Peter Englund, former Secretary of the Economic Sciences Prize Committee, answers frequently asked questions about the Prize in Economic Sciences.
Why was the Prize in Economic Sciences founded in 1968 and by whom? This is not one of the original prize categories as specified by Alfred Nobel.
It was instituted by the Sveriges Riksbank - the oldest central bank in the world - to celebrate its 300th anniversary.
How do you define Economic Sciences?
We try to give it a broad definition - i.e. in principle anything that is of interest to economists, even if the research is done within other academic disciplines.
How do you work to select a new Prize in Economic Sciences?
The prize committee meets all year round. The process starts in February, when we have received this year’s nominations. Apart from the nominations, we also rely on invited reports from outside experts. In our February meeting we decide on a long list of candidate prizes that is gradually narrowed down until the final decision is made. During the spring, we also discuss our priorities with the Class of Social Sciences in the Academy of Sciences.
Who selects the Laureates in Economic Sciences?
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The prize committee makes a proposal, which is discussed by the Class of Social Sciences, but in the end the decision is made by the Academy.
More about the nomination process
Can you choose anyone for the Prize in Economic Sciences? Political scientists, sociologists, etc?
Yes. For example, Elinor Ostrom, who received the prize in 2009 was a political scientist and Daniel Kahneman (2002) is a psychologist.
More about Elinor Ostrom
More about Daniel Kahneman
How do you know if a person deserves to be awarded a Prize in Economic Sciences? Do you always agree? What happens if you do not agree?
As mentioned, we rely on nominations and reports from outside experts. Naturally, there will be different views within the prize committee as well as in the Academy. Decisions are taken by majority vote (which could of course be unanimous).
Can you mention a Prize when you haven't agreed?
No, that would be a secret for fifty years.
Is it difficult to limit the number of Laureates to three when research is done more and more in bigger international groups?
The problem of large research teams is probably less pronounced in the social than in the natural sciences. Still, major breakthroughs are often the result of a combination of contributions. So yes, it is often difficult to decide whom to include – be it one, two or three Laureates.
Do you foresee an increase in the number of women awarded the Prize in Economic Sciences in the future? There is only one so far.
Yes, since we see many more young women at the frontier of different fields of economics today than, say, twenty years ago. As an example, several of the recent Bates Clark medals given to the best U.S. economist under the age of forty have been given to women.
All Nobel Prize awarded women
Can you explain why the average age for a Laureate in Economic Sciences is the highest compared to the other different Prize categories? The total average age is 59 and for a Laureate in Economic Sciences it is 67.
Hard to explain. Since economics is not an experimental science, it may be that we need a longer perspective to be confident in judging whether a contribution stands the test of time.
Average age for a Laureate in Economic Sciences
Which area within Economic Sciences has been awarded most often? Why?
Hard to say, since it depends on how you define an area. Many prizes relate to the big questions of inflation and unemployment.
What Prize in Economic Sciences has been most criticized?
I don’t think it is for me to comment on this. The prize to Milton Friedman in 1976 met with political protests, but I think a vast majority would agree today that it was very well deserved on scientific grounds.
The 1976 Prize in Economic Sciences
What Prize in Economic Sciences has been most popular?
This is even more difficult to comment on.
Do you regret selecting any of the Prizes in Economic Sciences over the years?
Can a Prize in Economic Sciences be revoked?
Why do you keep everything about the Prizes in Economic Sciences secret for 50 years?
We follow the Statutes that are identical to those of the Nobel Prizes.
Statutes of the Nobel Foundation, §10
What do you think the Prize in Economic Sciences means today? What do you think it will mean in the future? Do you think the definition of Economic Sciences will change? How?
Once a year, the prize highlights scientific achievements in economics. This is a welcome contrast to the rest of the year, when economists are mostly seen as commentators of economic policy and other current affairs. I am not sure the definition of Economic Sciences will change so much in the future, but it is quite possible that a larger fraction of future economic research will be influenced by other fields like political science, sociology and psychology, and even by the natural sciences.
First published 2 October 2013