Some Surprises at the 2021 Nobel Prize Awards

Maria Ressa is the first Filipino to win the Nobel Prize. Photo – Eloisa Lopez / Reuters

It was no surprise that the only woman awarded was María Ressa, one of the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

By Melba Castillo A. (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Every year it is interesting to learn the names of those Nobel Prize winners in different branches of science, which since 1901, the first year they were awarded in the categories of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace, do not cease to generate surprises and curiosity. These prizes, as it is known, seek to recognize and highlight the work of scientists, artists and diplomats who are working on discoveries or contributions that help improve the lives of all humanity.

Depending on the field of science in which each one has its preferences, there are some who sound to us more familiar, but there is no doubt that most of them are special people, outstanding in their field and whose thinking is worth knowing and here I point out some surprises left to us by this year’s winners.

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Giorgio Parisi, a Rome-born university professor and the first Italian to win a Physics Nobel in the last two decades.

The tribute of his students at the University of La Spienza, in Rome, says a lot about his commitment to the most vulnerable: “Theoretical physics, but practical solidarity always at the service of the community defending the fragile. Happy and proud of our Giorgio Parisi.”

In this tribute he took the opportunity to express his call for more resources for scientific research. In an interview with the newspaper El País, when asked about his political commitment to causes such as quality education and migration, Parisi clearly stated: “Scientists are part of society and I believe that on certain issues it is fair to take sides. And the people who have the stronger voice must do more, because their voice is heard most.”

The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for the first time to two journalists, María Ressa, from the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov, from Russia. The Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo awarded them the prize for their “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” The committee noted that the awardees received the prize for their courageous work for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. These winners, the Committee continues: represent all journalists who speak out for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasing adverse conditions.

It is the first time, since 1935, that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to journalism. Another of the unexpected and well-deserved surprises that the Nobel Prize winners brought us this year.

The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Tanzanian writer, living in the United Kingdom, Abdulrazak Gurnah. The Swedish Academy recognized his “moving description of the effects of colonialism and the difficult situation of refugees in the abyss between cultures and continents,” not well known in our Latin America. The themes he deals with are undoubtedly of great interests in the world that we live in, in which migration, racism, colonialism, are a part of our painful actuality.

According to the Nobel Committee, his novels “depart from stereotypical descriptions and open our eyes to a culturally diverse East Africa, unknown to many.”

As he said in a recent interview, at 18 he left his family behind, his roots, and became a refugee in exile. But he did not renounce his identity, because he never forgot it. A tremendous lesson!

The Nobel Prize in Economics, the last of the awards to be established, was created in 1968 by the Central Bank of Sweden. This year it has been shared between the Canadian David Card, the US citizen Joshua Angrist and the Dutch Guido Imbens. All reside and work in US universities.

The Committee determined that the three economists used natural experiments to “answer important questions from society and how to understand the connection between economic policies and other events.” Half the prize went to David Card for his contribution to labor economics, while the other half is shared by Angrist and Imbens for “their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships.” As the Committee put it: “they have revolutionized empirical research in economics.” In particular, they have clarified how to properly understand the “cause-effect” relationship in data studies.

It is then, the problems of society to which these scientists are seeking to give answers, from science, from their experiments. In the case of David Card, it is very interesting to know his studies on the economics of labor, through which he demolishes one of the great myths that many governments have sustained, including the current one in our country: that the increase in the minimum wage generates losses of jobs. Card was able to demonstrate, with the help of statistical methods and a rigorous empirical work, that raising the minimum wage does not cause job losses and does not cause immigration either.

These notes on the Nobel Prize in Economics lead me to reflect on the importance and need of public policies to be based on science, not on beliefs, prejudices, or political interests, since it is very clear that the society of the 21st century is increasingly complex and requires proposals and solutions that combine methodological rigor, and interdisciplinarity.

It is no surprise at all that the only woman awarded was María Ressa, one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners. To say it in terms of one of the winners, Giorgio Parisi said: “After the age of 30, it becomes difficult to reconcile motherhood with research. Then there are problems that are of society, such as that, if you must move to work, it is easier for the wife to follow the husband than the opposite. Not to mention the lack of resources for day care centers. These and others are problems of society that are also reflected in the world of research.”

These are some of the barriers that women scientists face and that makes, that at least this year, only a woman is represented in the 2021 Nobel Prizes and none in the field of science. Another lesson to ponder.

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