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By Ryan

NobelAlfredEFSWith all the controversy surround President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize win, little discussion has taken place regarding the other 2009 Nobel laureates.  This is surprising given that not only is the Nobel the most distinguished award in Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Medicine, and Economics, but that, as usual, most of the winners are from the United States.  Yes, those United States.  Come on, Europe, what are doing over there?  Let’s break it down.


Willard S. Boyle (dual citizenship—Canada, U.S.) and George E. Smith (U.S.) “for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit.”  This sounds pretty good, until you realize that Boyle and Smith invented their charge-coupled device at AT&T in 1969.  Really, no one did anything more impressive in physics last year?  Or the last 40 years?


Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (India, U.K.), Thomas A. Steitz (U.S.), and Ada E. Yonath (Israel) “for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.”  A female winner from Israel?  Now, we’re talking.  I guess technically Ramakrishnan works in Cambridge, but he was born in India and educated in the U.S.


Herta Müller (Germany) “who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.”  Alright, finally, a true European.  This category is usually pretty favorable to Europe, with Toni Morrison (1993) the only U.S. writer to win the award in the last twenty years.

Physiology or Medicine

Elizabeth H. Blackburn (U.S., Australia), Carol W. Greider (U.S.), and Jack W. Szostak (U.S., U.K.) “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by miniature bodyguards trained in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu .”  I did not make that description up, I promise.  It makes sense that the U.S. would lead the way here, due to our heavily-funded medical research, about the only part of our healthcare system that’s worth celebrating.


Elinor Ostrom (U.S.), and Oliver Williamson (U.S.) “for analysis of economic governance.”  This one really gets me fired up.  The U.S. has had this category on lockdown since 2004.  Does the Nobel committee even read the newspapers?  If the U.S. has the best economists in the world, we’re surely misusing them.

In some ways it’s comforting to know that the rest of the world thinks we’re doing better than them.  But mostly it’s pretty disturbing when a country embattled in multiple wars, struggling with one of the worst health rates in the developed world, and scrapping by on poor economic indicators can take home the highest awards for peace, medicine, and economics.  If this is the best of what humans did in these fields last year, we’re all in serious trouble.