Being nominated for the Nobel Prize isn’t as big a deal as it sounds


Occasionally, somebody will use the fact that they were nominated for the Nobel Prize as some sort of proof that they are a qualified or well-respected person. Except that it proves no such thing.

This isn’t like the Academy Awards or the Pulizter Prize for which receiving a nomination means that you are one of a handful of finalists. For the Nobel Prize committee, nomination is just the first step, and there is no restriction on how many people can be nominated. In particular, the list of people authorized to submit nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize includes “members of national assemblies and governments of states.” For the United States, this means that any member of the Executive Branch and any member of Congress can submit a nomination. Deputy Under-Secretary of Transportation? Sure.

The easiest way in is to convince a House Representative to submit a nomination for you, since there are over 400 of those positions, and each one represents fewer than a million people. Representatives are known for being quirky, so shop around. I’m sure you’ll find somebody who would be willing to submit your name. It costs them nothing, after all.

According to the rules of the Nobel Committee, the list of nominees (and nominators) is kept secret for fifty years. You can search the database of Peace Prize nominees from 1901 to 1951 to see whether your favorite figure or organization is in it.

With a nod to Godwin’s Law,† I point out that even Adolf Hitler was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nitpicker’s corner

†Notice that I am not invoking Godwin’s Law, since this is not an instance of it. I’m merely acknowledging its existence.

Comments (20)
  1. Nathan says:

    if anyone is buddies with their local rep or sen, we get in a nomination for Ray ? ;)

  2. Miles Archer says:

    For what? Peace? Physics?, etc

  3. Merus says:

    I always wonder what happens to the Ig Nobel winners. What would happen if they were nominated? Would we get a situation where someone was a winner of both a Nobel and an Ig Nobel? Does the Nobel committee want to appear hip?

    In any case, it’s good to know that it only takes a little persuading to get a Nobel nomination for a deserving person. I guess they mostly do the limited nomination thing to increase the drama for television, but for a non-spectator-driven event like the Nobels it’s more important to concentrate on the winner.

    (Man, and this was the one place where the nitpickers would be totally off base! (Because mentioning Godwin’s Law nullifies an invoke.)

    Of course, stupid people on the Internet are a dime a dozen these days.)

  4. Brien says:

    Why bother going through the trouble of actually getting a nomination?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just claim that you are a Nobel nominee?  You have 50 years before anyone finds out otherwise.

  5. richard says:

    Humans ascribe significance to being associated with some official body or organization – especially if that body has a mythos of credibility.

    This is true for being nominated for a Nobel prize. A patent does not mean that an invention actually works or is useful. Nor does publishing something make it authoritative.

    Perhaps one positive outcome of the Internet may be that the sheer volume of "published" stuff is so great that it will dilute the mythos of authority given to the printed word. Or … maybe not given the volume of urban legends that make the rounds (I heard Bill Gates will give me $1 each time my comments are read).

  6. dave says:

    It costs them nothing, after all.

    I’d guess this isn’t really true; nominating someone ‘unworthy’ costs the nominator an iota of credibility. But maybe someone who’d nominate an idiot doesn’t have any credibility to start with.

    (It’s the same thing as giving good references for a job, I suppose. If I give a good reference for a lousy candidate, it’s my reputation that suffers.)

  7. Iteration says:

    The Peace prize is the most watched one since it’s the only one effectively open to the public. Most people probably couldn’t even describe what most the winners of the physics or chemistry prizes did unless they’re familiar with the field in question. And many of the authors who win are equally obscure.

    Anyway I’d like to plug one Peace prize laureate who actually deserved the award: Norman Borlaug, father of the green revolution.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug

  8. Maurits says:

    Hitler was nominated

    I also note that Nobel invented dynamite, which lends itself rather well to wartime uses.

    I am not invoking Godwin’s Law

    Some variants of Godwin’s Law specifically call out "mentioning Godwin’s Law" as a Godwin’s-Law-trigger.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The Peace Prize is a strange beast.  In the early days, it basically was given to anyone who worked towards disarmament, or concluded a peace treaty.  That’s why Teddy Roosevelt got his Prize (which is still in the White House).  Rather ironic since the result of the Portsmouth Treaty was to leave all three parties (Russia, Japan, and the US) resentful of each other.

