The Nobel Prize as a Platform: An Analysis of the Positive and Negative Aspects of the Use of the Prize's Prestige by Laureates

by

Matt Hangauer

           

            Winning the Nobel Prize offers many rewards that are tangible, but the intangible rewards are just as valuable, if not more so.  One of these intangible rewards, which is a result of the fame associated with winning the Prize, is the immediate public platform upon which the laureate's opinions are placed.  These opinions are of interest to the media and the public on issues related to the laureate's field of study, but the fame associated with the Prize can allow the laureates to step outside their field of expertise and sway public views on a variety of topics of public interest.  This paper will serve to provide a critical analysis of these situations and will attempt to provide insight into whether or not this opportunity afforded to laureates helps or hurts society and science.

            An example of a prominent laureate who utilized this platform is Linus Pauling, the only person in history to win two unshared Nobel Prizes (Chemistry, 1954; Peace, 1962).  Pauling is widely recognized as an extraordinary scientist, the quintessential laureate who had a career filled with far reaching accomplishments.  He "described the nature of the chemical bond; discovered the structure of proteins; intuited the cause of sickle-cell anemia; engaged in this century's most famous scientific race, for the structure of DNA; won a Presidential Medal of Merit for his World War II research; advanced the fields of x-ray crystallography, electron diffraction, quantum mechanics, biochemistry, molecular psychiatry, nuclear physics, anesthesia, immunology, and nutrition; and wrote more than 500 articles and eleven books." 1 

            Pauling's fame was unavoidable and his opinions were valued by all, even fellow scientists who may have disagreed with him.  As such, he had the opportunity, and some may argue the responsibility, to apply his superior reasoning ability to problems of societal importance.  At the forefront of Pauling's involvement in issues other than the chemistry, physics, and biology his scientific expertise resided in was his involvement in the anti-atomic bomb movement. 

            Pauling, along with eight other scientists (Albert Einstein (chairman), Hans A. Bethe, Selig Hecht, Thorfin R. Hogness, Philip Morse, Leo Szilard, Harold C. Urey, and Victor F. Weisskopf) formed the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists in 1946 in response to the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  The major purpose of this committee was to educate the public on the way the world had been changed because of the successful development of the atomic bomb.  The goal was to convince the public that war was no longer a feasible option for solving conflicts between nations.  If this public opinion dominated then mutual nuclear disarmament between Russia and the U.S. could occur. 

            Unfortunately this committee, while having the best of intentions, was too weak and too small to convince entire nations of people that disarmament was the best course of action, especially during the tumultuous years immediately following WWII.  When, in August of 1949, Russia successfully produced an atom bomb the committee unofficially disbanded and faded, largely due to the difficult atmosphere created by the ever increasing armaments race between the East and West.  Freedom of speech was even in danger because the public was so strongly against disarmament, especially after the creation of Russia's first atom bombs.  While some of the scientists had come to believe that the best course of action was to match Russia's developing nuclear warfare program, others, including Pauling, continued to argue for disarmament and peace.

            Of the nine scientists on the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, Einstein (Physics) and Urey (Chemistry) had Noble Prizes at the time the committee existed.  Pauling (Chemistry and Peace) won both his prizes after it dissolved in 1949, as did Bethe (Physics).  The fame of these scientists, spearheaded by Einstein's international fame, fueled the committee's agenda and was utilized to reach the public.  While it is difficult to say whether this committee, and therefore the specific use of fame garnered from the Nobel Prize as a platform to voice its message, had a positive or negative effect on society, it is certain that this effect was relatively small since few people were outwardly affected by the committee's campaigning, and the arms race raged on.

            Pauling did not stop campaigning when the committee dissolved, though.  He continued to voice his views publicly through a series of lectures he gave following WWII and through the 1950's, opposing the buildup of arms and subsequent nuclear tests which were producing radioactive fallout in the atmosphere.  His fame drew large numbers of people to hear his lectures on peace and disarmament.  One such speech, which was among his first and most well known, was given on February 13, 1950 in Carnegie Hall, New York City and argued against the decision to produce the hydrogen bomb.  The transcript of this speech was published in a brochure called The Ultimate Decision which circulated and spread his peace views.

