Do we need Nobel Prizes in science?

August 15, 2019 • 9:20 am

This article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic is almost two years old, but I hadn’t seen it before—or at least I don’t remember reading it. Reader Bryan, who sent me the link (click on screenshot for a free read), says it’s “pretty good”, and, indeed, it’s about the best critique of Nobel Prizes I can think of. None of Ed’s criticisms are new, but it’s good to collect them all in one place, if for no other reason that we can evaluate the best case for eliminating Nobels.

Do I agree with Ed’s claim that the Nobels are “absurd”, that, like “every other prize”, they are “flawed and subjective” and that (this is implicit in Yong’s piece) they should be abolished? Not really.

When I was younger I wasn’t that keen on the existence of the Nobels, seeing all awards in science as a corruption of the scientific enterprise. We were supposed to be in the game for curiosity alone, I thought, and the existence of Nobel Prizes corrupted that curiosity, leading to unseemly ambition and, for the winners, arrogance.  I no longer feel so strongly—certainly not as strongly as Yong—as the prizes do have one salubrious effect. And I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s part of human nature to want to be admired for one’s achievements.

Have a read: the piece is short.

Here’s a list of Ed’s criticisms of the Nobels ( #3 is mine). Quotes from his article are indented:

1.) The awards are limited to three people, yet modern science often involves huge teams of people, and often it’s not clear who should get the credit. Those who were part of a team and were spurned feel aggrieved. This is true: the numbers of authors on scientific papers is increasing exponentially. In fact, it’s rare to see a single-authored paper, even in my own field of evolutionary biology. As Yong notes, the authors of the team that found gravity waves, for which a Nobel was awarded to three physicists, runs for three pages. A paper estimating the mass of the Higgs boson (for which two physicists won a Nobel in 2013) has 5,154 authors!

How do you apportion credit for such an effort? Well, in many cases, three or fewer people can be seen as the prime movers of the work, so that’s not a problem. And, to my mind, those not awarded a prize shouldn’t really beef about it, because I still feel that the real prize in science is getting to do science—to get paid for satisfying your curiosity. But yes, it is a problem, and sometimes it’s not so easy.

Sometimes the solution is to split the prize among fields, as Matthew Cobb suggested might have been done for the discovery of DNA’s structure had Rosalind Franklin lived (prizes aren’t awarded posthumously). As he wrote in the Guardian:

It is clear that, had Franklin lived, the Nobel prize committee ought to have awarded her a Nobel prize, too – her conceptual understanding of the structure of the DNA molecule and its significance was on a par with that of Watson and Crick, while her crystallographic data were as good as, if not better, than those of Wilkins. The simple expedient would have been to award Watson and Crick the prize for Physiology or Medicine while Franklin and Watkins received the prize for Chemistry.

Ed also mentions a 2012 suggestion by the editors of Scientific American: when there are large teams and no clear standout recipients, the prize could be awarded to a “team”, just as Peace Prizes are sometimes awarded to organizations. While that sounds good, I don’t think it would work, for every scientist would want to call themselves a “Nobel Laureate”, unlike members of, say, Doctors Without Borders.

Finally, I have my own beef—many cases of multiple authorships are gratuitous. Authorship is very often given to people who made little or no contribution to the research (sometimes the head of the lab, who all too often puts his/her name on all papers done by subordinates), or to people whose contributions were trivial: donating a reagent or doing a small calculation. As competition for jobs in science heats up, more and more people want their names on papers, for that swells their c.v. and helps them advance. This is a practice I decry and haven’t engaged in, and I’ve told my students to avoid it, too. But the growth of authorship lists seems inevitable, and not all of it is attributable to the changing nature of research, which now is said to require “teams.” Not all research does. Every scientist knows cases of authors on papers who didn’t really deserve their authorship, but we discuss it sotto voce.

2.) A related issue: important contributors have been overlooked. 

The very first prize in medicine was awarded to Emil von Behring in 1901 for the discovery of antitoxins, but not to his close collaborator Shibasaburo Kitasato. The 1952 medicine and physiology prize went to Selman Waksman for the discovery of the antibiotic streptomycin, and ignored Waksman’s graduate student Albert Schatz, who actually found the chemical. The chemistry prize in 2008 went to three researchers for discovering green fluorescent protein (GFP)—a molecule that other scientists commonly use to visualize the goings-on within our cells. Douglas Prasher, the man who first cloned the gene for GFP, was not among them.

