More than half of all Nobel Prizes awarded in recent decades have been awarded to the scientists working in five fields. This "inequality of honors" affecting research funding is the subject of an article in PLOSOne, reports New Scientist.
The authors of the article are employees of Stanford University, headed by Professor John Ioannidis, an authoritative expert in the field of evidence-based medicine and statistics. According to Ioannidis, he always suspected that the most prestigious scientific awards usually go to those working in certain fields, but the picture finally became clear when, together with colleagues, he analyzed the lists of Nobel laureates of 1995-2017 period.
It turned out that 52.4% of the Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine and physics awarded during this period were awarded to works in particle physics, cell biology, atomic physics, neurobiology and molecular chemistry. In general, the "Nobel Prizes" were awarded to specialists from only 36 of 114 scientific fields. For example, there has never been a recent discovery in respiratory disease or planetary science.
“It would be absurd to expect all areas of science to have an equal chance of groundbreaking discoveries and major breakthroughs. At the same time, it is likely that there is some mechanism under the influence of which the same certain areas are moving”, - says Ioannidis. The negative effect of the current situation is that funding eventually goes to a limited number of areas. In addition, there is a bias in the publishing preferences of influential scientific journals, which further exacerbates the problem. Naturally, researchers working in less popular fields may find the situation unfair.
The authors of the study also selected one key work for each Nobel Prize and checked it for the citation index - an indicator that shows the importance of an article. However, it turned out that within a year after the publication of each "Nobel" work, an average of 435 other scientific articles were published, which ultimately turned out to be more cited. According to the authors, this suggests that many sciences not recognized by the Nobel Committee are in fact more influential.
The only exception was the 2004 article on the discovery of graphene. However, Andre Geim from the University of Manchester in the UK, one of the authors of the same article on graphene, believes that the trend is easily explainable: “Revolutionary results rarely appear in beautiful packaging. Subsequent articles tend to be more accurate and complete, easy to read and understand, which makes them more cited". One of the reasons for the "clustering" of awards, Geim suggests, is that scientific progress "is never smooth or uniform".
John Ioannidis, in turn, believes that one of the solutions to the problem may be the creation of the new awards. In addition, the Nobel Committee must rethink its policy of making awards.