Saturday, October 18, 2008

Loser?


Let me be frank: In the blogospheric comments about Paul Krugman's Nobel, this made me wince:

Who are the big losers? Avinash Dixit and Elhanan Helpman and Maurice Obstfeld have to feel their chances for the prize went down significantly. [Bold emphasis added by me]

And this one, too:

Krugman wins Nobel, 2 desis lose it. [Bold emphasis added by me]

Avinash Dixit is one of the two desis (Jagdish Bhagwati is the other).

Now, go read this enthusiastic, warm, and very classy tribute by Avinash Dixit, Krugman's colleague at Princeton and current President of the American Economic Asoociation:

I concluded my appreciation of Paul Krugman’s research on the occasion of his winning the Clark Medal by saying: “I am sure the Clark Medal is but one milestone of many to come in his career.” Now I can write this short article of continued appreciation on the occasion of his winning the Nobel Prize with the confidence and delight of a man whose forecast has come true.

The main new theme in Paul Krugman’s scientific contributions since the Clark Medal is of course the fulfilment of what was then a promising start of research on economic geography. This work has now transformed that subject from a somewhat arcane sideline into a flourishing research field.

Here's another quote from Dixit's post:

Krugman was the undisputed leader of the group that took on this task. To quote and paraphrase Stephen Jay Gould (The Flamingo’s Smile, pp. 335, 345), Krugman has won his just reputation because he grasped the full implication of the ideas that predecessors had expressed with little appreciation of their revolutionary power. [...]

And, another:

...[M]y delight at the recognition of the scientific achievements of this friend and colleague of over three decades is great. In fact it is doubled by the joy of my having played a part in creating the tools that are proving their worth – models of monopolistic competition and product diversity, and of entry deterrence.

Avinash Dixit may not have won a Nobel. But he's got great grace, style and class! Too bad there's no Nobel for these wonderful qualities.

* * *

The Sepia Mutiny post has an update on Jagdish Bhagwati -- the other desi who it claimed lost the Nobel. Here's he is, in NYTimes:

“Lots of people are saying to me, ‘Why didn’t you get it?’” said Jagdish Bhagwati, an economics professor at Columbia who helped Mr. Krugman publish one of his seminal papers when other academics thought it was too simple to be true. “Given the fact that I didn’t get it, this is the next best thing.”

* * *

This (not winning = losing) equation may work in sports where winning and losing depends directly on your own moves, and your own counter-moves against your opponent's moves. In the context of a prize, it just doesn't make sense, because the prize depends not just on what you do on the field, but (really) on the perceptions of a bunch of dudes and dudettes about your work's worth and importance. I have seen a lot of (real) losers who perceive an intentional insult when a jury selects someone else for a prize/award they covet. These people have a lot to learn from Prof. Avinash Dixit.

3 Comments:

  1. Pipa said...

    Perhaps unrelated.

    Did you read the story of the chemist who discovered the jellyfish gene that produces a fluorescent protein? He now drives a courtesy van for a car dealer in Alabama earning $10 an hour instead of sharing the Nobel prize for Chemistry for the year.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/science/16prasher.html?_r=1&sq=chemist%20depression%20%20nobel&st=cse&oref=slogin&scp=1&pagewanted=print

  2. Anant said...

    While most of the thoughts you express are laudable, it is undoubtedly one of the great travesties that E. C. George Sudarshan was overlooked for the Nobel prize recently when it went to Glauber. Of course the fact that there never was a prize for the V-A theory where Sudarshan was again the `victim' along with Marshak, at the other claimants to that discovery Feynman and Gell-Mann were awarded the prize for other discoveries, is well recognized, or atleast well discussed. I think it may be worthwhile criticizing the entire system of prizes and awards with their inherent limitations, rather than to blame individuals who are human and are therefore subject to human foibles? Your comments?

  3. Anonymous said...

    i dare anyone to challenge me when i say the greatest person never to get nobel is cnr rao...he has discovered properties of so many compounds...he is father of sscu...he is physician and chemist and the greatest living scientist...

    -ramdev