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2003 Opening Address

by Professor Bengt Samuelsson, Chairman of the Board of Directors, The Nobel Foundation

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honoured Nobel Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Nobel Foundation, I welcome you to this year's Prize Award Ceremony. We would especially like to welcome this year's Laureates to the Nobel Festivities in Stockholm. We congratulate you for your important achievements in different fields. You have thereby increased collective human knowledge and contributed to the respect and prestige that the Nobel Prizes enjoy. Earlier today, this year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo to Shirin Ebadi.

The Nobel Prizes have a standing in the world that is special thanks to the Laureates and their contributions. They generate great interest among scientists and scholars, but also among a broad general public. In recent years, the Nobel Foundation has wished to take advantage of this interest, using the Nobel Prizes and the Nobel Laureates as bearers of information in order to spread knowledge of advances in the scientific, literary and political fields.

Since the mid-1990s, the Foundation has built up an extensive information base (www.nobelprize.org) on the Internet. This web site contains basic facts about all the Prizes and Laureates, but also essays about, and even by Nobel Laureates. Thanks to a number of outside sponsors, the site has gradually also developed educational documents adapted to different age groups. In one interactive game, younger visitors can feed Ivan's dog with sausage – which it likes – or with bananas, which it doesn't like, and experimentally test the conditioned reflexes that Ivan Pavlov (1904 Laureate in Medicine) discovered. In another document, students can perform a number of virtual chemical experiments in a modern laboratory, equipped with devices developed on the basis of discoveries rewarded with Nobel Prizes. This Internet knowledge base is probably rather unique in its genre and attracts a continuously rising number of visitors, last year 10 million, this year probably close to 15 million.

But the Nobel Foundation's informational activities are not restricted to the virtual dimension. Since April 2001, a highly tangible Nobel Museum has been in operation – housed for the time being at Börshuset (The Old Stock Exchange Building) in Stockholm's Old Town. Here cooperation with the City of Stockholm and the Swedish government has been crucial in creating the preconditions for the Museum's work. The current exhibition devoted to "Cultures of Creativity" is attracting an increasing number of visitors. A copy of the exhibition is on a wide-ranging international tour: inaugurated in Oslo during the Nobel Prize Centennial year of 2001, it continued to Tokyo, Seoul and Houston and was displayed this autumn in Chicago. Over the next few years Kuala Lumpur, Florence, New York, San Francisco and London will also host the exhibition.

In Oslo, the Nobel Foundation and the Norwegian Nobel Committee have been discussing a Nobel Peace Center for the past few years. This Center is now in the process of becoming a reality, with an eye to inauguration during 2005 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the peaceful dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway. The historic Vestbanen railroad station – superbly located at Akers Brygge and a mere stone's throw from the Oslo City Hall – is currently being transformed into a new Oslo landmark. The Peace Center will use a variety of methods to shed light on conflicts around the world and on experiences of how it has been possible to resolve such conflicts and promote peace.

When it comes to disseminating the message embodied in Alfred Nobel's will, the Peace Prize enjoys the broadest audience, by virtue of both its general humanistic purpose and the – often necessarily – politically controversial character of the Peace Prize decisions. Typical of the Laureates in Literature is that they have succeeded in elevating individual and nationality-bound experiences to a universal human level. Science is international by its very nature and is advanced by a permanent interaction between researchers in different countries. Only dictatorships have sought to define and demarcate science to their own country or state.

What is apparent, however, is that scientific advances have largely come to be concentrated in the United States. A number of factors underlie this development, i.e. Europe's totalitarian history during the 20th century, as well as America's open, democratic and flexible university system. In addition, the scale of resources devoted to research clearly plays an important role – in the U.S. this currently amounts to more than twice as much per capita as the European Union average. But equally important is how these resources are used. A transparent allocation of resources based on peer review is a guarantee of quality.

Against this backdrop, the efforts of researchers and responsible government ministers to reform EU research policy are of great significance. Moving from today's nationally based research policy to an integrated EU policy for future research requires visionary politicians and researchers. Yet it is vital to a balanced development of global growth. The proposed European Research Council would enable a transition to more efficient, transparent allocation and use of the EU's resources. At the same time, a larger share would be spent on basic research rather than on applied research as basic research tends to attract both researchers and corporate investment.

This year's Laureates come from different corners of the world: in Stockholm, they are from Russia, South Africa, Great Britain and the United States; in Oslo, from Iran. This situation is consistent with Alfred Nobel's view that the Nobel Prizes should call attention to the internationally most important contributions in scientific and cultural fields. Honoured Laureates, through your path-breaking discoveries and work, you have added further milestones to the path of success for the benefit of mankind. You have thereby also helped to make the Nobel Prizes the standard of value for creative contributions that Alfred Nobel intended.

 

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2003
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