Let’s say the scientific community decides this is a problem, how can a change be made?
I have not looked at the legality of this, but I would assume that in practical terms it would have to do with the open debate that goes on within the scientific community. And if the arguments are strong enough for rethinking some of these things then I think that this process will start. But I believe the arguments for not giving a prize to many people, which have been in place since the beginning, are still relevant. So it’s a matter of weighting these aspects against each other.
This year, no women were awarded a prize in any area – the 75th time in the history of the Nobel prizes that this has happened. What message do you think this sends out to the next generation of female scientists?
It’s an unfortunate message. In the sciences there has been domination by men for a long, long time. And many of these people who get the prize are fairly old people. However, if you look a scientists now who are in their 30s or 40s, then as I understand it in my country the women make up certainly not the majority, but at least a higher share. So I would be extremely surprised and disappointed if we do not see the number of women increasing over time. Then I think one would have to ask some serious questions.
What about the prize-awarding committees? Will we see better female representation at that level?
Yes, absolutely. There, I have the same belief. With more female professors at Karolinska, for instance, we will also see more female professors in the [Medicine] prize-awarding committee. This is what I expect.
This year you announced you were cutting costs because of the current economic climate. What led to that decision?
When you take an average of the last 10 years, it’s been a very bumpy road, up and down a lot, but on average over the last 10 years we’ve seen a 1.5-2% return on investment while at the same time our spending rate has been around 3.5%. That obviously doesn’t match, so we felt we had to do something about that. We could have gone on for many decades with the same kind of results without depleting any capital, but it’s better to act in good time than wait.
So we’ve done certain things on the investment side: we have an investment committee on which we have drawn very good people; we’ve tried to have a more distinct process there; and we are now reviewing all our assets. We also looked at our spending side, and we decided to cut the prize amounts by 20%. In dollar terms they are still historically very high, because the Swedish kroner has been going up in the last 10 years. It has also meant cutting costs on some of the festivities. We’ve not done anything that affects quality, more we negotiated on the contracts.
How has this affected funding you give to the institutions charged with selecting the prizes?
We decided to cut the grants to the prize-awarding institutions by 10%, not 20% as elsewhere. That’s a cut that we think is sustainable, we still think they can do as good a job as they have done before. Them doing a good job in a competent way is the most important thing for us.
How have you changed the way you are investing Alfred Nobel’s money in order to increase returns?
What we’ve done so far is to create a new investment committee, drawing in some of the best people available in the country. Some of them have been involved before, but perhaps having a more formalised process will help us make clearer who is responsible for what. It might sound a bit organisational, but I think it can be a fairly important aspect. We’re also developing a system of benchmarks, which I hope will help put pressure on ourselves. We had some 40 or so investment alternatives, and we felt this is more than we should have, so we’ve tried to go down to 25 or so, which makes it easier for us to grasp what goes on in our portfolio, and perhaps through this we can become more efficient.