            On July 15, 1955 Pauling and fifty-one other Nobel Prize winners signed the Mainau Declaration which contained the following statement: "We do not deny that perhaps peace is being preserved precisely by the fear of these weapons. Nevertheless, we think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of these weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce."

            This was a strong, official, and public argument made against the policy that the U.S. government had established, and was therefore supporting evidence for Pauling to be accused of being a Communist later on.  Pauling's fame allowed him to voice his views against the government publicly and the arms race forcefully with little fear of being silenced, but after the Mainau Declaration he was questioned by a U.S. Senate committee on his alleged Communist persuasion despite his fame.  As a result of Pauling's dissenting views he was punished in various ways, such as having his passport withheld, even when he simply wanted to travel abroad to scientific meetings.  Nonetheless, Pauling's message was heard, and it was his fame garnered from his scientific success and from his 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry that allowed him the platform from which he continued to inform the public of the dangers of the arms race regardless of the harsh political atmosphere surrounding him at the time. 

            From the mid-1950's on Pauling shifted his lectures topics towards the opposition of test explosions of atomic bombs.  He gave numerous lectures at universities to large audiences.  Pauling wrote No More War! in 1958, which provided the general public with access to the arguments for peace that he had been using in his lectures.  Pauling and his wife, Ava Helen Pauling, submitted the Pauling Appeal to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in January 1958, which consisted of the signatures of 11,021 scientists from around the world who agreed with the suggestion that test explosions needed to cease for the sake of humanity.  The U.S. and Russia stopped nuclear tests in 1958 due in part, no doubt, to the tremendous support for the cessation of testing by the scientific community as exemplified by the Pauling Appeal.  

            The political atmosphere at the time of the Pauling appeal was no better than in 1955 when the Mainau Declaration was made, though, and yet again Pauling was brought before a congressional committee, this time the Internal Security Subcommittee of the United States.  At this point in time Pauling was the most recognizable figure in the movement of scientists against the testing of nuclear weapons.  As such, he was targeted by Congress and was again questioned, first in June of1960 and again October of 1960 about his alleged Communist persuasion.  He was also asked how it was that he managed to collect over 11,000 signatures of scientists who agreed with his views.  It was specifically asked who assisted Pauling in collecting these signatures.  Pauling was not willing to give the names of others who were more vulnerable than he was because they didn't have the same amount of fame and public exposure and therefore were not protected by public opinion.  For this disobedience an unfairly one-sided account of the proceedings of the meeting with Pauling was published by Congress which attempted to put Pauling in a bad light.  This backfired and only increased Pauling's popularity.  Major newspapers criticized the government's unfair accounts of Pauling's actions and the public sympathized with Pauling's attempts to do good for humanity.  As a result, Pauling's fame, and therefore his platform, were enhanced and his views became more widespread.

            In 1961 Russia announced its plan to detonate a fifty megaton atomic bomb as a test.  Pauling sent a telegram to Premier Khrushchev asking that this test not be carried out, and also sent a telegram to JFK asking the U.S. government to declare it would not test any atomic bombs in the atmosphere as long as Russia did not carry on with this test.  The response from Khrushchev was negative, stating that Russia had to continue tests out of self defense because the West was building its nuclear program too. 

            In November of 1961, after the Russian test was carried out and the letter from Krushchev was received, Linus and Ava Helen were invited to Moscow to give a speech on peace and disarmament.  This invitation shows that Pauling was playing the role of international arbiter between Russia and the U.S. and that his ideas were of interest to both.  He was seen as someone who understood the diplomatic problems and the severity of the risks of continued arms development, and as such he was one in a position to sway the governments of the two powers towards disarmament mutually.  Since the governments did not feel comfortable trusting each other, a neutral figure who was certainly not a follower of either the U.S. government's nuclear plans or the Soviet plans was the best chance for an agreement to be reached.  Indeed, Pauling's fame allowed him to communicate directly with the Premier of Russia and the President of the U.S. and act as the voice of scientific reason on the subject. 

            Pauling's efforts helped bring about the signing of the nuclear test ban treaty of July, 1963.  His fame, certainly stemming from his widespread acceptance as an extraordinary scientist and visionary which was furthered by his 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and his 1962 Nobel Peace Prize, helped to bring about international stability.  His efforts in this arena could hardly be argued to be anything other than positive for humanity.