I’d add Jocelyn Bell, who first observed pulsars, but was not given the physics prize in 1974 along with two male authors of the paper, despite Bell being the second author.  This is related to problem #1.  One could, I suppose expand the list of recipients to more than three; after all, Alfred Nobel specified only one recipient per field, but it’s been expanded by custom to a maximum of three. Why not four or five?

Sometimes people beef in public:

In some cases, people have protested their own omission. In 2003, one Ray Damadian took out a series of full-page ads in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times to protest that he had been wrongfully denied a Nobel Prize in Medicine for his role in inventing magnetic resonance imaging. The Nobel committee only recognized Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield for that feat—an omission that Damadian billed as a “shameful wrong that must be righted.” “To wake up on Monday morning and see that I had been written out of history is an agony I cannot live with,” he told theTimes.

Well, Damadian is being a weenie here. Once a Prize is awarded it’s too late. Perhaps Damadian was overlooked, but he should have taken the slight gracefully.  His statement that he’s in “an agony I cannot live with” is shamefully self-aggrandizing and embarrassing. And the ads, well, they’re beyond shameful. What do they accomplish except make one look like a big sour grape?

3.) Important contributions have been overlooked. This is my own plaint, though I can’t think of many major contributions that have really been ignored, except in literature. The development of polio vaccine by Salk and Sabin, I suppose, was one of the overlooked science prizes (there was an award to others in 1954 for culturing the virus), though some disagree (see here). But at any rate, people will always differ in what discoveries they consider prize-worthy. I expect one will be given for CRISPR technology, but here again there is a controversy about which of the several developers deserve a prize.

4.) Awarding prizes distorts the nature of science, feeding into a Tolstoy-ian “great person” myth in which progress depends more on individuals than on a history of work building on itself. Ed says this:

The price of reform is low, and the cost of avoiding it is high. As biologists Arturo Casadevall and Ferric Fang wrote in 2013, the Nobels promulgate the idea of the lone genius—the idea, summarized by philosopher Thomas Carlyle, that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men.” Not so in science, and yet the Nobels feed this pernicious myth. And in doing so, say Casadavell and Fang, they “reinforce a flawed reward system in science in which the winner takes all, and the contributions of the many are neglected by disproportionate attention to the contributions of a few.” In some ways, the prizes are not about who has made the most important contributions, but who has best survived the hazardous labyrinth of academia.

Well, perhaps the public needs to learn more about the cumulative and group-ish nature of the scientific enterprise, but I don’t think the awarding of prizes feeds a “pernicious myth.” And the winner doesn’t take all: everyone gets the satisfaction of knowing their work contributed to the award, and, more important, you’re a winner simply by being a scientist who’s contributed to important work. The “pernicious myth” idea is, I think, a bit of histrionics.

5.) Dead people can’t get prizes.

And in many cases, the prizes are about who has survived, full stop. Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously. So Rosalind Franklin was not recognized for her pivotal role in discovering the double-helical structure of DNA because she died four years before the Nobel was awarded to James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins. Astronomer Vera Rubin provided evidence for the existence of dark matter by studying the way in which galaxies rotate—a feat that revolutionized our understanding of the universe. “Vera Rubin deserves a Nobel,” said science writer Rachel Feltman in October 2016. “She probably won’t get one in time.” Rubin died two months later.

I don’t see this as a major problem. There are many prizes awarded only to living people.

6.) Minorities, particularly women scientists, have been overlooked.

Rubin and Franklin point to another longstanding issue with the Nobels. In as much as they propagate the myth of the lone genius, that lone genius is almost always white and male. Women have won just 12 of the 214 prizes in physiology or medicine, just 4 of the 175 prizes in chemistry, and just 2 of the 204 prizes in physics. The most recent female physics laureate, Maria Goeppert Mayer, won her prize 54 years ago. It’s not for lack of potential honorees, either. Rubin inarguably deserved one, as did Lise Meitner who contributed to the discovery of nuclear fission alongside laureate Otto Hahn. Between 1937 and 1965, Meitner was nominated 48 times by different people, and never won. “There are great things about the Nobel Prize but we should keep in mind that demographics of the winners reflect and amplify structural biases,” said astrophysicist Katie Mack on Twitter last year.

