The Stream

Is it time to change the way Nobel prizes are awarded?

On Thursday, December 9 at 19:30 GMT:
The Nobel prizes are among the world’s most prestigious honors. But they also generate a fair amount of controversy. As this year’s laureates prepare for Nobel Week, some critics are calling for an overhaul of the entire process.

Advocates say the Nobels are important because they draw attention to critical developments in science and human rights advancement, awarding those “who have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind” in the previous 12 months. But criticism is growing over a lack of transparency and the awards’ tendency to overlook women and minorities.

For the peace prize, laureates are chosen by a Nobel committee of only five members. They are appointed by Norway’s Parliament and often include retired politicians. In the past 120 years, only a fraction of all Nobel winners have been women. And in some science categories, there has never been a Black recipient.

Sometimes, winners generate more controversy than goodwill, as is the case with 2019 Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Ahmed was initially commended for his peacemaking efforts with neighbouring Eritrea. He now stands accused of human rights violations in Tigray, which the UN says may amount to war crimes, but continues to hold onto his Nobel prize because it is against committee rules to withdraw the award.

The Nobels were established by famous Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel in the late 1800s, and categories include the fields of physics, medicine, chemistry, literature, peace and economics. In addition to a medal and certificate, winners are also awarded about $1 million each, a prize that is split if multiple people are awarded in the same category.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll discuss whether the Nobel prizes are still relevant, ways to improve the process and the accomplishments of this year’s winners. Join the conversation.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Henrik Urdal, @h_urdal
Director, Peace Research Institute

Devang Mehta, @drdevangm
Post Doctoral Researcher

Folly Bah Thibault, @follybahAJE
Presenter, Al Jazeera English

James Bays, @baysontheroad
Correspondent, Al Jazeera English