Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nobel Prizes and Genes

Looking at the recent spate of Nobel prizes one can see a father who won a Nobel and a son who won a Nobel. The Son Roger Kornberg won the Nobel for Chemistry and his father Arthur Kornberg won the Nobel for Medicine.

Many may say that this shows the powerful influence of genes in science but, if you look deeper you will see that there are many other factors at work.

One is subjectivity, how exactly does one judge which accomplishments warrant a Nobel prize? There are so many fields in one discipline and so many achievements how do you know which one achievement is the most important?

Besides the subjective factor, we are missing one other obvious factor, many of the Nobel families did work in related fields.

Check it out at the Nobel prize website (scroll all the way down):

Family Nobel Laureates

Its interesting how nearly all of the families who share nobel prizes are for the same if not related fields. One reason is because a parent at the cutting edge of a field is in a good position to guide the education of their child from an early age. Not to mention that if the child decides to follow a similar path, the parent will know exactly how to guide the child's research. Doing cutting edge research isn't simply solving problems in a field, rather it is solving the right problems in a field. The key thing is what are the right problems? Since the parent was and probably still is at the cutting edge of the field he/she will know which problems or directions are crucial for that field. Combine this with the fact that from an early age the child was guided with expertise in that field, he/she's got a good chance to solve the right problem.

My old adage also applies, how is it that out of all the brilliant researchers only a select few receive the Nobel? Are they the most brilliant researchers, smarter than everyone else in their field? What about all of the other brilliant researchers who have unfortunately not asked the right questions, or have worked on a theory that turned out to be false, or what if your achievement was not deemed worthy of a Nobel? The very fact that most brilliant researchers don't win Nobel prizes goes to show that sheer brilliance doesn't guarantee success, you need ideas and luck.


Post a Comment

<< Home