quarta-feira, 26 de outubro de 2011


Hoje em Coimbra, no Auditório de Direito, pelas 11h30, com entrada livre:

“The Politics of Excellence:
The meaning of the Nobel Prizes in science, 1901-1950 and beyond”

Robert Marc Friedman
University of Oslo;
Johns Hopkins University

In my historical studies, I have explored the nature and meaning of the Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry. By focussing on the Swedish awarders of the prize, I analyzed why and how individuals and groups attempted, with varying degrees of success, to use the Nobel prize for furthering specific disciplinary, cultural, and personal agendas. Only rarely did nominators provide a clear consensus for any one candidate; and even when such occasions did occur, Nobel committees relied on their own evaluations and priorities. Although numbers of nominations and the rationale for nominating candidates could persuade committee members, in the end, overwhelmingly, their own insights, tastes, and agendas as well as the internal dynamics of the respective Nobel committees and the Academy of Sciences proved decisive. True, some committee members tried to be dispassionate and rise above their own local perspectives; others championed their own interests, some openly and some cunningly. The net result has been that the list of winners and the research specialties represented are not all natural nor inevitable choices. Excellence, as defined by prizes, is not unambiguous, even in science.

In the lecture I will first discuss an overview of the first fifty years of awarding the physics and chemistry prizes, which raises questions as to what the prizes actually represent. I will then turn to some of the historical reasons for the rapid growth and maintenance of the Nobel cult. Finally I will ask what is lost for science in academic cultures fixated on winning prizes.


Robert Marc Friedman is professor of history of science at University of Oslo and Associate Research Scholar at Johns Hopkins University. His publications include Appropriating the Weather: Vilhelm Bjerknes and the Construction of a Modern Meteorology (1989), The Politics of Excellence: Behind the Nobel Prize in Science (2001), and a series of contributions on history of polar research and geophysical science. He also dramatizes insight from history of science for theatre. Among his plays, Remembering Miss Meitner, has been professionally performed in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Italy, and the United States. His new play on Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen opens later this year in Norway.

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