How to Win the Nobel Prize

I’m too busy to write much on the blog just this moment, and besides, there’s nothing of great interest I can think of that need’s writing about. So, I’ll take up commenter Shantanu’s suggestion and try and stir up a little trouble with two quick topics related to the Nobel Prize.

  • Norman Dombey recently posted on the arXiv Abdus Salam: A Reappraisal. PART I. How to Win the Nobel Prize which more or less seems to argue that Salam didn’t deserve his 1979 Nobel. He describes a lot of history I didn’t know, but I’m not completely convinced. Part of the argument seems to be that he stole the idea from Weinberg, and didn’t even know the importance of what he had stolen, but my impression was that no one, not even Weinberg, thought very much of the unified electroweak theory at the time. A quick look at the paper in his collected papers that I take to be the 1968 one that justified the Nobel to him appears to discuss the crucial points: a gauge theory with Higgs mechanism.

    Unfortunately I don’t have more time now to look into this history carefully. If someone expert on this history has comments on the Dombey claims, that would be interesting.

  • One way to win the prize is to do revolutionary work. This year’s prize will be announced October 4, and for the past few years I haven’t had much in the way of thoughts about obvious candidates. After reading Richard Panek’s The 4% Universe early this year and learning more of the story of the discovery of the acceleration of the universe, I’m pretty sure that sooner or later there will be a Nobel Prize for that, maybe this year. Those better informed than me can speculate about what the exact names will be that will go on the prize.
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    57 Responses to How to Win the Nobel Prize

    1. noprize says:

      There are many who deserve a Nobel Prize and didn’t get one. Conversely I suppose some people feel that there are those who did win but didn’t deserve it. A pointless debate, unless one can prove fraud or something like that. Consider:

      – Weinberg’s 1967 is titled “A Model of Leptons” Leptons only! No hadrons! And yet it is one the classic papers of HEP theory. Weinberg explicitly admitted that he did not know if his model was renormalizable. Is that a valid unification?

      – Glashow 1961. Weinberg 1967 stated that his model was an extension of Glashow’s 1961 “partial” model of the weak interactions (see title of Glashow’s paper). Dombey states that by 1979 Glashow’s model had been almost forgotten, but Gell-Mann stepped in at the last moment to speak up for Glashow. Glashow’s model was not renormalizable. The Higgs mechanism had not been proposed yet, in 1961. Is that a valid unification?

      – Salam 1968. Salam explicitly emphasized that gauge invariance was absolutely necessary to obtain a renormalizable theory, and to this end the bare masses of the gauge bosons (called”mesons”) must be zero, in a nonabelian theory. Salam stated that a possible way to generate mass and preserve gauge invariance was to have a coupling to a scalar boson, which would exhibit spontaneous symmetry breaking, and the Higgs mechanism would transform away the Goldstone bosons. All well and good, but known by others. Salam did NOT relate the strengths of the weak charged and neutral currents (which Weinberg 1967 did). Salam claimed that the original unbroken theory was renormalizable because it was gauge invariant. Salam could not prove that the symmetry breaking did not destroy renormalizability. Salam talked nonsense at the end about extending the model to hadrons, because he knew only of the Cabibbo angle and three quarks. Is that a valid unification?

      Glashow (not in 1961 but later ~ GIM) proposed the existence of a fourth quark to explain in a natural way the absence of flavor changing neutral currents (the quark was so named because it solved so many problems that it worked like a charm). So did Glashow not deserve his Nobel? Do GIM deserve a separate Nobel? Cabibbo did NOT share the Nobel Proze with Kobayashi and Maskawa, even though the matrix is universally called CKM and Cabibbo was still alive at the time of the award to KM. Is that unfair?

    2. physicsphile says:

      For the accelerating Universe prize, Perlmutter would certainly be one of the names.

    3. chris says:

      I do not konw the story of Salam and I have heard other people doubt his contribution (notably Veltman), but Dombeys paper is a disgrace. one just needs to read the first paragraph do draw some conclusion regarding his character.

    4. John says:

      Only one question: Why did Dombey not raise these issues when the prize was being given out?

    5. Will says:

      “Only one question: Why did Dombey not raise these issues when the prize was being given out?”

      Or object to writing his own reference…

    6. hrk says:

      “I do not konw the story of Salam and I have heard other people doubt his contribution (notably Veltman), but Dombeys paper is a disgrace. one just needs to read the first paragraph do draw some conclusion regarding his character.”


