Has Anyone Ever Been Stripped of a Nobel Prize?

Mary McMahon

No one has ever been stripped of a Nobel Prize, because this is actually specifically forbidden by the organization which administers the Nobel Prizes. According to the Nobel Foundation, “no appeals may be made against the decision of a prize-awarding body with regard to the award of a prize,” and no prizes can be revoked after the fact, no matter how controversial they may seem. Despite the existence of several petitions pushing for retraction of controversial Nobel Prizes, it is unlikely that the organization will change its rules to make a revocation possible.

Jean-Paul Sartre is one of several people to decline a Nobel Prize for personal reasons.
Jean-Paul Sartre is one of several people to decline a Nobel Prize for personal reasons.

The committees which administer the Nobel Prizes are very cautious. They investigate nominees very carefully, often awarding prizes 20 years or more after the Nobel-worthy accomplishment. In some cases, the committee has lingered so long over a prize decision that the honoree has died before the prize can be awarded, which explains why some seemingly Nobel-worthy individuals have failed to receive Nobel Prizes.

Adolph Hitler forced several Nobel winners to refuse the prize.
Adolph Hitler forced several Nobel winners to refuse the prize.

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Some Nobel Prizes have certainly been controversial, especially after the fact. Antonio Egas Moniz, for example, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1949 for his development of the so-called “icepick lobotomy,” a brutal medical procedure which has been widely condemned. Some controversial leaders like Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat have won controversial Peace Prizes, along with people who were later deemed morally suspect, like German author Guenter Grass, who later admitted to serving in the SS during the Second World War.

Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway.
Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway.

The Nobel Foundation freely acknowledges that the awarding of some prizes has attracted controversy and concerns from the international community. Accordingly, the organization has agreed to make records pertaining to their decisions public, but these records are not released until 50 years after the fact. The argument is that these prizes are designed to be timeless, rather than being swayed by social issues during a particular era, and that therefore some time may be needed for perspective.

As discussed above in the case of Antonio Egas Moniz, the judgment of the Nobel Prize Committees is not always perfect, and in hindsight, some Nobel Prizes probably should not have been awarded. By contrast, however, there are some prizes which were controversial at the time, like Einstein's hotly contested 1921 Nobel Prize, which later turned out to be entirely merited. Defenders of controversial decisions have also argued that researchers do not always have control over what other people do with their inventions and discoveries, and that someone who has committed questionable acts is still capable of contributing to the advancement of culture and the sciences.

Although no Nobel Prizes have been revoked, there are a few instances in which the prize has been refused. In Nazi Germany, several honorees were forced to refuse to accept the prizes due to an edict from Adolf Hitler; Hitler was irritated that he did not receive a Nobel Prize, and decided that if he couldn't get one, no German should be able to. Several people including Jean-Paul Sartre have also declined Nobel Prizes for personal reasons.

One of the medals awarded to Nobel Prize winners.
One of the medals awarded to Nobel Prize winners.

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Discussion Comments

anon1001611

Those commenting here about Fritz Haber's Nobel Prize are ignorant of the facts. The Haber-Bosch process enabled the synthesis of ammonia, a component of fertilizer, which has saved hundreds of millions of lives over the last century. That contribution is on par with those of plant breeder Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, ensuring an adequate supply of food for humanity.

anon990209

"The committees which administer the Nobel Prizes are very cautious. They investigate nominees very carefully, often awarding prizes 20 years or more after the Nobel-worthy accomplishment. In some cases,"

Unless of course they choose to use the Prize as a political weapon and award it to a moron who had done nothing whatsoever to promote peace except be a half-black elected to office in the US. I won't bring up his starting a nuclear arms race in the Middle East just to get his name on a non-existent "agreement".

anon341401

Obama, yes the President who has executed his own citizens, is another good example as to why revoking should be made possible. Another solution is just stop accepting it after people like Obama and Fritz Haber have been awarded. It's worthless.

anon336353

Sadam Hussein kept peace in Iraq between the Sunni and the Shiite. Of course, he killed anyone who even thought about causing trouble.

anon274857

The Nobel Prize was awarded to Fritz Haber, German citizen, for inventing Chlorine poison gas used in World War I. It killed my father's brother in the Argonne forest in France. The prize is defamed by awards to persons like this and should be retracted.

anon235119

There is a clear distinction here; even a mass murderer might also perform honourable work that deserves a prize, and in that case the prize is rightly awarded. But, if the Nobel prize is based on the merits of work which itself involved fraud or deception, or which itself resulted in damage to society, then in my opinion it should be revoked.

I'm thinking of "global warming" here, of course.

anon55287

Had to have been fixed. He was only in office a matter of a few days and had done absolutely nothing before the nominations ended! And he stil hasn't done a thing. I have just lost all respect for the term "Nobel Peace Prize". Phooey!

anon48214

He is pushing for an enslaved world that will be "peace"-ful because there can be no dissent.

anon48135

I had always thought that the Nobel Peace Prize was the *highest* honor given to anyone. Now I believe it is fixed. What has this man ever done to deserve this prize?

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