With the first of the 2006 Nobel announcements just four days away, the NYTimes leads off with a rambling story about, um, a lot of things: Nobel's career, his (almost) botched will, the setting up of the Prizes (after a bitter fight over his will), the impeccable -- and year-long -- process of choosing a winner, some of the controversial Prizes in medicine, etc. Do check it out:
Large philanthropic gifts to science were rare in Nobel’s day. Moreover, establishing annual international prizes in any field was novel. And controversial. News of Nobel’s plan sent shockwaves through Sweden with the intensity of a dynamite blast.
Bitter members of Nobel’s largely disinherited family fought the will in court. Scorn was heaped on Nobel’s gift, the equivalent of $9.5 million and one of the largest fortunes of his time, by the king of Sweden, Oscar II; newspapers; political leaders; and other Swedes.
Nobel’s earnings came from his 355 patents and factories in many countries. Swedish leaders vehemently opposed dispersing a Swedish fortune to the rest of the world. Among their reasons: it was immoral, particularly at a time when many Swedes were impoverished.
King Oscar II changed his mind after the Nobel Foundation was established in 1900, in part because he thought publicity about the prizes might benefit Sweden. ...
The NYTimes story by Lawrence Altman also has a section about information from the Nobel Prize archives (released fifty years after the event, and with access restricted to 'qualified' individuals ;-):
Michael Bliss, emeritus professor of history at the University of Toronto, was one of the first people to examine the archives, in 1981, for his book “The Discovery of Insulin.”
The records, mainly in Swedish, were “very thorough,” he said in an interview, and “for comic relief, for each year there was a thick box labeled self-nominations,” which are ineligible.
Politics can play a role in selecting prize winners. Professor Bliss said that in his review of the Nobel documents, “you could see how people would carry on campaigns on behalf of certain people, getting others to write supporting letters and so on.”