      Its also funny because at least according to some people, the Nobel for ‘t Hooft and Veltman, should really have only gone to ‘t Hooft. Salam and ‘t Hooft and Weinberg and Glashow all have many other contributions named after them other than what they are cited for in the Nobel prize. What does Veltman have? It is not impossible that his biggest discovery was a spectacular graduate student named ‘t Hooft.

    7. MathPhys says:

      Dombey’s paper doesn’t contain any scientific information that isn’t already known, and I found it in bad taste. Salam wished to help him, trusted him, and told him in confidence “Write the letter and I will sign it”. It’s disgraceful to reveal that in public after the man’s died.

      Why he didn’t he write this paper while Salam was alive? Salam had many friends, particularly in the UK.

    8. MathPhys says:

      Veltman stayed with quantum field theory when no else did. He stayed with gauge theory and the very well defined question of renormalizability. He gave ‘t Hooft a concrete problem to solve. A precise definition of what the problem to solve is, is half the way towards a solution. He fully deserves his half of the Nobel prize.

    9. Per says:

      I find it a bit tasteless. In the first paragraph of the paper its mentioned that Salam was the first muslin to receive the noble prize, which is a rather strange comment to make. But then, looking at the publishing date 9th September 2011, the reference to 9/11 seem almost to obvious to be just a mere coincidence.

      In any case, just my two cents. Besides, who is this Dombey and why is his opinion of interest?

    10. MathPhys says:


      Yes, I wondered why this paper? and why now? Could it be the anniversary of 9.11? Well, that would be worse than in bad taste.

      Dombey wrote a book with Bailin on weak interactions. That was about 30 years ago.

    11. Arun says:

      Norman Dombey’s article on Abdus Salam seems to be a wee bit prejudiced, from terming him a “Moslem” (really oldfashioned) , to referring to a series of lucky coincidences that enabled Salam to study physics as a miracle (somehow violating the laws of physics?).

      Dombey starts off with how the New York Times described Salam’s contribution:

      So did Salam do what the New York Times (presumably based on a briefing by the Nobel Committee) had claimed that he had done; namely propose a theory in 1967 which predicted the size of the parity-violation in electron scattering off hydrogen nuclei as observed in 1979. If he didn’t why was he awarded the Nobel prize? I knew all three prize winners and NATURE had asked me to write about the award of the prize in November 19797. So I would like to explain how Salam won the prize even though he was unable to predict the result of the 1979 experiment.”

      There’s a problem in this framing of the question:

      As an example of the Nobel citation,

      Once you understand that

      The Nobel Prize in Physics 1979 was awarded jointly to Sheldon Lee Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg “for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current”.

      then one can look at the totality of Salam’s contributions to the theory.

    12. dopey_john says:

      The comments from some people here objecting over Abdus Salam being described as a muslim are rather silly. He was the *first muslim* to win a Noble prize in physics which is an important point. The funny thing is that whereas Abdus may be paraded as the first muslim to win this prize by some in the muslim community, the majority brand him as a heretic because he was a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and therefore not an “orthodox” muslim.

    13. Trulo says:

      So the prize was awarded on the basis of a non-peer-reviewed
      publication which quotes an unpublished lecture. Yet the name
      Weinberg-Salam model stuck because almost everyone used it. Weinberg
      was happy with that arrangement: he knew that he could only benefit
      from association with Salam.

      I’m rather puzzled by this statement. What kind of benefit could Weinberg obtain from being (fairly or not) associated with Salam? Trips to Trieste?

    14. Jack Levitt says:

      Given the tone of Dombey’s article, I have no choice but to wonder to what extent racism and anti-muslim feelings are behind the attack on Salam. Sad, but not without precedent in the field of theoretical physics.

    15. Math Student says:


      That part that made no sense to me as well. I don’t see any reason why Weinberg and Glashow would just go along with Salam getting credit if it was obvious he didn’t deserve it.

    16. Hugh Osborn says:

      It is too easy to ascribe racism or other prejudices to views one does not like. Norman Dombey wrote an article saying similar things many years ago, I don’t have the reference. The reason for the current article appears to be that he has had access to papers not previously available. It is a fact of life that people do campaign behind the scenes for Nobel prizes. It is also true that, perhaps rarely, they are given in small part at least for political rather than purely scientific considerations.

    17. M. Wang says:

      Dombey’s writing may exude the appearance of prejudice, but that does not necessarily imply that he is lying. Whether or not he tells the truth is the real issue and should be evaluated based on independent facts. Sadly I don’t seem to find any discussions along that direction here. Does anyone have something solid to contribute?

    18. Arun says:

      M. Wang,

      Dombey’s paper is titled “Part I”. I’d wait for Part II to see what else he says.

      The events of 1960-1968 might be beyond most people here’s personal memory, but one could examine, e.g, if Antonio Zichichi has written anything – as per Salam, he attended the 1967 lectures where Salam expounded on the model. One can examine the literature to see how the model got named. One can examine why P.A.M Dirac nominated Salam for the Nobel – would Dirac do so as a political favor?

      If none of the readers here happen to know it off the top, and no other write-ups appear, then I’ll do some of this work to examine the factual basis of Norman Dombey’s claims; but there is no point in starting just now.


    19. Arun says:

      From M.J. Duff’s tribute to Salam:

      “One of my greatest regrets is that as a student in the Theory Group at Imperial from 1969 to 1972, a group that included not only Abdus Salam but also Tom Kibble, no-one suggested that weak interaction physics would be an interesting topic of research. In fact I did not learn about spontaneous symmetry breaking until after I got my PhD! The reason, of course, is that neither Weinberg nor Salam (nor anybody else) fully realized the importance of their model until t’Hooft proved its renormalizability in 1972 and until the discovery of neutral currents at CERN.”

    20. J says:

      Regarding the 1979 Nobel Prize: my personal feeling is that Weinberg deserves more credits than the other two. The most striking of the 1967 paper, I guess, is the concrete prediction of a neutral current in weak interaction (W+- exchanges were known for long time by then) and a specific angle of mixing (Weinberg angle).
      Nobel committee often favors an original theoretical proposal solving old problems and predicting new things that are verified.

    21. Chris Oakley says:

      One can examine why P.A.M Dirac nominated Salam for the Nobel – would Dirac do so as a political favor?

      One has to assume so, as Dirac did not buy into the actual theory.

    22. MathPhys says:

      Salam lobbied for his Nobel prize. So what?

      Salam wrote to Dombey explaining to him why it should be the Weinberg-Salam model. Weinberg called up those who didn’t cite his paper, explaining to them why they should. What’s the difference?

    23. d nom says:

      Dirac may have nominated Salam out of personal friendship and admiration, even if Dirac did not agree with the idea of renormalisation. The electroweak unification was still an elegant model, and other ideas Salam was working on. What political favours would Dirac possibly have received or cared about (in view of his attitudes throughout his life), by 1971 and later?

    24. SpearMarktheSecond says:

      There are always shoving matches and lobbying over Nobel Prizes. Ho hum.

      I’d have given one to Prescott for the polarized electron scattering at SLAC in the late 1970’s that turned the tide on people believing in the Z^0. Up until that time the atomic parity violation experiments were confusing, as were the neutral current experiments.

      But surely politics prevents *4* Nobels for work at SLAC in part (J/Psi, tau, DIS are first 3).

    25. np says:

      Prescott deserves a Nobel Prize. Three Nobel prizes (in physics) were also awarded for experiments at the AGS at BNL (J/psi, CP violation, multiple neutrino families). But no Nobel prize was awarded for the discovery of the Omega- particle (an experiment also done at the AGS). Note that Ray Davis won a Nobel (2002), for the solar neutrino problem. Davis was on the staff at BNL, although his experiment was done off-site.

      So who knows how the politics works out. At Columbia in the 1950s, a Nobel was being won almost every year. Some of the students (I think Lederman amongst them) minted buttons “I have not a Nobel Prize”. PW should be able to confirm this.

    26. mo says:

      Here are some interesting stats (author impact factor) from SPIRES-HEP:

      Partial Symmetries of Weak Interactions.
      S.L. Glashow, (Copenhagen U.) . 1961.
      Published in Nucl.Phys.22:579-588,1961.
      Cited 4120 times

      Weak and Electromagnetic Interactions.
      Abdus Salam, (Imperial Coll., London & ICTP, Trieste) . May 1968. 11pp.
      In the Proceedings of 8th Nobel Symposium, Lerum, Sweden, 19-25 May 1968, pp 367-377.
      Cited 751 times

      A Model of Leptons.
      Steven Weinberg, (MIT, LNS) . Nov 1967. 3pp.
      Published in Phys.Rev.Lett.19:1264-1266,1967.
      Cited 7450 times

    27. Some Guy says:

      It’s disappointing to see somebody so critical of string theory hype being so gullible when it comes to cosmology hype. Try for a start.

