Speech by Dr Marcus Storch, Chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation, 10 December 2007.
|Dr Marcus Storch delivering the opening address during the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2007
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 and their families to this ceremony in honour of the Laureates and their contributions to science and literature. We send our warmest regards to Mrs Doris Lessing, who could not be present today for reasons of health, as well as to Professor Hurwicz who was unable to travel to Stockholm. Together with his family and colleagues he is following the ceremony here via satellite television at a local celebration at the University of Minnesota.
Earlier today in Oslo, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were honoured “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”.
It was Alfred Nobel’s wish that the Nobel Prize should reward contributions that had “conferred the greatest benefit on mankind”. This criterion provides great scope for interpretations. However, one can note that for more than a hundred years the prize-awarding institutions have interpreted Nobel’s intentions in a way that, over the decades, has helped to build up and strengthen the standing of the Prize in the world. If we study the history of the Prize and the names engraved in the list of Laureates, it is no exaggeration to say that the prize awarders have succeeded in highlighting the main outlines and many of the most important elements of human intellectual development over the past century.
The Laureates of 2007 are very much in keeping with this trend. The three Science Prizes, as well as the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, reward contributions that have led to new scientific perspectives. These have had major consequences not only in research but to a great extent also in the form of practical applications. The Prize in Literature rewards an authorship that portrays a personal life journey and experiences against the backdrop of major social and political events during the 20th century. The Peace Prize draws attention to the fateful issues that humanity has confronted itself with through technology and economic development and that require speedy, concrete action.
The very starting point of scientific endeavour is that there are only provisional truths. The latest discoveries at the forefront of research are valid until new discoveries or perspectives advance our knowledge to new positions. Every generation adds its annual rings. One vivid metaphor for this process is Sir Isaac Newton’s well-known statement that he had achieved his findings by “standing on the shoulders of giants”. In this way, scientists shape a series of discoveries that serve as links in a chain over time.
We are pleased that Dr Tsung-Dao Lee, who shared the 1957 Physics Prize with Chen Ning Yang, has decided to travel here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that Prize with us. Their contribution, too, is a clear example of a link in a chain of new discoveries. At the beginning of this chain, we find such names as Niels Bohr and Louis de Broglie, and it continues all the way to the 2004 Physics Prize awarded to David Gross, David Politzer and Frank Wilczek.
This year’s Nobel Prizes can also be viewed from another perspective: the respective roles of basic research and applied research in social progress. There is a general consensus that knowledge and science play a crucial role in both human and economic development. At the international level, one expression of this is an ambition to increase the share of our resources that are set aside for research and development. The European Union, in its ambition to become “the world’s most competitive economy”, has established the target of reaching 1 per cent of Gross Domestic Product in public sector R&D investments by the year 2010, an objective that certain determined member states are taking concrete steps to achieve. But this quantitative target must be complemented by deliberations on the quality and focus of these investments, including the proper balance between basic and applied research. In this context, there is a risk that in pursuing the ambition to achieve quick results in terms of competitiveness at the company level, we will not allow enough scope for independent, purely knowledge-seeking basic research. We must avoid the risk of, literally, developing better and better radio tubes, but missing the opportunity to invent the transistor. One example of this is the EU’s Framework Programme, which is highly focused on applied research and development for the benefit of companies. Meanwhile we are seeing how major international companies are migrating their R&D investments to environments in other regions that are rich in basic research and such leading countries as the United States, Japan and major European countries are boosting the share of basic research in their publicly financed R&D. This year’s Prizes are good examples of how basic research of a highly advanced kind has led to practical applications with dramatic, positive effects.
The Nobel Foundation’s informational activities about the Nobel Prize and the contributions of the Laureates have continued to develop during the past year. The number of visitors at the Foundation’s website nobelprize.org has increased to an average of more than 100,000 per day, reflecting the advance of globalisation in an interesting way. The Nobel Museum’s travelling exhibition “Cultures of Creativity” also reflects cross-cultural interest in science and culture. This year the exhibition was displayed in Sydney, Singapore and − for the first time in an Arab country − Abu Dhabi.
In Oslo, the Norwegian government has made available to the Nobel Peace Center a unique historical building with the best possible location. A recently inaugurated exhibition there examines different aspects of freedom of expression − a freedom that, over the centuries, has caused conflicts mainly within the framework of the nation-state but is now creating strong international tensions. The exhibition highlights the fact that freedom of expression − the right to criticise those who possess power − is one of the most vital of all human rights, and a prerequisite for a more peaceful world. In Western countries, legal restrictions on freedom of expression were traditionally intended to protect public power and authority, whether political or religious, from being questioned and criticised. In today’s democracies, legal barriers have shifted instead towards protecting individuals against infringements of their privacy. This modern development naturally comes into conflict with politically, and religiously, authoritarian systems and regimes. The Peace Center’s exhibition on freedom of expression combines issues that are highly topical in the age of globalisation with the value system embraced by Alfred Nobel i.e. the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment.