How many scientists have won Nobel Peace Prizes?
Not many, but more than most people- including scientists- can name.
The Nobel prizes were started by the bequest of the will of Swedish scientist, chemist and industrialist Alfred Nobel, best known for his discovery of dynamite, and were first awarded in 1901. (The award for Economics was started after the others, in 1968, by the Swedish Bank Riksbank.) 5 of the awards (Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Economics) are given in Sweden, while the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by the Norwegian Parliament.
While in Oslo, I visited the Nobel Peace Center about Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Peace Prize, near the waterfront. Most of the area in the small museum was taken up with a tribute to the 2013 Nobel to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The organization is a diplomatic and legal one, and the exhibition was quite slanted in its emphasis on offenders since WWII- citing, for example, the use of mustard gas by the Germans in WWII, but making no mention of the use of Agent Orange by the USA in Vietnam.
There was an installation with all Nobel Peace Prize awardees, and here and there were was a winner identified as a scientist. I wouldn’t have necessarily expected more- the description of the qualifications for the award as given in Alfred Nobel’s will (” and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses..”) is certainly not directed to scientists.
Still, scientists are in a great position of respect and power, are certainly implicated in the development of weapons and technology, and could take advantage of this privilege in promoting peace. I read the Nobel Peace Prize awardee biographies and made a list of scientists and science-related organizations who have won Nobel Peace Prizes.
Scientists/Nobel Peace Prize Laureates
Name Year of award Science focus
Wangari Maathai 2004 Biologist
Joseph Rotblat 1995 Physicist
Andrei Sakharov 1975 Physicist
Norman Ernest Borlaug 1970 Botanist
Linus Carl Pauling 1962 Chemist
(Albert Schweitzer 1952 Physician )
Ralph Bunche 1950 Social Scientist
John Boyd Orr 1949 Physician and Biologist
Jane Addams 1931 Sociologist
Fridtjof Nansen 1922 Zoologist
Organization/Nobel Peace Prize Year
(Médecins Sans Frontières 1999)
International Atomic Energy Agency 2005
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War 1985
( ) denotes a medical person/organization.
For some, the activism that led to the peace prize was their occupation; in others, it was beyond the job. As for the other Nobel Peace Prizes, the laureates are generally already very well known. The awards are primarily diplomatic, and this combined with the celebrity factor makes the paucity of scientists perhaps understandable.
But this political focus of the Nobel Peace Prize has been bothersome. The prize has sometimes given to world leaders whose role in peace was dubious, and it is certainly difficult to take seriously a peace award given to, for example, Henry Kissinger, one of the architects of American’s war on Vietnam.
The Alternative Nobel Prize- the Right Livelihood Awards
Journalist and professional philatelist Jakob von Uexkull felt that the awards were narrow in scope and were unrealistic in focusing on the interests of industrialized countries. He approached the Nobel Foundation to establish awards more relevant to the problems of poverty and the destruction of resources, and was rebuffed. He then financed the first “Right Livelihood Award” in 1980, and in 1985 was invited to present the award in the Swedish Parliament. These awards are sometimes described as the “Alternative Nobel Prize” and tend to be given to activists in developing world countries.” There are usually 4 winners a year, and sometimes an honorary winner who does not receive money.
There are many scientists among the winners of the Right Livelihood Awards. The winners are realistically inspirational, ordinary scientists with feet to the ground who made huge local (but often international) differences to people. It is obvious from reading the individual biographies that activism is very doable for a scientist, and can be very effective.
They come from countries from all over the world. They organize, they collaborate, and those collaborations are often with people outside their own fields. They are multidimensional, and are often experts in several fields, learning what needed to be learned to accomplish their missions. Science is not an end onto itself, but is a powerful tool to effect change, peace, and a better world. Some are self-trained. Many are women.
The choices of awardees are not politically “safe.”
