Re: The 2000 Noble Prize in Chemistry

First, How did the Nobel committee miss both Weiss et al's series of papers demonstrating high conductivity in iodine-doped and oxidized polypyrrole and a prior ( if incidental ) report of a high conductivity state in a polyacetylene in the world's two best-known scientific journals( Science and Nature ) ? Arguably, this is a classic case of Dulbecco's Law* :

"Credit generally goes to the most famous discoverer, not to the first ."

Renato Dulbecco, nobel laureate

Alternately, Shirakawa et al may have been tapped for one of the following reasons:

1. They Deserve the Prize, if only for their Body of Work

By Nobel's will, the science prizes must go for a specific "discovery or improvement". So, the Foundation awards a body of work indirectly, by selecting one such discovery. Arguably, the Nobel committee simply picked the wrong item. Had the committee known that someone else had previously reported a high conductivity state of a polyacetylene, they would have picked something else to reward from the awardees extensive list of accomplishments.

In any case, the Nobel committe is correct in that Shirikawa et al's more timely work prompted the rediscovery of organic electronic devices. Conversely, our equivalent discovery was incidental to such a device and so premature that it was lost and had little long-term effect.

2. Big Science

Very good at it too. Their numerous papers, etc. just rolled over and buried our handful of works.

Colorably, the Nobel prize is now primarily part of the reward system of big science, not of science as a whole. It is also one of " Big Science's " major rationalizations. The belief is that that only big labs and large collaborative projects produce Nobel-worthy discoveries.

3. An International Collaboration

Understandably, the Nobel Foundation loves to encourage these. I.e., the Nobel committee may have picked this area partially because Shirakawa, Heeger, and MacDiarmid did their work in collaboration.

4. One of them is Japanese

Prior to 2000, A Japanese scientist had not received the Prize for over 20 years. This generated complaints neatly resolved by this award.

Such priority disputes are fruitless. However, we do ask that the Nobel Foundation acknowledge our undisputable claim to the first macro-scale organic electronic device. This is not the subject of the 2000 prize, but this award effectively denies us credit for it. More generally, not acknowledging this key "prior art" distorts history and the oft untidy nature of scientific progress.

The Nobel Foundation never comments on its decisions, involking its charter. This requires secrecy about deliberations and forbids appeals.

However, simply correcting a factual public statement not directly related to a prize violates neither prohibition. Similarly, as an issue of fact, not opinion, this does not involve the Nobel committee's subjective judgements.

Because of the power of its imprimatur, the Nobel Foundation's reluctance to make this simple citation correction perpetuates a long-running injustice. It also sends a bad message and may be a violation of " good research practice ".

For example, according to a recent publication, The Swedish MRC defines scientific dishonesty as "....Intentional distortion of the research process..(examples)...". This likely includes the Danish definition of " ....intentional or gross negligence leading to falsification or distortion or a false credit or emphasis given to a scientist." ( emphasis added).

*Dulbecco's law is also stated as the " The Mathew Principle "

"For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. "

Mathew 25:29 (KJV)

For another view, see:

Scientific Fraud and the Power Structure of Science , Brian Martin


Conduct and Misconduct in Science , by David Goodstein

A third opinion

All right, we would not have won the thing anyway, being very much "small science". However, the Nobel Charter states:

5. "A work may not be awarded a prize, unless it by experience or expert scrutiny has been found to be of such outstanding importance as is manifestly intended by the will.

So, any discovery awarded the Nobel is worthy by definition..

Also, according to Alfred Nobel's will

"The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: snip... one part to the person ( later extended to no more than three) who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement."

That is, Nobel's intent was that the original discoverer be recognized, not the person who popularizes a discovery.

Peter H. Proctor, PhD, MD

keywords; organic semiconductors conductive polymers organic metals