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2005 Opening Address

Speech by Dr Marcus Storch, Chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation, December 10, 2005.

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

On behalf of the Nobel Foundation, I would like to welcome you to this year's Prize Award Ceremony. We would especially like to welcome the Laureates of 2005 to the Nobel Festivities here in Stockholm. Earlier today, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its Director General Mohamed ElBaradei "for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way."

We hope you view the many different arrangements during the Nobel Week as an appreciation of your contributions. After all, the importance of your contributions is what determines the position of the Nobel Prize in the world. It is natural that they attract such great interest that the Nobel Week assumes the character of a scientific-cultural festival.

Today 110 years have passed since November 27, 1895, when Alfred Nobel signed his will at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris. This will is the basis for the Nobel Prize and the Foundation that bears his name.

The comparatively short text of this will describes the fundamental features of the "Nobel Prize system," stating the fields in which the Prizes shall be awarded, on what grounds this shall occur and what institutions shall be responsible for each respective Prize. The direction of the Nobel Prize and what might be called its ideology were defined by Nobel in this text. It largely reflects both his philosophy and his own practiced scientific-technical, humanist-literary and pacifist interests.

Yet it can be noted that not only is the text brief, but some of the criteria Alfred Nobel established either left room for a range of possible interpretations or were difficult to follow in practice. One example of such an unmanageable criterion is his formulation that the Prize would be awarded to "those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind." Interpreted literally, this is obviously a difficult task even for the most competent prize awarder to perform.

When it was opened, the will became highly controversial. Politically, it was criticized by the conservatives of its era for being unpatriotic due to its internationalist, global objective. The left regarded it as a way for a capitalist to alleviate his bad conscience. And some of Alfred Nobel's relatives had completely different ideas about what should be done with this inheritance. As part of a process which nevertheless resulted in Nobel's aims being realized in 1901, attempts were made to more closely decipher his intentions on a number of points. In this context, it is illuminating to read the testimony presented by two engineers, Robert Wilhelm Strehlenert and Leonard Hwass, who had worked together with Nobel and who had witnessed the signing of his will. In the court proceedings that proved necessary, Strehlenert gave an interesting explanation as to why Nobel was not more detailed in his wording:

"Based on my conversations with Dr. Nobel, I got the firm impression that he had not intended that the will should unconditionally be strictly enforced according to its literal phrasing. Instead, his failure to leave detailed regulations is probably evidence that, on the matter of enforcement of the will, he had wanted to allow the greatest possible freedom to the person in question. This is also completely consistent with his character, because once he trusted people, he trusted them wholly and completely, without meanwhile confining them to detailed instructions."

Strehlenert also gives information on the matter of striking a balance between research, on the one hand, and what we today call development, on the other, in awarding the scientific Prizes: "In this context, I feel I should mention that on several occasions Dr. Nobel declared that above all, he wanted to benefit scientists, since they ordinarily had a harder time making money from their findings, which instead usually proved useful to others. However, an engineer who has a desire to work, good will and good ideas – he usually said – finds it easier to make his way and to harvest the fruits of his own labor."

The position that the Nobel Prize enjoys today illustrates that the prize-awarding institutions have very much lived up to the trust that Nobel showed them. In one respect, however, one of Nobel's explicit intentions has been difficult to realize. His thought was that the Prizes should be large enough to enable young talents "who inspired hope for the future" to work with financial independence. As we know, the Prizes have essentially been awarded for previous contributions.

The material and moral support to promising young people that Nobel desired has come about in indirect form. The Prize helps to generate enthusiasm among other public and private financiers to increase their contributions to science and culture in various ways. In their efforts to mobilize resources, American universities in particular use the number of Nobel Laureates as an argument to attract students and teachers as well as sponsors. In the ongoing analysis of why the European Union lags behind in the research field, the relative downturn in the number of Nobel Laureates is underscored in order to illustrate the problem and make decision makers aware in a sufficiently concrete way. And when Japan recently boosted its research budget, emphasizing basic research, this was done with the objective of receiving 30 Japanese Nobel Laureates within the next 50 years.

The Nobel Foundation itself has developed an activity very much aimed at generating enthusiasm among young people on a broad front, in the spirit of Alfred Nobel: our real and virtual museum work. In June this year, the Nobel Peace Center was inaugurated in the best imaginable location next to Oslo City Hall. It is a fascinating exhibition in audiovisual and design terms, very much aimed at young people. The Nobel Museum in Stockholm is reaching out to ever wider groups. Its traveling exhibition has been highly successful in many places, among them Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, New York and San Francisco.

Obviously it is with great satisfaction, in light of this autumn's Swedish government policy statement and corresponding declarations of intent from the City of Stockholm, that we now see a permanent solution for the Nobel Museum on the isle of Skeppsholmen emerging even more clearly, with potential to evolve into a magnificent creative project with an international luster.

Our base in cyberspace, Nobelprize.org, is continuously reporting new record figures, currently averaging 70,000 visitors per day, and features new interactive games that explain various Nobel Prizes. Before an international audience, there is reason to give special publicity to a game in the field of economics that has been financed by the Bank of Sweden. It illustrates in game format the Heckscher-Ohlin theorem on the positive effects of free trade – a game that not only young people, but also a few politicians might benefit from playing.

We can thus say that this informational activity, with its global character and its focus on young people in particular, very much fulfils the wishes of Alfred Nobel. I am convinced that Alfred Nobel would agree with this conclusion.

 

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2005
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