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Epidemiology and the Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize is without doubt the most prestigious prize in science, not because of the amount of money the prize winner is given, but because of its history and the care the committee takes in selecting the best candidates given the principles laid down in its foundation. These principles go back to Nobel’s will signed in 1895 and the time may have come to bring these principles in line with how research is done now. Some of us pointed out that leaving out the epidemiologists among the group of scientists who received the Nobel Prize in 2009 (Zur Hausen, Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier) did not properly reflect how the causes of cancer of the cervix and AIDS were identified (Epidemiology 2009; (20) 5: pp632-634). H.O. Adami, a long term member of the Nobel Prize Committee and renowned epidemiologist explained in the same issue of Epidemiology that epidemiologists or other public health scientists probably will not see a Nobel Prize winner within the foreseeable future (Epidemiology 2009; (20) 5: 635-637).

For that reason the IEA has decided to create its own prize, the IEA Richard Doll Prize, to an epidemiologist who has made a substantial scientific contribution to Public Health and the first prize was given to Nubia Muñoz who did make very important contributions to the discovery of causes of cancer of the cervix and to the control of that disease.

Quite surprisingly we have now received support from world leading scientists outside public health who wrote a letter to The Scientist entitled, “Nobel’s Ripe for Overhaul”.

In a letter to the Nobel Committee they state that the Nobel Prize system is dated and in need of an overhaul. They further recommend that the Nobel Foundation create two new prizes, one for Global Environment and one for Public Health. Undoubtedly this would bring within the context of XXI century science the prize closer to the aim of honouring those who, in Alfred Nobel will words, have contributed to ‘…the greatest benefit on mankind’. The IEA fully supports this idea and offers our help when the criteria for selecting candidates are discussed. These criteria need to take into consideration that research is done differently now than in the 19th century.

Jorn Olsen, Neil Pearce, Cesar Victora, Shah Ebrahim, Eduardo L. Franco, Rodolfo Saracci, and Roger Detels


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