The Nobel intent

You’ve probably tired of this but I can’t. The Nobel Prize folks just sent out a newsletter ahead of Women’s Day, on March 8, describing the achievements of female laureates of each of the six prizes. This is a customary exercise we’ve come to expect from organisations and companies trying to make themselves look good on the back of an occasion presumably designed to surmount the sort of barriers to women’s empowerment and professional success the organisations and companies often themselves perpetuate. For example, this the Nobel Prize newsletter shows off with some truly ironic language. Consider the notes accompanying the science prize winners:

“I remember being told over and over again: Women, you can do anything, so it never entered my mind that I couldn’t.” Donna Strickland was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2018 for her work with laser pulses.

She was also the first female laureate of the physics prize in 55 years.

[Marie Curie] is the first Nobel Prize awarded woman and the only one to have received it in Physics as well as Chemistry.

… because the prize committee chose not to award anyone else.

Gert Cori was the first woman to receive a Medicine Prize.

… because the prize committee chose not to award anyone else.

This is also what baffles me, especially in October and December every year when the awards are announced and conferred, respectively: Why do people take an award seriously that doesn’t take their issues seriously? Any other institution that did the same thing, as well as self-aggrandise as often as it can, would’ve been derided, turned into memes even, but every year we – millions of Indians at least, scientists and non-scientists – look to the Nobel Prizes to acknowledge Indian contributions to science, missing entirely the point that the prizes are a deeply flawed human enterprise riven by their own (often Eurocentric) politics and that have no responsibility to be fair, and often aren’t.