Nils Hansson and colleagues suggest that Nobel committees in 1901–66 were persuaded to award the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine based on the potential research impact of a single discovery or innovation, rather than on a distinguished research record (Nature 555, 311; 2018). As secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, I can confirm that this is still the case.
The Nobel prize is not a lifetime achievement award. In his last will of 1895, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the Physiology or Medicine prize should go to “the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain”; in physics should be for “the most important discovery or invention within the field”; and in chemistry should be awarded for “the most important chemical discovery or improvement”.
It is reassuring that the assessment of hundreds of nominations by Nils Hansson (no relation of mine) and colleagues confirms that past committees have rigorously upheld Nobel’s will.
Nature 556, 31 (2018)