    Hitler likely got the nod for the Munich agreement of 1938, which was thought to be the end of Germany’s territorial ambitions in Europe.  "Peace in our time," after all.  Chamberlain was nominated in 1939 too, for that very reason.  But Hitler got one nomination and Chamberlain several.  I wonder if Kim Jong-Il was nominated for the 2000 prize?

  10. Leo Petr says:

    The Pu-liz-ter Prize? What’s that? :-D

    *incurs the wrath of Ray*

  11. James says:

    Miles: Peace – funnily enough, the nomination was withdrawn in 1939 for some reason. On the other hand, merely nominating Adolf Hitler is nothing – the same prize was actually *awarded* to Yasser Arafat, which seems (to me at least) every bit as absurd.

    In 1934, a Jewish author writing for the NY Times suggested awarding it to Hitler – clearly sarcastic, unlike the actual nomination mentioned. (Her rationale was that by driving out Jews and his political opponents, clearly he was ending conflict!)

  12. Anando says:

    I will contribute to the nitpicker’s corner. Actually the database is searchable to 1955 unlike what it says on the search webpage.

  13. katie says:

    Interesting.

    However, as others have pointed out, I think you are continuing to misuse the dagger.

  14. Norman Diamond says:

    Thursday, May 24, 2007 5:25 PM by Maurits

    I also note that Nobel invented dynamite,

    which lends itself rather well to wartime

    uses.

    His purpose in inventing dynamite was that it could be handled more safely than its predecessors.  It would tend to blow up when you wanted it to instead of when you didn’t want it to.

    Now did he really intend this to be a boon to farmers or to murderers…

    Thursday, May 24, 2007 6:21 PM by Anonymous

    Rather ironic since the result of the

    Portsmouth Treaty was to leave all three

    parties (Russia, Japan, and the US) resentful

    of each other.

    Hmm, maybe that’s why later Nobel Peace Prizes moved towards results that left resentful parties at war with each other instead of just resentful.

    Thursday, May 24, 2007 8:58 PM by katie

    However, as others have pointed out, I think

    you are continuing to misuse the dagger.

    Yeah, use dynamite instead  ^_^

  15. Anon says:

    Stalin got nominated twice, once in 1945 by some Norwegian guy for "attempts to end WWII", and once in 1948 by a Czech Professor, presumably eager to back a winner around the time of the communist coup.

  16. Merus says:

    Re: the dagger;

    It’s a symbol, and like all symbols it’s subject to changes in interpretation. More importantly, we lose little meaning in having the dagger be equivalent to an asterisk when used for footnotes, especially seeing as it’s uncommon to see the dagger used anyway and the asterisk has several overloaded meanings.

    I’d call it more elegant to use the dagger for footnotes, as it properly means ‘the second footnote’, than to use an asterisk, which may mean ‘see footnote’, ‘this word is not being used as its meaning implies’ (e.g. "absolutely free!*"), ‘wildcard’, ‘password character’, ‘multiplication’ or any number of other things depending on context. The dagger has one meaning. It means ‘footnote’.

  17. Sohail says:

    iirc Bush Jr was also nominated for the Peace prize. Take that for what its worth!

  18. Jules says:

    "The dagger has one meaning. It means ‘footnote’."

    Or "dead".

  19. dsn says:

    "The dagger has one meaning. It means ‘footnote’."

    Or "dead".

    … Or the Hermitian Adjoint (I knew quantum mechanics would come in useful someday)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermitian_adjoint

  20. The. Law. (part 2) says:

    The easiest way in is to convince a House

    Representative to submit a nomination for you

    Except if UAC stops you.  You stupid computer, it’s MY representative and OF COURSE I’m the one who gave an order to it.

    [Thread now ends because of Chen’s corollary to Godwin’s law:  After someone mentions UAC, irrational discussion becomes impossible.]

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