The Nobel Prizes and the Public Image of Science: A Symposium at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, May 11–12, 2017

The notion of “excellence” in science has been turned into a cliché through the indiscriminate use of it for policy and branding purposes. Centres of excellence are ubiquitous, whereas real excellence is rare. The Nobel Prize has since 1901 occupied a unique position in the reward system of science and has been considered a gold standard of accomplishment, whether associated with serendipity, genius or excellence.

Because of their instantaneous renown, the Nobel Prizes offer a great opportunity to study the public visibility of research since the early 20th century. Some Laureates in the sciences have had a remarkable impact on societal perception and discourse about science. The aim of the symposium is to discuss the media impact of the prizes in order to explore what it tells us about how ideals of science, including those of individual achievement and personae, have been communicated. The symposium will hence be focused on the communication and visibility dynamics of the Nobel prizes in the sciences and their relation to the public image of science and scientists.

Contributions are given in the following areas:

  • Case studies of Nobel Laureates in the public sphere in a historical and sociological perspective;
  • Analysis of media coverage and social conversation (also through digital media) about the Nobel assignments in the sciences;
  • Historical/anthropological studies of the Nobel ceremony as ritual;
  • Studies of the broader social and cultural impact of individual assignments and Laureates;
  • Studies and analyses of Nobel Laureates’ representation in fiction (e.g. cinema);
  • Analysis of Nobel speeches and lectures.

Draft Programme

Introduction: S. Widmalm, Uppsala; M. Bucchi, Trento

  1. Condit (UGA), Challenges Regarding Scientific Character for the Nobel Prize Speeches
  2. Bergwik (Stockholm), Prizes and private lives: Svante Arrhenius and the gender politics of scientific elites
  3. Fahy (DCU), The Character of genius: How Scientific American profiled Nobel Laureates in the 1990s
  4. Fuller (UK) The Watson-Crick Parallax: The Nobel Prize as an Enabler of Scientific Heterodoxy
  5. Gouyon (UCL) From News to Storytelling: The representation of Nobel Prize winners on British television, 1962–2004
  6. Brodesco (Trento) Nobel Laureates in Fiction: from Robert Bekämpfer des Todes (1939) to A Beautiful Mind (2001); from to La fin du monde (1931) to Futurama (Matt Groening, 1999–2013); from The Prize (1963) to Breaking Bad (2008–2013).
  7. Tsabari (Techion) Nobel Prizes as a teachable moment: Public information seeking of Laureates and their scientific work following Nobel prize announcements

Discussants: Nils Hansson (Düsseldorf), Gustav Källstrand (Nobel Museum)

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