One controversial decision in the past was the creation of a new prize in Economic Sciences in 1968. Your recent predecessor was adamant that there would not be another Nobel prize established, do you feel the same way?
A decision has been taken by the board, and I’m not someone who would question that. But at the same time, who knows what will happen a hundred years from now. This is for coming generations to decide on how they will deal with the trademark, or this name.
Are you saying “never say never” to a new Nobel prize, then? What would make you change your mind?
I’m not really speculating in it happening. We are approached, maybe not constantly, but certainly we are approached by people who suggest [a new prize], and we always say no because that’s how we feel right now. There are no plans to do such a thing, but who knows what could happen in 100 years from now.
One of the main criticisms about the science prizes has been the statute that a maximum of three people can be award a prize. Why was the rule made in the first place?
I honestly don’t know if Nobel has written anything on this. But I’ve heard that he was clear somewhere on the fact that it was a way of avoiding the prize being spread over too many people, thus forcing the people who are awarding the prizes to make serious choices, and also not diluting it in the sense that it would risk having too many people getting the prize. I think the people involved in the prize-awarding process would agree that in this respect it has made sense, it focuses the discussion on choosing those people who were absolutely central to the achievements they want to reward.
Having said that there have, of course, been complicated situations when there have been four people who should have been rewarded, and then this becomes very difficult. And the way science is moving, I guess most people agree that more research is done in large groups, which might make this rule more and more complicated to stick to.
Do you think that the three-person statute should change?
This is a general answer, because I haven’t really discussed this and it’s not primarily on my table, it’s primarily on the table of the prize-awarding institutions. But there are certain things that Nobel wrote that one has accepted to give up. For example, he wrote that the prizes should actually be given to those who during the preceding year had made achievements that would bring the greatest benefit to mankind. But for a very long time prizes have been awarded to people for research carried out 10 or 20 years ago. So I do not think that we should rule out re-interpretations over time, but as far as I’m aware I don’t think this has been on the table systematically in the prize-awarding institutions.
I should add that the Peace prize has frequently been given to organisations, so this might be one way of dealing with things. If, for example, you have a group working at Cern on something, you could give Cern a prize, I assume.
You mention Cern - there is much discussion about there being more than three contributors to the Higgs-like boson studies, if it were to be considered for a prize. Is this the issue that would make you reassess the rule?
I can’t really comment, because I don’t really know how those discussions have been going with the prize-awarding committees. But I would assume that if it becomes more and more obvious that this is a problem within the scientific community, then I assume that the prize-awarding institutions will find some solution over time.