Speech by Dr Marcus Storch, Chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation, December 10, 2006.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2006
Photo: Hans Mehlin
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honoured 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 2006 to the Nobel Festivities in Stockholm. The purpose of the arrangements during this week is both to honour the major contributions that you have been responsible for, and to highlight the importance of these contributions in various ways.
Earlier today, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below”. This decision by the Peace Prize committee signifies an important enlargement and broadening of the criteria for the Peace Prize and an adjustment to present-day global economic and social conditions. It focuses attention on certain fundamental prerequisites for peaceful development: the mobilisation of savings and power of initiative for the benefit of economic development and more equitable living conditions, even − and especially − in the poorest parts of the world.
The will of Alfred Nobel contains a well-known passage, one in which he specifies that “It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not.” This clause, based on Alfred Nobel’s cosmopolitan biography and philosophy and with the ideals of the Enlightenment and rational humanism as guiding principles, was crucial in making the Nobel Prize into the first genuinely international prize in the scientific, literary and peace-promotion fields. Together with the work of the prize-awarding institutions − and obviously, first and foremost, the contributions of the Nobel Laureates − this is what has created, and continues to create, the standing of the Nobel Prize in the world.
In keeping with the ideals of Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Foundation does not categorise Laureates by nationality, but refers either to the country where they were born or have lived, or the institution at which they were working when they were awarded the Prize. In some cases these fundamental principles are augmented by purely practical considerations − a Laureate may well have been born in one country, changed nationality to that of another country and worked for many years and made his or her contributions in a third country, and may also have more than one citizenship.
This does not prevent others, in various contexts, from counting Nobel Prizes as if they were a sort of Olympic medals, which not only one individual but the whole nation behind this individual should feel proud of and share in. The contribution of the individual becomes, so to speak, a merit and an honour for a whole nation. In itself this is understandable, when the Nobel Prize has achieved the standing it enjoys as a marker of excellence and when the uneven distribution of Laureates among different countries in the scientific field has become so pronounced. The current dominance of the United States stands in contrast to the relative share of European scientists only a few decades ago. It is of course illustrated here today by the fact that all the 2006 Laureates are associated with American universities.
This development naturally leads us to the question: What are the preconditions for creativity and what are the driving forces behind it? This is also the theme of the Nobel Museum’s “Cultures of Creativity: The Centennial Exhibition of the Nobel Prize”, which is touring all over the world. By examining the biographies of some 30 Nobel Laureates and 10 especially fertile environments that have nurtured Nobel Laureates, the exhibition seeks to identify possible answers to these elusive phenomena.
In an analysis summarising the exhibition, Professor Svante Lindqvist, the Director of the Nobel Museum, highlights the following aspects of individual creativity as being significant: Having the courage to challenge things, being diligent, possessing the ability to combine and synthesise, seeing things in a new way, being mobile, being lucky, working hard and having good teachers while still at school.
Without pre-empting next year’s large-scale celebration in Sweden and elsewhere of the 300th anniversary of his birth, Carl Linnaeus can be described as having embodied these characteristics in many respects. He began his studies early. He can be said to have shown both courage and diligence by concentrating completely on his botanical interest to the detriment of other school subjects, especially the subject his parents wanted him to study: theology. His great contribution to taxonomy was to see the plant kingdom in a new way, based on the sexual system of flowers. In his work, he demonstrated great mobility through his numerous journeys in Sweden and his perhaps crucial sojourns in various places in the Netherlands and his visit to Paris. One can also add that on several occasions, he was lucky to become acquainted at the right − and sometimes the last possible − moment with a benevolent patron who provided the necessary financing for his living expenses and continued studies.
As for the importance of the surrounding environment to creativity, Professor Lindqvist distinguishes such factors as:
A concentration of many talented individuals in the same place, a broad diversity of skills, ease of communication, development of networks, creation of informal meeting places, mobility between environments and obviously freedom, competition and availability of resources.
It is also possible to fit Linnaeus into this matrix of aspects of productive environments. He was active during what turned out to be an age of greatness in the history of Swedish science, with a number of internationally prominent scientists working in various disciplines. They were united by their commitment to the newly established Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, a meeting place for informal contacts. Despite the limited communications technology of his age, Linnaeus and many of his colleagues were able to build up extensive exchanges and networks with the rest of Europe, and Linnaeus himself became a member of some 20 different foreign academies. When he was no longer willing or able to travel, he sent a number of brilliantly gifted students to various parts of the world to spread his scientific method. Risking their own lives − only half of his disciples returned to Sweden − they wanted to explore and discover the world and nature.
Given today’s transport systems, journeys as such are no problem. What is more difficult is formulating a research policy and creating environments that nurture and encourage high-quality research.
Establishing a leading position in the research world requires substantially higher ambitions at the national level, where the most crucial input must occur. But it is also important that common resources invested at the international level are designed in an effective way. Tendencies towards top-down central planning − for example in the virtual European Institute of Technology now being proposed by the European Commission − should be contrasted with the experiences of the most successful university environments in the world, which have evolved to a high level through competition and organic development. Efforts to smooth out inequalities between regions must not lead to artificial, forced collaboration. Protectionism is always harmful, especially in the intellectual field.
In conclusion many lessons and insights can thus be derived from the Nobel Museum’s exhibition on creativity, not only by a broad general public but also by those who are interested in the evolution of higher education and research.Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2006