This accusation seems true, although, to be fair, science was until recently almost completely dominated by men, and men, like women, have been overlooked. (Should we strive for a proportionality of women laureates equal to 50% when in some fields women are far fewer than 50% of the scientists? This reflects the problem of equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome.) But there has been sexism in who has been considered for prizes, and I hope (and am pretty confident) that that bias, and other biases, will be rectified. As women make up an increasing proportion of biologists, the disparity will (or so I hope) be rectified.

7.) Laureates are overly lionized, to the point that their flaws are overlooked.

Perhaps none of this would matter if the Nobels weren’t such a massive deal. Beyond the monetary value of the prize, laureates are virtually guaranteed a stream of lucrative speaking gigs. Their papers garner more citations. They tend to live for a year or two longer than people who were nominated but never actually won. And the award imprints them with a permanent imprimatur of greatness. The Nobel Prize is not, say, a MacArthur genius grant, which is awarded to people “who show exceptional creativity in their work.” It recognizes a particular discovery. And yet the discoverer is forever billed as an intellectual force in their own right—creating an equivalence between one historical contribution and their entire portfolio of ideas forevermore.

Is this really a problem with the Prizes, or with how people react to them? And I’m not sure that a discoverer is forever billed “as an intellectual force in their own right”. Some of them are, for sure, but many are not, and continue on with their work without becoming a national icon. I don’t think Wally Gilbert, for one, has had a “string of lucrative speaking gigs”, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want one. Paul Dirac was content to continue to do science and avoid lionization.

An even less serious criticism by Ed is that some Laureates go off the rails after they get their prizes. Yong mentions William Shockley, who became a racist, James Watson, who has espoused racism and sexism, and Kary Mullis, who was a bull-goose looney. But so what? This can happen to anyone who gets an award. We can’t guarantee that Nobel Laureates will be exemplars of morality and dignity for the rest of their lives.

So we have a number of criticisms of science prizes, some of which, I suppose, could apply to Peace, Literature, and Economics Prizes as well. Are these issues so serious that they warrant the elimination of the Nobel awards? Well, we know that’s not going to happen: it’s the only scientific “event” that the whole world notices: a ritual of the fall and winter.

And that’s why, I think, we should keep them, for Nobels educate people about what the big scientific advances have been. How many people knew about gravity waves before the Nobels were awarded? If you’re a science geek, you’ll have known, and a few newspapers (but not many) have a decent science section; but the awarding of the Nobels, with some descriptions of what they were given for, goes a substantial way towards informing the public about new knowledge of the Universe.  Doesn’t conveying that information, which goes around the world, outweigh all the ambition, careerism, and hurt feelings within the scientific community at Nobel time? I think so.

51 thoughts on “Do we need Nobel Prizes in science?

  1. Could I offer, as a counterbalance to Shockley and Watson, the example of Fred Sanger, who won TWO Nobel prizes, and yet remained modest about his accomplishments to the end of his life. He even turned down a knighthood.

    I should add that I work at the institute near Cambridge that is named after him, so I may not be entirely unbiased. I never met Fred Sanger, but colleagues who knew him always spoke warmly of him.

    1. In a slightly different context there are the actions of Harold Urey declining to be named in the paper written by his student Stanley Miller describing his successful synthesis of various amino acids from a model of the early Earth’s atmosphere.
      Urey did have a significant amount of input to the theoretical design of the experiment, and as head of the lab and Miller’s supervisor nobody would have challenged him if he wanted his name on the paper. But having got a Nobel in 1934 for work in isotope physics, Urey knew that this important discovery would have been described as his work if his name were on the paper, so he told Miller to publish as sole author.
      In about 40 years since I heard about it, there has been a perceptible shift form calling it the “Miller experiment” to the Miller-Urey” experiment, as Urey’s contribution to the work was substantial.

    1. And I think the order significance is different in, say, mathematics. I think Yong simply didn’t have the word count to deal with that issue.

  2. There’s so much to discuss here, I would need a group video call!

    I agree about the educational impact of the Nobel. At some point, I noticed the Nobel Prize has a website (I think the website was relatively new at that time – think GeoCities-era) and became entranced reading every entry for every year. It really helped understand what makes a research problem important and exciting – and of course what constitutes a discovery. This is valuable for the decision making process, as one chooses among career options. Bu of course, your mileage may vary.

