Twelve men and women won the Nobel Prize today: ‘No publicity for science’

“It’s an excellent opportunity to celebrate a great celebration of science,” Martin van Calmthot said of the Nobel Prize Ceremony taking place today in Oslo and Stockholm. “But if you then look at who’s going to win, and it turns out it’s only men, I wonder if that’s the right party for science.”

Van Calmuth, who wrote a book about Dutch Nobel Prize winners, argue This week in De Volkskrant it is best to scrap prices altogether. “It is not a declaration of science as a broad activity of all mankind.”

Max Verstappen

Ben Feringa, who won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research on molecular machines, strongly disagrees with Van Calmuthot. “My first feeling was: Max Verstappen is going to win Formula 1 next Sunday and he is of course a man. If the first reaction of the press is: We cancel Formula 1, then Because this is not a good picture? “

For example, Ferenga feels that Van Calmuthot’s ruling has left him out. “Because the Nobel Prizes are recognition of the world’s most important scientific breakthroughs in a number of fields. Every year people who have truly made a difference in the world are honored.”

male stronghold

Feringa points out that women in sciences such as physics and chemistry have only advanced to the top in recent decades. “This was a male stronghold par excellence. If you look at how many girls studied chemistry there when I was a student, and compare that now, that has changed dramatically.”

“But before you make discoveries of a caliber worthy of a Nobel Prize, you have a few more years,” Feringa says. “I am very positive: you can expect more in the coming years, because many women are now also involved in research in these areas of science. Very exciting things, which could lead to a Nobel Prize in the future. In 2040 the picture looks very different. Different.”

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This isn’t happening fast enough for Van Calmotte. “I am impatient,” he says. “I think we can speed up a number of things. You can wait for it to work, because I also know a lot is already happening in the workplace…” But the Nobel Prize should be up front, says Van Calm. “An organization like the Nobel Prize is a symbol.”

Because of this typical function, diversity should play a bigger role. “It’s a pity that the committee has endorsed this, but it’s still very difficult to control,” Van Calmath sighs. “They are waiting.”

“I still stress: the appearance of a prize is not fun when women are not lifted on stage. I always think of the little girl in school and think: Nobel Prizes, that sounds like something to older scientists men. “


This is partly due to the rules for awarding Nobel Prizes, enshrined in Alfred Nobel’s will. These rules largely determine how winners are selected. “The committee gets a lot of information and suggestions about who should win from the people who have already won.” And it seems that these men mainly choose other men. “It makes you kind of slow, it all comes from the past.”

According to Van Calmotte, something needs to be done about it. “In these recommendation committees and in the Academy of Sciences you have to introduce diversity more emphatically. For example, by saying bluntly: Half of the committee is women.”


“Of course I have no objection to that,” Feringa says. “I’m not going to talk about it, but I imagine you could put some renovation into that.” However, the professor of organic chemistry stresses that a lot is already happening. Sees bright spots. “If you look at the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, my field, over the past four years, half of the Nobel Prizes there have gone to women.”

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Megan Vasquez

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