Winning a Nobel Isn't Necessarily Good News

Study suggests that scientists who get one might then have a reduced impact on their field
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 2, 2023 11:05 AM CDT
Winning a Nobel Isn't Necessarily Good News
Winning a Nobel medal isn't necessarily all good news, a study suggests.   (Angela Weiss/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Nobel season has begun, with the award for medicine having been doled out Monday morning. Winners get $1 million and serious bragging rights should they be so inclined. You might also think the prize translates into the winning scientists going on to have huge impacts in their field, but a new study suggests otherwise, reports the New York Times. "These awards do not seem to enhance the productivity of the scientists," says Dr. John Ioannidis of Stanford, lead author of the study in the journal Royal Society Open Science. "If anything, it seems to have the opposite effect."

To figure this out, Ioannidis and his team looked at winners of both Nobels and MacArthur Fellowships, or genius grants. Specifically, they compared how often they had papers published or had papers cited by other scientists in the three years prior to the award with the three years afterward. If you were expecting a surge in the latter category, forget it. The Times breaks it down:

  • "His team found that Nobel winners published about the same number of papers after receiving the award, but that post-award work had far fewer citations than pre-award work. MacArthur fellows, on the other hand, published slightly more, but their citations remained about the same. The rate of citations per paper for both Nobel laureates and MacArthur fellows decreased after winning."

Age seemed to have an effect, with winners of both awards who were 42 or older seeing a drop in both publications and citations. The authors' takeaway: "If major research awards indeed fail to increase (and even decrease) recipients' impact, one may need to reassess the purposes, criteria, and impacts of awards to improve the scientific enterprise," they write in the new paper. An earlier study by Ioannidis found that research in the fields of particle and atomic physics was significantly more likely to garner a Nobel than research in other scientific fields, per physicsworld. (More Nobel Prize stories.)

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