            While Pauling's efforts in the field of public service via his movement towards peace and disarmament were lauded by all, not all of his endeavors outside of his fields of scientific expertise received the same degree of praise.  The standout example of this is Pauling's impact on the health marketplace through his ideas about Vitamin C. 

            Linus Pauling was not schooled in healthcare, but that is not grounds to say he wasn't an expert on it because he became an expert in many fields of molecular biology, chemistry, and physics that he received no formal training in.  Pauling had stepped out on a limb multiple times in his career promoting new ideas and theories he had and had withstood extensive criticism on multiple topics only to see in the end that his theories were right.  An example of this is his theory on molecular evolution which was initially criticized and viewed as controversial but over time became accepted as having some validity.

            It was this history of almost always being correct and always having good ideas and solid reasoning that moved Pauling's opinions into a realm almost beyond immediate criticism.  Also, his fame allowed him to communicate directly with the public and present his theories that would be of interest to the public directly without having to pass a screen of critical reviewers.  Towards the end of his illustrious career Pauling delved into a new topic which he called "orthomolecular" medicine, or "right molecule" medicine.  This consisted of the application of various nutrients and vitamins in excess to treat a variety of diseases and ailments in people.

            Pauling's major interest in this field was Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid.  He wrote Vitamin C and the Common Cold (1970), Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu (1976), and Vitamin C and Cancer (1979) on the topic.  He also wrote How to Feel Better and Live Longer (1986) on megadoses of various vitamins in general and how this can supposedly improve your life.  While these four books certainly got the word out that Linus Pauling thought Vitamin C was good to take in excess, there was no peer review that these texts had to go through to get printed, as is the case with all books.  Due to Pauling's fame, he was able to publish as he pleased in the form of texts rather than in scientific, peer reviewed journals and people read his books because they respected his opinions and ideas.  He was also able to bypass serious criticism in peer reviewed journals because of his fame and was allowed to publish in professional journals that did not require peer review but were still widely read.  As a result, many people became exposed to Pauling's ideas about Vitamin C but were never aware of the fact that many healthcare leaders and nutritionists had opinions that differed from Pauling's, and that Pauling might actually be wrong in his arguments.

            While there is conflicting evidence as to whether or not Vitamin C has any positive effect at all in preventing colds or lessening cold symptoms, there is no evidence that megadoses of the amount suggested by Pauling would have any positive effect beyond that of a normal dose such as that of the RDA (recommended daily allowance).  At best one can say that Pauling might be correct once the evidence is sorted out and it is determined with statistical confidence that Vitamin C is helpful for colds. 

Nonetheless, the public has largely adopted the idea that Vitamin C is an acceptable treatment for colds without knowing about the behind the scenes controversy that has been taking place amongst the healthcare experts.  Pauling also promoted Vitamin C and other vitamins as being effective treatments for a wide range of diseases and ailments such as cancer, heart disease (for which there is more evidence that it is indeed an antioxidant), mental illness, as well as other ailments.  Pauling claimed at one point that "75% of all cancer can be prevented and cured by Vitamin C alone."  Indeed he started The Linus Pauling Institute of Medicine in 1973, which was dedicated to orthomolecular medicine research.  Despite significant funding and research efforts, no evidence was found strong enough to convince the scientific community that Vitamin C could have the effects Pauling was claiming.  Nonetheless, the idea that Vitamin C can be used to prevent a cold or flu, or even other illnesses still lingers in the public opinion today.

            Hence, Pauling used his fame, derived at least in part from his Nobel Prizes, to champion his views to the public on various topics, most notably peace and nuclear disarmament and on orthomolecular medicine.  It is fair to say that Pauling's use of his fame to pass his views on orthomolecular medicine on to the public, primarily in the form of Vitamin C as a near panacea, was a poor decision, at least in terms of the benefits derived from it for society.  At best, it will be found that Pauling was correct and that the public opinion that Vitamin C is good to take in excess (i.e. drinking lots of orange juice when you have a cold etc.) turns out to be beneficial.  Even if this is the case, though, Pauling stepped out of his field of expertise and presented ideas which went directly to the public despite the criticism with which they were received by the scientific community.  This cannot be an action that is encouraged of Nobel laureates.  Scientific rigor and the process of having scientific ideas and experimental results critically analyzed by experts should not be compromised, regardless of the fame of the person presenting the ideas.  As such, Linus Pauling used his fame both positively and negatively: he helped bring about the international agreement on the banning of nuclear testing, but he also gave the public what may in fact be incorrect views on the effects of Vitamin C which may be detrimental to the health of the average citizen.

