where would one put, say, Wegener, for plate tectonics? Geology simply doesn't fit in the categories. I'll leave it as an exercise as to where one would put somebody who, say, solved the protein folding problem

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    Certainly Isaac Newton. One difficulty with the question is that it depends on what you mean by ‘should’.
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