Name Year of Award Science Focus
Paul Walker 2013 Political scientist
(Denis Mukwege 2013 Physician)
Hans Herrin 2013 Agronomist/entomologist Biovision Foundation
(Sima Samar 2012 Physician)
Huang Ming 2011 Engineer
David Suzuki Honorary 2009 Zoologist
Rene Ngongo 2009 Biologist
(Catherine Hamlin 2009 Physician)
(Monika Hauser 2008 Physician)
Ruth Manorama 2006 Sociologist
Tony Clarke 2005 Sociologist
Asghar Ali 2005 Engineer
Raul Montenegro 2004 Evolutionary Biologist
Walden Bello 2003 Sociologist
Nicanor Perlas 2003 Agriculturalist
Ibrahim Abouleish 2003 Pharmacologist
Martin Green 2002 Engineer
Tewolde Berhan 2000 Botanist
Birsel Lemke 2000 Political scientist
Wes Jackson/The land Institute 2000 Geneticist-agronomist
Hermann Scheer 1999 Social Scientist
Juan Garces 1999 Political scientist
Samual Epstein 1998 Physician, Occupational Medicine
Juan Pablo Orrego 1998 Environmental Scientist
(Katarina Kruhonja 1998 Physician)
(Vesna Terselic 1998 Physician)
Jinzaburo Takagi 1997 Nuclear Chemist
Michael Succow 1997 Biologist
(George Vithoulkas 1996 Homeopathic Physician)
Sulak Sivaraksa 1995 Social Scientist
Hannumappa R Sudarshan/Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) 1994 Physician /org
Vandana Shiva 1993 Physicist
(Zafrullah Chowdhury 1992 Physician) with Gonoshathaya Kendra (GK)
John Gofman 1992 Nuclear Chemist and Physician
Edward Goldsmith Honorary 1991 Ecologist/writer
Bengt Danielsson 1991 Anthropologist (with Marie-Therese Danielsson)
Melaku Worede 1989 Agronomist
(Akilu Lemma 1989 Physician)
(Legesse Wolde-Yohannes 1989 Physician)
(Inge Genefke Honorary 1988 Physician) Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims
Jose Lutzenberger 1988 Agronomist
Johan Galtung Honorary 1987 Mathematician, Social Scientist
Hans-Peter Durr 1987 Physicist
Mordechai Vanunu 1987 Geographer, philosopher
Rosalie Bertell 1986 Biometrics, Environmental Health
(Alice Stewart 1986 Physician)
Wangari Maathai 1984 Biologist (Won Nobel Peace Prize in 2004)
Amory B. Lovins 1983 Experimental Physicist
Hunter Lovins 1983 Political Scientists and Sociologist
Organization Year of Award
Grameen Shakti 2007
Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) Org. of Science Writers 1996
Reading only the biographies of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates would lead a scientist to believe that there isn’t much change of being an activist for peace.
Reading the biographies of the Right Livelihood Award would lead scientists to believe that they can be effective in activist efforts, and that their particular talents and training makes them very, very useful in a drive for peace and sustainability.
Right Livelihood Award 2014
The „Alternative Nobel Prize“ is awarded annually by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation „for outstanding vision and work on behalf of our planet and its people“. This year, the Foundation has selected not four, but five Right Livelihood Award Laureates:
Edward Snowden (USA), Joint Honorary Award with Alan Rusbridger
„… for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights.“
Alan Rusbridger (UK), Joint Honorary Award with Edward Snowden
„… for building a global media organisation dedicated to responsible journalism in the public interest, undaunted by the challenges of exposing corporate and government malpractices.“
Asma Jahangir (Pakistan)
„… for defending, protecting and promoting human rights in Pakistan and more widely, often in very difficult and complex situations and at great personal risk.“
Basil Fernando / AHRC (Hong Kong SAR, China)
„… for his tireless and outstanding work to support and document the implementation of human rights in Asia.“
Bill McKibben / 350.org (USA)
„… for mobilising growing popular support in the USA and around the world for strong action to counter the threat of global climate change.“
We congratulate the Laureates and extend our cordial thanks for their outstanding enthusiasm and work for a more just, democratic and sustainable world!