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On being (a) Nobel (Laureate) November 8, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, economics, humor.

In some sense a continuation of the previous post, I thought let me put this up independently.

So yeah, the Swedes are known to make what turn out to be early morning calls to American Nobel Laureates informing them about the Nobel Prize and in the process perhaps catch them in ‘compromising positions’ as with MIT physicist Franz Wilczek.

Wilczek was in the shower when the call from Sweden came at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. “It was this person with a beautiful accent, and it was so early, so I was immediately hopeful,” said Wilczek’s wife, Betsy Devine. “Frank came in, dripped all over the floor, and talked to half the Swedish Academy.”

Ofcourse, there are exceptions as with Thomas Schelling last year.

He sits me down in his living room and tells me that unlike other Nobel laureates, he wasn’t woken at an ungodly hour but at 7am, just seconds before journalists started phoning him. “Somebody said I was supposed to get the call by five in the morning but they didn’t have my phone number. Which leads me to believe that Swedish intelligence isn’t very good – I’m in the telephone book.”

Staying on the theme, here is something that might happen to your neighbours (and perhaps relatives) if you win the Nobel or the other way around.

For a little grounding Schrock called his mother, who is a bit hard of hearing. He said ”Mom, I won a Nobel! She said, ‘A what?’ “

Schrock’s drowsy Winchester neighbors woke up just as confused with a phalanx of news trucks parked in front of their homes.”I heard it on radio when I was half asleep but thought, ‘That couldn’t be Dick,’ ” said Ellen Curran, who lives across the street. Then, when she saw the trucks she called her neighbor, Harry Werlin. Werlin said he had gone over to the Schrocks’ a bit earlier to ”borrow an egg and bust his chops.””Of course I didn’t need an egg,” said Werlin, who has jogged with Schrock most mornings for more than a decade. ”I just needed an excuse to go over there.”

By mid-afternoon, Curran’s 7-year-old daughter, Grace Lees, had written and delivered a new edition of Grace’s News, her very own newspaper, which has a circulation of one. The headline: ”Richard Schrock wins the Nobel Prize, Hurrah Hurrah!”

Werlin, who owns a Cambridge photography store, said he didn’t know how smart his neighbor was. ”How could I?” he said. ”I mean, I knew he was a little above the average guy and even the average professor, but I’ve asked what he does 30 times and I still couldn’t explain it to you.”

On an infinitely more serious note !, Paul Samuelson, 1970 Nobel Laureate asks “Is There Life After Nobel Coronation”. His conclusion is interesting :

Is the joy of the universe outweighed by the Weltschmertz of those who do not win? October can be a somber month in the Senior Common Room: many are called, few are chosen. On the other hand, science, scholarship, and human welfare are bigger than the passing mob of researchers who struggle with them. A more egalitarian society, with no differential payoff to effort and to ability, however acquired, might well be a more serene society. One must weigh against this how actual humans have evolved under the realistic Darwinian and cultural conditions of the past: perhaps cumulative progress might then result to be the less? Is there not some realistic tradeoff between more equality and more cumulative progress?



1. Aswin - November 8, 2006

Could your post have happened at a better time ? Our Aggie president Robert Gates has just now been announced as the new Defense Secretary, after Rumsfeld resigned !!


This is a very exciting time for us here 🙂 .

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