    Also no math Nobel. There should have been one. I heard that was by design.

    1. It’s okay. We have the Abel Prize now, which seems to fulfill much the same role. There is also the Fields Medal, which is quite prestigious and has been around for almost 100 years now, but is awarded to a young mathematician, so has a rather distinct flavor from the Nobel.

      1. I think there was a decision not to, and I find it petty, if true. Hopefully mathematicians and scientists can still be friends.

        1. The lack of a Nobel in mathematics was certainly intentional, though I don’t think that it was a decision made out of petty vindictiveness. Rather, it seems that the lack may have been justified for a few reasons: there were already awards given in mathematics (e.g. King Oscar II’s award—a funny anecdote about this award is that Poincare published a solution to the three-body problem, was given this award, found an error in the paper, then had to spend his award buying up all copies of his paper), and mathematics is more properly a branch of philosophy rather than an empirical science.

          That being said, I don’t discriminate—some of my best friends are scientists!

  3. For all the faults of these prizes, the PR value for science in general is worth it. Even though there’s an awkwardness about it, there’s value in portraying a scientist as a kind of hero. It’s good that young children see you can win a prize for that stuff.

    1. Yes, this was going to be my point. The average person rarely thinks about science. The Nobel Prizes at least remind some people that science matters and is advancing.

    2. I agree with you Mike, although Jerry and Ed Yong make many good points about the faults with the Nobel Prizes. One solution is to have joint announcements of other prizes (or simply major recent discoveries) in math and the sciences synchronized with the Nobel announcements to elevate awareness. I recall reading an interview with Ernst Mayr wherein he mentioned the oversight of there not being a Nobel for evolution. Technically, there’s not a Nobel for biology in general.

  4. Recent (~30 years) physics Nobel Prizes have been pretty good. Historically they have been extremely well paced with what’s important and what was to become textbook physics. And yes, they have been a little sexist.

    I cannot speak for the other sciences. I have noticed that one or two chemistry and medicine Prizes are awarded for applying a technique developed in physics. To my knowledge it does not go the other way, not yet!

  5. I think journals should require a brief statement of each author’s contribution. I’m not sure this would work for the papers from CERN with hundreds of authors but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be done for papers with half a dozen or so.

    1. Some journals (such as Nature) do require this, but it’s not universal.

      There was an interesting comment piece in Nature recently ( which argues that journals ought to move from listing authors to listing contributors. It specifically mentions team members who write programs to analyse data, but who are often excluded from the author list of resulting papers because “just programming” doesn’t merit authorship.

  6. To the shameful exclusions already mentioned, I would add the name of the estimable Chien-Shiung Wu who designed and conducted the experiment that showed parity is not conserved. Her team mates were recognized but not Wu.

  7. The complaint about sexism rests on past history that is in the process of correction. The absence of minority groups such as the Pintupi of Australia, the Yanomami of Brazil, and the Sami reindeer-herders of northern Europe, from the Nobels is an unavoidable consequence of their absence from the conduct of science. The quibble about the personal behavior of a few Nobelists is silly, as nobody faults music performance and recording because Wagner was a bastard, etc. etc. If the repute of the Nobel could survive Kary Mullis, it can survive anything.

    Our host’s final conclusion—that Nobels generate public interest in and knowledge of science–carries the argument conclusively, as far as I am concerned.

  8. I think the same criticisms would apply to a lot of elite awards – the Fields medal, the Oscars, etc.

    I for one am ok with *motivating* people’s curiousity, for example.

    And as for the other problems, fix them – just because something is *broken* doesn’t make the idea bad necessarily.

  9. The Nobel prizes are based on the will of Alfred Nobel, and the science prizes are awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It is not up to us whether they are awarded, or how they go about it.

    It is up to us how big a deal we make of them. When universities simply count how many Nobel laureates they have on their faculty, it becomes a tacky marketing claim. When the prize recognizes a worthy contribution to science, it is a joy to see it awarded.

    Also, according to the Betteridge rule, the title of the post should be “Should we dispense with the Nobel Prizes in science?”, so that it can be answered “No.”

  10. Dear Professor Coyone,

    we all suffer from the “It can be done better” syndrome. As some people say, better is against good.