            Another example of someone who took full advantage of his fame derived from his Nobel Prize is Kary Mullis.  Mullis won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method."  Kary Mullis had a very different career than did Linus Pauling.  Mullis did not have a career filled with astonishing scientific achievement.  His Prize was awarded for an idea he had that took only a few minutes to think of and only a few months to develop.  He essentially won the prize for an ingenious idea for a molecular biology process, one that manipulated DNA and its associated enzymes to produce large amounts of DNA.  He hasn't made the kinds of advances in multiple scientific fields that Pauling did.  Nonetheless, the value of his invention leaves no doubt that he was deserving of a Nobel Prize.  Indeed, it could be argued that his invention of PCR is among the most important inventions in the history of science.  It just so happens that he is an eccentric freethinker who has a sizeable ego and a caustic attitude to boot.  This all aside, though, Mullis provides a great example of how the Prize provides an immediate platform, for those who choose to take advantage of it, from which a laureate can publicly voice his (or her) views, controversial as they may be.

            First it is important to say that Mullis' fame is perhaps greater than that of a typical recent laureate.  His invention has been publicly touted as among the most important ever.  Indeed, on the first page of his book, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, which contains many of his views on a variety of sometimes sensational topics, there is a quote from ABC's Ted Koppel: "Take all the MVP's from professional baseball, basketball, and football.  Throw in your dozen favorite movie stars and a half dozen rock stars for good measure, add all the television anchorpeople now on the air, and collectively, we have not affected the current good or future welfare of mankind as much as Kary Mullis."2 

            Mullis certainly shares this point of view, and isn't bashful about it.  He has so much confidence in his intelligence and scientific aptitude that he is willing to attack various pillars of the scientific community with his newfound Nobel Prize platform and fame.  He has no reservations about publicly proclaiming his controversial views about topics on which he is not considered an expert.

            Mullis has particularly strong attraction towards sensational ideas and opinions, ones that have a good chance of arousing opposition.  He has a particular problem with, as he describes at length in Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, the effect that non-scientist bureaucrats in charge of funding agencies like the NIH and the media have on the direction and focus of scientific research.  He has expounded on this opinion extensively in multiple interviews as well.  He believes that his fame, which comes almost entirely from his Nobel Prize and his sensational theories, should allow him to publicly criticize people who are in power and who promote policies or ideas he disagrees with.

The most visible example of Mullis using his fame to promote his opinion is his public argument that HIV does not cause AIDS.  It is worth noting that Kary Mullis is not an expert on AIDS or virology, he is a molecular biologist.  As such his venture into this field is largely facilitated by his fame from his Nobel Prize, and it is this fame which allows his voice to be lauded enough that experts in the AIDS field can't help but hear.

            He believes that there is not ample evidence to warrant the widespread acceptance that HIV causes AIDS, and as a result too many research groups are misdirected into studying HIV rather than searching for the "real" cause of AIDS.  Mullis said in the Foreword for Inventing the AIDS Virus, a book by Peter Duesberg (a prominent virologist at UC-Berkeley), that on a whim he realized that he didn't know what the literature source was that he could cite which provides the evidence and argument that HIV is the cause of AIDS.  He searched and searched and couldn't find it.  He asked multiple prominent AIDS/HIV experts and they couldn't give him a solid answer...and so started Mullis' crusade to find the answer.  What he determined was that there was not a satisfactory paper, or group of papers, which, in his opinion, showed that HIV is the cause of AIDS. 

            Mullis has gone one step further, though.  He claims that AIDS is caused by other factors, not HIV.  He has far less evidence supporting his partially formed theory of what causes AIDS than there is for HIV being the cause of AIDS.  The most forceful part of his argument, though, lies in his questioning of whether or not HIV causes AIDS, not in his partially formed theories as to what really does cause AIDS.  In his opinion, the evidence in existence for the theory that HIV causes AIDS is either circumstantial, flawed, or inconclusive.  A problem that has been raised about Mullis' objection to the HIV/AIDS acceptance is that Mullis won't accept evidence unless everything except for HIV is eliminated as a variable, and then the HIV has to be witnessed directly as causing AIDS, on the molecular, cellular, and/or systematic level.  This kind of proof is most likely impossible to obtain, at least with today's technology and molecular biology methods.  To effectively eliminate all variables in a biological system besides HIV, which essentially consists of purifying HIV and then inserting it into a fresh biological system which has all potential AIDS-causing factors eliminated is not a feasible experiment to do.  Mullis has an argument which can only be completely refuted if an experiment akin to this is done, and Mullis is well aware of the fact that this is very unlikely to happen.  But the basis of Mullis' question is still there, is there ample proof that HIV causes AIDS even if it is not the result of an absolute experiment like that just described?

