Nobel Prize season returns Monday with pandemic backdrop


Launched 120 years ago, medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace prizes created by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, as well as the most recent economics prize, will be awarded in Stockholm and Oslo from October 4-11.

While the list of candidates is a closely guarded secret, Nobel Prize winning experts say research on messenger RNA (mRNA), which forms the basis of Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, is a favorite for the drug or chemistry prize.

“It would be a mistake if the Nobel Committee did not award the prize to mRNA vaccine technology, “Swedish science journalist Ulrika Bjorksten told AFP.

She cited as possible laureates Katalin Kariko from Hungary and Drew Weissman from the United States, whose pioneering research led directly to the first mRNA vaccines.

These have been injected into over a billion people around the world in a race to mitigate a pandemic that claimed the lives of more than 4.7 million people.

Kariko and Weissman have already received several distinctions, including the Lasker Prize in the United States, often considered a precursor of the Nobel.

Other areas that could be honored include cellular communication, functioning of the immune system, the discovery of the breast cancer gene, epigenetics and antibiotic resistance.

The Medicine Prize opens the Nobel season on Monday, followed by the awards ceremony for physics on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday, literature on Thursday and peace Friday.

The economics prize closes the Nobel season on October 11.

Peace price for the climate?

Among those who make the buzz for the price of peace, the only one to be awarded in Oslo – are the watchdogs of the media, Belarusian opposition leaders and the climate activists, such as Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

The image of the prestigious award has been hit hard in recent years, as one of its previous laureates, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has become embroiled in a war.

Another, Burmese Aung San Suu Kyi, was accused of defending the massacre members of the Rohingya minority.

Last year, the World Food Program won.

There is speculation that climate activists are next in line as the world suffers a torrent of deadly weather disasters, melting asphalt from heat waves to flash floods and indomitable forest fires.

“This is the most important question right now,” said Nobel historian Asle Sveen.

Other experts believe that the time may have come for organizations struggling to freedom of information and the rights of journalists, such as Reporters Without Borders or the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The non-violent opposition to the autocratic regime in Belarus, led by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is also considered a worthy winner.

Although previously considered favorites, the World Health Organization and the The Covax vaccine sharing program has been hampered by the slow distribution of jabs to poor countries.

“Discover a genius”

For the literature prize, to be announced on Thursday, punters suggested the Swedish Academy can look further after honoring several and North American winners.

“I believe they really want to discover a genius from an elder neglected area, ”said Jonas Thente, literary critic for the Swedish daily Dagens. Nyheter.

He suggested “someone with a primary interest in the intercultural experiences ”, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 44, born in Nigeria.

“She’s probably too young, but she would fit the profile.”

Some names have been circulating in literary circles in Stockholm since years – Hungarian Peter Nadas, Canadian Margaret Atwood, Syrian poet Adonis and Somali author Nuruddin Farah.

New names to emerge include Indian Vikram Seth and Chinese Liao Yiwu. and Mozambican writer Mia Couto.

Last year, the honor went to the American poet Louise Gluck.

While the names of Nobel laureates are kept secret until the last minute, the Nobel Foundation has already announced that the glittering prize ceremony and banquet organized in Stockholm in December for science and the literature laureates will not take place this year due to the pandemic.

Like last year, the winners will receive their prizes in their country of origin.

A decision has not yet been made on the Peace Prize ceremony to be held in Oslo. This year’s winners take 10 million Swedish kronor (just under one million euros, $ 1.13 million), to be shared if more than one person is honored in a discipline.

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