    28. SpearMarktheSecond says:

      And the experimental paper that triggered the 1979 Nobel Prize…

      Parity Nonconservation in Inelastic Electron Scattering.
      C.Y. Prescott, W.B. Atwood, R.Leslie Cottrell, H.C. DeStaebler, Edward L. Garwin, A. Gonidec, Roger H. Miller, L.S. Rochester, T. Sato, D. Sherden (SLAC) et al.. SLAC-PUB-2148. Jul 1978. 20 pp.
      Published in Phys.Lett. B77 (1978) 347-352
      Cited by 607 records

      So citation count doesn’t accurately measure impact.

    29. july says:

      Peter, don’t you think Michel Mayor is an obvious candidate?

    30. Shantanu says:

      Someguy that paper was from 2007. I think its fairly robust now with new evidence
      from BAO, LSS .
      Anyhow probably it will given to Reiss, Perlmutter and Schmidt.

    31. Some Guy says:

      Shantanu, all that “evidence” was known already, and discussed in the paper.

    32. Peter Woit says:

      Some Guy,

      Arguments over what the supernova observations mean for theoretical cosmology are irrelevant here. The Nobel prize would be awarded for the observational achievement, which found something unexpected.

    33. Some Guy says:

      Fair enough, a Nobel prize for finding that high-z SNe Ia are not as bright as expected (as opposed to accelerated expansion) might be justified. But it would be unusual to award a Nobel prize for an unexplained observation. Offhand, I can’t recall a precedent. Then again, the committee has done strange things before…

    34. piscator says:

      While on the theme of Nobel prizes that should have been awarded, surely the observation of weak nuclear currents at Gargamelle is right up there?

    35. weak neutral currents says:

      The case of weak neutral currents is a sad story, and an embarrassment to CERN. The discovery richly merited a Nobel Prize. But the Fermilab experiment (HPW ~ Harvard-Penn-Wisconsin ~ Carlo Rubbia, David Cline, Alfred Mann) successfully muddied the waters with their claims of what are now called (tongue in cheek) `alternating neutral currents’. The CERN management failed to stand by the excellent work of their own people. Later, when the existence of weak neutral currents was generally accepted, CERN realized too late that it had let a Nobel Prize slip through. Sadly, Paul Musset, Andre Lagarrigue and Andre Rousset are all dead, so there is no hope of a Nobel Prize for the discovery of weak neutral currents.

    36. Charlie says:

      My perpetual nominee: Mitchell Feigenbaum. It’s not every day that someone discovers a few new constants of nature.

    37. Shantanu says:

      weak neutral currents, HW stood for Harvard-Purdue-Wisconsin (not Penn)

    38. weak neutral currrents says:

      Shantanu – HPW in the 1970’s was the Harvard-Penn-Wisconsin experiment at Fermilab. It was a fixed-target experiment. Carlo Rubbia was from Harvard, Alfred Mann from U Pennsylvania and David Cline from Wisconsin.

      However, you prompted me to look up HPW on Google and I discovered that HPW also refers to a later proton decay experiment (big underground tank of water), and that is indeed Harvard-Purdue-Wisconsin.

      So you are correct and I am not even wrong.

    39. CWJ says:

      I agree with Charlie–Feigenbaum is a good candidate for a Nobel and it’s a shame Ed Lorenz didn’t get it before he died.

    40. Shantanu says:

      Yes and Carlo Rubbia was also the PI of Harvard-Purdue Wisconsin water Cherenkov experiment.

    41. zafhore says:

      Salam did no less than Glashow and Weinberg to merit this award, and probably more. His first attempts at unifying forces were in 1955 (with Polkinghorne), and continued to 1973 (with Pati). None of the others hung in there for so long, and meanwhile created an international centre on the side. After publishing his disgraceful piece, Dombey has the audacity to thank ICTP management after they let him sift through Salam’s archived papers.

    42. Euler says:

      This is not a research article on history of physics, it only expresses doubtable opinions of the author, made without a serious and in-depth scientific discussion of ideas, theories, experiments and literature of the time. Its place should not be the historical section of arXiv.

