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Nobel Committee responds to criticism

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden.
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The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden.

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As secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and secretary of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, we share your concerns about the shortage of women and of scientists from outside Europe and North America among Nobel laureates (see Nature 574, 295; 2019).

However, you are incorrect in saying that we invite only “elite universities and academies” to nominate candidates for the Nobel prize. We make substantial efforts to approach research universities across the world. Each year, we request lists of faculty members from about 200 such universities, selected from some 1,600 institutions on a rotational scheme. We then send individual nomination forms to each professor.

The inequitable distribution of Nobel prizes is a symptom of a bigger problem. Science has been dominated by Western Europe and North America for centuries, and women have had limited scientific opportunities. For example, fewer than 15% of senior authors in Nature are women (Y. A. Shen et al. Nature 555, 165; 2018) and just 2% of your authors are from Africa, South America or western Asia (Nature Index 2019).

Our award process strives to ensure that all scientists get a fair chance, irrespective of geography or gender. As a small contribution, we are launching a programme of Nobel Symposia in Africa. But others must also work to improve the situation — by encouraging women to pursue science careers and by supporting research in low‑income countries.

Nature 574, 634 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-03293-x

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