Peterson: Nobel honored many Americans, Trump only noticed he wasn't one of them

By Keith Peterson
Guest columnist
Posted10/14/2020 1:00 AM

Nobel Week has come and gone, and even in this pandemic year some things remained the same.

Americans have been particularly well represented. Of the 12 individuals honored this year, seven are Americans including two American women in physics and chemistry.


Other things will be very different. Because of the pandemic, the "frozen chosen" will not be assembling in Stockholm to stride across the stage of the Royal Opera House to receive their prizes from King Karl XVI Gustaf and then to attend the gala dinner in the cavernous Blue Hall of Stockholm's City Hall or Stadshuset.

Two other things will be the same this year and not necessarily because of the pandemic. There will be no recognition of the American Nobel Prize winners by the White House in the form of a reception or dinner and President Donald Trump, once again, did not win the Nobel Peace Prize. That prize went to the World Food Program. In the past, the president has claimed that the only reason he has not won that prize is because the process is "rigged."

From the beginning of his administration, Trump has declined to honor American Nobel winners as his predecessors and many of the Americans winners have indicated that they prefer not go to an event hosted by this White House because of its perceived attacks on science.

Trump has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize a couple of times, but then he was one of 318 candidates for the prize this year. A great number of people can nominate someone for a prize. "Any person or organization can be nominated by anyone eligible to nominate," according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the prize. "To simply be nominated is therefore not an endorsement or extended honor to imply affiliation with the Nobel Peace Prize."

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In this case, Trump was most recently nominated by a far right-wing Norwegian politician and also by a conservative member of the Swedish parliament. Nominations can be made by "university rectors or chancellors, professors of political or social science, history, philosophy, law and theology; leaders of peace research institutes and institutes of foreign affairs; members of national assemblies, governments, and international courts of law; previous Nobel Laureates; board members of

organizations and institutions that have received the Nobel Peace Prize; present and past members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; and former advisers of the Norwegian Nobel Institute." That, potentially, is a lot of people.

The Nobel Committee does not release the list of nominees for 50 years and they are only known if the information is leaked. Obviously, these two Nordic politicians -- Christian Tybring-Gjedde and Magnus Jacobsson -- decided it was to their political advantage to leak news of their nominations of the president. Of course, this is something Trump has trumpeted, particularly since his predecessor in the White House actually received the prize.

Alfred Nobel's will requested that his estate was to fund a series of prizes in the sciences that have "conferred the greatest benefit to humankind." Since 1901, the Nobel Committee has done just that and each year they remind us how science makes our lives better -- such as the creation of gene-editing technologies or an expanded understanding of our environment.

Since a surge of research and development spending in the wake of the launch of Sputnik in 1957, which startled America's political establishment, there has been a steady decline in federal R & D spending as a percentage of GDP. We continue that decline at our own peril given the unprecedented challenges from global pandemics to climate change that we all face. Perhaps if Chinese scientists start winning Nobels, American political leaders will start to pay attention.

• Keith Peterson, of Lake Barrington, served 29 years as a press and cultural officer for the United States Information Agency and Department of State. He was chief editorial writer of the Daily Herald 1984-86.

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