    43. MathPhys says:

      No one takes Salam’s work with Pati seriously.

    44. weak neutral currrents says:

      Shantanu (and anyone else) – read these interesting and informative articles from the CERN Courier about the discovery of weak neutral currents, and more generally the genesis of the Gargamelle collaboration. (And if you don’t know that Gargamelle was the mother of Gargantua … well now you do.) BTW it was HPWF at Fermilab (Harvard-Penn-Wisconsin-Fermilab).

      The second article is by Donald Perkins and gives more detail about the mistakes by HPWF, and the care with which the CERN analysis was performed. The articles also tell you how the CERN results were greeted with skepticism. They allude to how timid the CERN management was. They indirectly say how the HPWF collaboration boldly announced all of its bogus claims. By the time weak neutral currents were widely accepted, the damage had been done. CERN realized too late that it had let a Nobel Prize slip through its fingers.

      Andre Lagarrigue died in 1975. Paul Musset was killed in a mountaineering accident in 1985. Andre Rousset died in 2001. No Nobel Prize for weak neutral currents.

      The HPWF experiment was a bad experiment. It was responsible for many false results. I recall the acronym as just HPW. I am reading between the lines here, but I suspect that the acronym HPW = Harvard-Purdue-Wisconsin was deliberately chosen so that people would forget about Harvard-Penn-Wisconsin. Certainly Shantanu thought so (and clearly did not know about HPWF), and saw fit to correct me. I am guessing Shatanu is young.

    45. weak neutral currents says:

      Towards the end of Don Perkins’ article he mentions Willi Jentschke. Willibald Jentschke was the DG of CERN at the time (1971-75).

      Previously Willibald Jentschke was the DG of DESY.

      Being DG of DESY was a stepping stone to becoming DG of CERN. This tribute to Jentschke was written by Herwig Schopper, who was himself DG of DESY and later DG of CERN.

      Actually Jentschke founded DESY, much as Robert Wilson founded Fermilab. Jentschke was the first employee of DESY, and had to build a lab and his staff. His first employee was Klaus Steffen, who later built DORIS. I never met Jentschke (or maybe I saw him from a distance once), but I knew Klaus Steffen, who was very nice to me (and who was already old when I met him as a freshman graduate student). I also recall another senior DESY person (maybe employee #3) who told me he named his daughters Deli and Desi, because it had not yet been decided if the new lab would build a linear accelerator or a synchrotron, so he covered both bets.

      And if anyone objects that this is all off-topic, let me just say that they all assured me that they were all fiercely anti-string theory. Back in the 1950s. Before I was born.

    46. anonomous says:


      I agree – Feigenbaum deserves the prize for discovering a very important constant in nature and his paper was dismissed for years as irrelevant. For as many people working in the field of dynamical systems today, you would think he would have been awarded already, but maybe the trend is towards experimentalists.The sad thing is that Feigenbaum’s constant has been experimentally verified, but the topic doesn’t qualify under the glamorous physics that the award committees are looking for.

    47. IM says:

      If there is a Nobel for HEP, part of it can be given to Faddeev. When
      the Prize was given to ‘t Hooft and Veltman, Faddeev also deserved it.
      Perhaps Polyakov can also be awarded for his work on topological objects and on
      CFT (2-D CFT being now important in condensed matter).

    48. MathPhys says:

      Topological objects first appeared in the paper of Nielsen and Olesen on vortex lines as models for strings. Based on that, there were the papers of ‘t Hooft and Polyakov on monopoles, followed by Belavin et al. on instantons. Faddeev’s work on gauge theory was joint with Popov and with Slavnov.

    49. Thomas Larsson says:

      IM, a Nobel prize for CFT for its application in 2D statphys would be appropriate, and something I have argued for over the last 20 years. It would go to BPZ, not just to Polyakov himself (it was the other Zamolodchikov twin that died, right?). I have long suspected that the reason why Dotsenko and Fateev were not included in the seminal BPZ paper was that only three people can share a Nobel.

      But from a condensed matter perspective, the restriction to 2D is serious. Yes, 2D materials can be manufactured in the lab, but most real materials are 3D.

    50. Trulo says:

      Topological objects first appeared in the paper of Nielsen and Olesen on vortex lines

      As a topological theory, the Skyrme model is much older and more relevant to our world, me thinks.

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