Stories of the most discussed and controversial Nobel Prize winners

It is obvious that the choice is difficult and even more obvious that errors and injustices have been committed, whether by act or omission. These are some of the most discussed awards.


Several scholars insist on pointing to Fritz Haber (1868-1934) as one of the most controversial, but the Chemistry prize awarded in 1918 was awarded to him for the synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen, a development that revolutionized crop yields and made it possible to make “bread by from the air”, but by the time he was honored he had already developed toxic gases from chlorine. On April 22, 1915, Haber himself directed the use of gases in Ypres, Belgium. A thousand French soldiers died in 10 minutes. The Kaiser decorated him, but his wife, also a chemist, committed suicide. When Hitler seized power, he expelled him from Germany because he was a Jew.

William Shockley (1910-1989) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1959 for the development of transistors and semiconductors that favored the creation of computers, he was the man “who brought silicon to Silicon Valley”, but he was a racist, enthusiast of eugenics who used his prestige in the field of physics to meddle in biology and espouse white supremacy.

Johannes Stark (1874-1957) won the Physics prize in 1919 for the Doppler effect that is used today in ultrasound machines and together with Philipp Lenard (1862-1947) (winner of the prize in 1905 for cathode rays) created the concept of Aryan physics that is he opposed the “fraud” of Jewish physics embodied in Einstein’s theory of relativity.

James Watson (1928), the one who discovered the structure of DNA, was indeed a biologist and was also a racist, about to declare his “pessimism about the prospects for Africa”. Being a scandal lover, Watson auctioned off his Nobel medal in 2014, for which he fetched $4.1 million. The son of Saavedra Lamas, our first Nobel Peace Prize winner, in 1936, also sold his father’s medal, but it was not the worst thing he did since he spent several years of his life imprisoned for murder.

Another who reveled in his reputation as a rebel was Kary Mullis (1944-2019), Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 1993, for his statements on the virtues of astrology, his encounters with talking raccoon-shaped aliens, and his enthusiasm for the use of LSD as stated in his autobiographical book Dancing naked in the field of the mind. So far we could say that they are personal eccentricities, but Mullis also used his prestige in chemistry to develop maverick and conspiracy theories that include AIDS denial and climate change.

Antonio Egas Moniz (1874-1955) was the first Nobel Prize in Medicine native of Portugal for creating a surgery today forgotten and repudiated, the lobotomy. The prize was awarded in 1949 and a year later the Soviet Union declared it “contrary to the principles of humanity.”

In 2008, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Dr. Harald Zurhausen (1936) for discovering that the human papilloma virus causes cervical cancer, but months later it was found that he was a partner in a pharmaceutical company that was a pioneer in the manufacture of medicines for this disease.

If in physics, chemistry and medicine we have these controversies, the Nobel Prizes for Literature are subjective matters, and as such accept the tastes of the committee members, although there are cases such as that of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) where the Academy was carried away by politics and not by letters. In case of Bob Dylan (1941) remains a curiosity…

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The most slippery field is that of Peace. henry kissinger (1923) received his award in 1973 for his efforts to achieve peace in Vietnam, which did not prevent him from ordering the bombings in Cambodia two years later, or maintaining fluid relations with the military dictatorships in Latin America.

More complicated was the situation Barack Obama (1961), awarded for his effort “to strengthen international diplomacy”, an award that surprised even the members of the White House and the American people, since according to some polls, 2 out of 3 Americans considered that Obama did not deserve the award. award. To make matters more difficult, a week before receiving the award, he sent 10,000 troops to Afghanistan.


Chosen. Figures like Barack Obama and Angela Merkel were great users of this device, which helped associate the brand with the idea of ​​protection and reliability.

Chosen. Figures like Barack Obama and Angela Merkel were great users of this device, which helped associate the brand with the idea of ​​protection and reliability.

The award to Yasir Arafat (1929-2004), shimon peres (1923-2016) and isaac rabbin (1922-1995) was so controversial that a Swedish committee member resigned. In the case of the Chinese intellectual Liu Xiaobo (1944-2017), when he was nominated, China broke relations with Sweden, something similar to what happened in 1935 when the prize for the German pacifist carl von ossietzky (1889-1938) the anger of Adolph Hitler (who had also been nominated for said award). This reminds us that Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was never nominated for a Nobel.

Over the course of a century, thousands of people have received this award, which has become a popular symbol of wisdom and excellence, although the first or second chance is not always given.

The judges are human, subject to conditioning and influences and, therefore, liable to make mistakes. And the laureates, although seen as demigods: they are as much or more human than the others, subjected to the trifles of human construction, which only sometimes, very rarely are embraced by the brilliance of genius.

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Stories of the most discussed and controversial Nobel Prize winners