Are the Science Nobels Stuck in the 20th Century? – OZY

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Most cutting-edge science today is collaborative and global — a reality the Nobel Prizes refuse to recognize.

Every October brings an air of anticipation to research universities and laboratories around the world, as scientists wait for the announcements of the coveted Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry — awards won by giants such as Albert Einstein and Marie Curie in years gone by.

It’s been that way for decades. Yet in recent years, there’s an equally unmistakable, collective sigh of frustration that often accompanies the actual announcements. That’s rarely because of any disagreement over the credentials of the winners. It mostly has to do with the fact that archaic rules often prevent the awarding of the prize to several researchers and institutions that deserve it.

Only the Peace Prize can be awarded to a group or an institution. All other Nobels, including in the sciences, medicine, economics and literature, can only be awarded to a maximum of three people in a particular year. The Nobel committee decides how to split the award money among the winners, if there is more than one.

It’s an approach that made sense in the early-20th century — the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901 — when scientists, economists and creative personalities worked in their own homes and labs as individuals, cut off from others. You could indeed accuse them of living in ivory towers.

Not anymore. Global teams, each with between dozens and thousands of scientists, are leading today’s most cutting-edge research — whether on subatomic particles or gene editing. The scale and complexity of modern research often demand that collaboration — and 21st-century communication and transport enable it. A researcher friend at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN, told me Saturday of a new