            Mullis claims that this theory that HIV causes AIDS somehow became popular opinion in scientific circles and just became accepted without ever having been proven.  He has spoken out on the topic any chance he gets.  He is the most visible voice for the group called Virusmyth which tries to convince leading scientists and laymen alike that, at the very least, some effort and research should be put into the conclusive determination of whether or not HIV causes AIDS.  It should be noted that there are a number of scientists who agree with Mullis, albeit nowhere near the number who disagree, and those who agree with Mullis are, by and large, not as prominent as those that disagree.  As such, his opinions are spread more because he is seen publicly as an extreme and interesting character rather than through the consenting opinions of prominent scientists. 

            While some of Mullis' methods may be extreme, his attack on this HIV/AIDS theory seems well intentioned.  Granted, it may simply be an example of a egomaniac Nobel Prize winner throwing his weight around trying to make waves of dissention in the scientific community, but the overall effect is that many scientists interested in AIDS research may feel compelled to reevaluate the validity of the theory that HIV causes AIDS or may simply choose to ignore Mullis and continue with their research while dismissing Mullis' arguments.  Either way, Mullis' arguments may have a positive effect, if by some small chance HIV was found not to be the cause of AIDS or if something important was discovered while trying to find further evidence that HIV causes AIDS, which is certainly more likely than the discovery that HIV does not cause AIDS.  On the other hand, the worst case scenario is that Mullis is wasting paper and his own time with his arguments, and no one is seriously listening or if they are they simply dismiss him because his argument is too flawed or is found through further research to be flawed, in which case no harm is done at all.

            Another example of a laureate taking advantage of his fame to voice his opinions outside his field of expertise is William Shockley who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956 "for (his part in) researches on semiconductors and (his part in the) discovery of the transistor effect."  Shockley played a major role in the development of the $130 billion semiconductor industry, but in he changed his interests to what turned out to be a very controversial topic, the origins of human intelligence.

With the label as one of the inventors of the transistor, Shockley was given free reign to choose to do what he wanted, and was offered a professorship in electrical engineering at Stanford University in 1963.  There he did some quality electrical engineering research, but over time his interests shifted to the origins of human intelligence, and more specifically dysgenics.  He noted racial differences in IQ scores and made reasonably scientific arguments stating that this was a statistically significant difference.  This was not refuted by critics.  The importance of this difference was, though. 

            Shockley went on to draw a variety of conclusions from this data, and had some very shocking views about how this information should be applied.  First of all, he didn't listen to critics who pointed out cultural differences and bias in IQ exams.  He then proceeded to make claims that it would be best for humanity if only those with above average IQ's were allowed to reproduce.  These views were very similar to those of the eugenics movement of the 1910's and 1920's which were so attractive to those searching for support for racism.  These ideas were, of course, very shocking, and as such they cast a bad light on Shockley.

            Shockley was completely ostracized by the scientific community; not only were his ideas ridiculously offensive, they were not considered scientifically sound and were not necessarily implied by his data as far as the scientific community was concerned.  He was not considered to be an expert in genetics, rather a novice with radical views.  He had no schooling in genetics, and had spent a lifetime in physics and electrical engineering.  His fame was not enough to allow his research to be considered for its purely scientific value, instead it was viewed in light of its potential societal implications and was shot down, perhaps unfairly.

