This year’s Nobel Prize for the Structure of the ribosome surely pissed a lot of people off. The debathe over whether the ribosome research counts as chemistry rages on, and the latest addition to the growing ranks of disgruntled chemists comes from an editorial of ACS Chemical Biology, where Eric Martens foretells that without a restructuring of the Nobel Prizes there will be even more biology in the Chemistry Nobels.
Now such a restructuring seems unlikely. The Nobel Foundation is strictly bound by Alfred Nobel’s original will that defined the Prizes to be awarded. Also, there’s always the possibility that such a restructuring would end up botched, damaging the Nobel Prizes forever. This is a very real danger, as this open letter shows. It proposes a new Prize for Global Environment and Public Health, an idea clearly inspired by climate change as the topic of the day. I think the idea is nuts. It should be some broad category like geosciences – who knows what will be considered important in 50 years?
So I think chemists should refrain from calling for new Nobels. It won’t work. There should be, however, a serious debate about the chemistry Prizes. The foundation can’t go on with awarding prizes to any research that involves molecules, on the basis that somehow everything has something to do with chemistry.