Monday, 3 October 2011

A Noble Prize and a Noble Conundrum

Today the 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine/Physiology was awarded. This year's Laureates are Bruce A. Beutler and Jules A. Hoffmann for their discovery of how innate immunity is activated, and to Ralph M. Steinman for his work on how dendritic cells are involved in adaptive immunity. Congrats to all of them!

But there's a conundrum here. Steinman, unfortunately, passed away on September 30th. The winners were chosen last week (they are officially announced a week later), and three days later, Steinman died. This presents a problem for the Nobel committee, because the awards are never given out posthumously. Should Steinman still be awarded the prize?

I would say yes, and I have a feeling that the committee will make the same decision. Steinman was still alive when the decision was made to award him the prize, and it was only afterwards that he passed away, before the official ceremony. I think that it's likely that the award will be accepted by someone in his place, and Steinman will have the distinction of being the only person to - technically - receive a Nobel posthumously.