            Perhaps Shockley's ideas were not so off base, from a purely scientific standpoint, to deserve to be dismissed entirely by the academic community.  It may be, and probably was the case, that the ideas were too offensive to even get considered, and the criticizing scientists were looking for any way they could to avoid having Shockley's ideas accepted by the public or academia.  This raises some concern because if a Nobel Prize winner who wishes to do purely scientific research, that may be considered offensive or politically incorrect, and his research isn't given a chance to succeed or to obtain useful results, then surely a less visible scientist who was interested in such a field would have no chance either.  This appears to be a sign that there are certain lines which even the liberal academic society won't allow to be crossed in terms of scientific research.  Nonetheless, at the very least on could argue that Shockley lacked the tact to choose a research topic that was likely to lead to positive results, and this reflected negatively on him.

            Shockley's fame did make his views somewhat public.  It cast a bad light on science that a Man of Science of Shockley's caliber could finish his career with such terrible scientific interests and with such shocking views.  No scientists publicly agreed with his ideas about the benefits of large scale IQ screening for those who could reproduce.  These were not believed to be logical or natural conclusions to be drawn from his data.  Shockley certainly is a case where the platform afforded to him from his fame and Nobel Prize was misused and wasted.  He only hurt science by distracting other scientists from their work so that they could refute his arguments.  He was far too willing to jump into areas where he was not an expert and in which he could not have a positive impact on science or society.

            Shockley is different from Mullis not because he did not have good intentions, because he did.  Shockley thought his research was going to help society.  Shockley is different from Mullis because he was venturing into an area that was not going to yield productive results.  He could have argued forever and still have no effect on science.  His choice of field was too outrageous to even be considered by other scientists and as a result it was essentially a waste of time and effort for him to pursue his interest, at least with respect to the effect he might have on society. 

            With Mullis, though, there is a better chance that something positive might come out of his venture outside of his expertise.  He has gained some support from the corners of the academic world, and as was already argued, may have a positive impact if he is right about HIV not causing AIDS, or at least will cause the foundation of the HIV/AIDS hypothesis to be strengthened if he is wrong.  Either way, it is a step forward for science to have a critique of a widespread assumption.  Mullis' argument looks especially attractive at a time when AIDS has been around for a long time and research towards a cure is not especially promising.  Perhaps some scientists would welcome this brief departure from their research on HIV/AIDS, maybe they will finally prove that HIV causes AIDS and silence Mullis forever, or maybe they will find that Mullis is correct.  Either way, good for science.

            Pauling used his fame in a purely positive way, by being the voice of scientists against nuclear testing, for disarmament, and for peace.  His effect will never be known exactly, that is, the degree to which he effected the signing of the nuclear test ban treaty may never be quantified, but it is certain that he helped. 

            Pauling's Vitamin C championing was a poor use of his fame to get his opinion in the public view without thorough criticism from the scientific community first.  Nonetheless, he was different from Shockley here as well, since he was at least interested in a field that was meant to help people and help society.

            Nobel laureates have used their fame to step outside their field of expertise on multiple occasions.  When this field is one that requires a significant amount of knowledge, such as a different field of science, then the laureate will be viewed by experts in the field as a novice and must, as Mullis has done, gain the support of experts in order to have an impact.  On the other hand, when a laureate ventures into the political or diplomatic scene from the point of view of a scientist and represents scientists' views, such as Pauling's (and Einstein's) involvement in the anti-nuclear warfare movement, they have a unique niche which they fill which cannot be filled by "experts" in that field. 

            Politicians cannot fill the role of a scientist's analysis of the effects of nuclear fallout.  When the scientists argue their point themselves it carries more force than when it is argued through a politician.  Perhaps it is the often neutral political persuasion, or perhaps the lack of expertise in the typical skills of politicians such as persuasion etc. that makes the scientists view on matters which involve science attractive.  Nobel laureates have the opportunity to be a respected, yet non-political figure whose opinions can influence the public and governments in significant ways.

When a scientist wins the Nobel Prize, he or she may choose to form opinions, and voice these opinions, on topics upon which they are not experts.  When they do, it is largely their responsibility to critique themselves or allow other scientists to do so before publicly proclaiming their view so as not to mislead the public with a misinformed view.  Since Nobel laureates are not always humble people, they do not always choose what is best for science and what is best for the public.  When a laureate does present a misinformed view, though, the science is hurt less than is the public welfare because other scientists simply reject it on the basis of the laureate not being an expert in that field, whereas the public more willingly accepts the idea.  Hence, whether the laureate has a positive or negative effect on society after winning the prize is the laureate's responsibility because there aren't any effective checks in place to curb their behavior.

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