Dec 10, 2017

The nobility of the Nobel Prize?

It is snowing heavily here at the end of the road. The Advent stars are lighting up the afternoon in my windows as well as in my neighbors. I am listening to the Peace Prize laureates Beatrice Fihn and Setsuko Thurlow from ICAN receiving the award in Oslo on this Nobel Day. The message is sad and hopeful, dark and light, just as the day around my house.

So, it’s December 10, the annual event when Sweden - and Norway - is in the limelight of the science world. The day for the Nobel Prize, instituted by Alfred Nobel, inventor of among other things dynamite and artificial silk.

In Sweden, this fall the Nobel Prize has been clouded by shameful news. It is the Royal Swedish Academy which appoints the literature laureate. The Academy was instituted by King Gustav III in 1786 and consists of eighteen members appointed on life time - nowadays by the Academy itself. Their operation and proceedings are ruled by statues from Gustav III. It is a bit like a secret society, but as the members of the Academy are ranked high in regards of trust and irreproachability, it has rather put the Academy even more on a pedestal than been a problem.

Until now. This fall the Royal Swedish Academy is dethroned. No one is safe from #metoo. 

In this case a man married to one of the Academy members and himself a profile within the arts is accused by 18 women for sexual assaults and rape. As if  that wasn’t bad enough these assaults in some cases have happened within the Academy’s facilities and apartments. And it’s been going on for decades. 

This has put the spotlight on the Academy and its closed circle and non-transparent operations. Of course it was common knowledge that this man had been performing inappropriate (to say the least) over years and years. So, what more is going on within the Academy?

2016 another one of the institutions behind the Nobel prizes was under scrutiny. Karolinska Institutet is the institution appointing the prize in medicine. I would say the word scandal was not an overstatement when it became clear that research fraud was prior to star surgeon and researcher Paolo Macchiarini’s - connected to Karolinska Institutet - synthetic organ transplants which caused the death to most of his patients. 

In the Macchiarini case the horrific outcome of an institution so star struck by a famous surgeon they didn’t make a proper back ground check of course was the main focus. I did not pick up a lot of concerns about how the scandal would reflect on the Nobel medicine prize though.

This year, however, there have been discussions regarding the Royal Swedish Academy and it’s role in the Nobel prize. Not when it comes to appointing the laureate, but if there is irregularities within the Academy and what effect that might have on the look of the prize.

The Nobel Prize is the most valuable science award in the world. It is the dream of every scientist, it’s a multi million industry for all the main universities, and it is of definitive importance for the development of the world and mankind. I am thinking it is crucial for the Nobel brand that all organizations, institutions and every person connected to the Nobel Prize process is irreproachable. It is most troublesome when someone is casting dark shadows on the shining Nobel medal. And, as a Swede I might add, on Sweden. How to assure the nobility of the Nobel Prize?

Fortunately the literature laureate Kazuo Ishiguro is not defining his award with what’s going on within the Royal Swedish Academy. And right now he is sitting in the Blue Hall of the Stockholm City Hall decorated with ice and flower arrangements conveying the Archtice nature, listening to ice xylophone and horn, watching dancers in silver and white. In the ceiling an aura borealis, the northern light. The Nobel Dinner is as always an incredible celebration for eyes and ear. And outside my window it’s dark since many hours and the snow is still falling. It's peaceful and comforting.

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