    The whole rational and pragmatic movement is in trouble, because it is not enough to know, it is not enough to be right, it is not enough to know who is wrong…

    People need to know as well, but how to show them science better? Nobel does the job, but needs not only critique but support and feedback as well, not only for Nobel Comity but for the people in different pockets of the public. The expectations are different now, then more than 100 years ago…

    Nobel needs competition, problem is that not everyone heard about, for example: famous before the WWII Lviv “goose contest”, but everyone heard about Nobel Prize… and goose was often alive 😉 (trouble?)

    Thank you for your summary and the rest of the blog…

    Best regards

  11. The Nobels exist because an explosive manufacturer wanted to ease his conscience. It arguably promotes more his name than that of laureates. But I see more good than harm, even when the criticism is true.

    1. If I had to guess, I’d guess far more people have heard of the Nobel Prize than know who it’s named after (or that it’s named after anyone) and why. I don’t think it does anything to promote Mr. Nobel’s name anymore. I think that time passed long ago, even for people who do know why it’s named the Nobel Prize.

  12. I’ll agree with others here: a very well-written and well-argued post, Jerry. I agree with the final conclusion that the prize is immensely valuable if only for the attention it brings to science, though I’m sure it is valuable in many other ways as well (and I don’t mean monetarily).

  13. I agree. That is, I have no problem with giving Nobel Prizes to scientists. However, I see no justification for having separate prizes for physics and chemistry. In Literature, after all, they don’t give separate prizes for poetry and prose, or for fiction and non-fiction. I’d be more in favor of a single prize for Science as for Literature. Am I missing something?

    1. Nobel was a chemist. He probably saw more difference between chemistry and physics than between … what were the sub-fields of word-shuffling which you mentioned?
      I’d actually forgotten that there was a Nobel in Literature.

    2. Chemistry and physics do insersect, but are drastically different fields. What *is* weird is that some of the chemistry prizes were given for what amounts to more or less physics – like the one to Rutherford.

  14. As a mathematician, I feel compelled to point out that there is no Nobel prize for mathematics. The nearest equivalent is the Fields Medal, but that has an upper age limit: recipients must be under 40. It’s also awarded only every four years, at the Congress of the International Mathematical Union.

    1. ThyroidPlanet and I have been discussing this lack above. I would, perhaps, argue that the Abel Prize is a more direct analog of the Nobel, in that it is awarded in recognition of important contributions, as compared with the Fields Medal which seems to be more about the promise of a young mathematician.

      1. I think a mathematician needs a lot more than “promise” to win a Fields. And most mathematicians have done their most important work before they reach the age of forty anyway.

  15. “I’d add Jocelyn Bell, who first observed pulsars, but was not given the physics prize in 1974 along with two male authors of the paper, despite Bell being the second author.”

    Only one author of that paper (the lead author, Hewish) got the Nobel Prize for it. The other recipient (Ryle) was not part of that team.

    The citation was: “Professors Ryle and Hewish have been awarded the Prize for their pioneering research in radioastrophysics: Ryle for his observations and inventions, in particular of the aperture-synthesis technique, and Hewish for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars.”

    1. Rather similarly to Anthony Hewish and Jocelyn Bell (his PhD student), Rosalind Franklin did not not gather the decisive data which tipped off Watson as to the structure of DNA.

      The famous ‘Photo 51’, the X-ray diffraction image of crystallized DNA he saw, was taken not by Franklin, but by her PhD student Raymond Gosling.

      Neither Bell nor Gosling subsequently claimed they should have been given the Nobel prize. They understood their roles.

      Of course, Franklin would (or should) have shared the prize has she survived.

      1. I occasionally see claims made that Franklin was ‘written out of history’ and her contribution ignored. It may be true that she was treated very discourteously by the men involved in the discovery of the structure of DNA but it is far from true that Franklin has been written out of history. Until her sadly premature death she had a successful carer in science and her contributions are honoured by various laboratories and institutions that are named after her, amongst various other marks of recognition.

  16. As a non-scientist who usually reads about science in magazines targeted to non-scientists, I look forward with great excitement when I learn of Nobel prize-winning scientists and what they won the prize for. As has been pointed out, however, many deserving scientists have been passed over. The same occurs in other Nobel prize areas such as literature. Much as I like Bob Dylan, I wish Jorge Luis Borges had been acknowledged with a Nobel during his lifetime instead (or in addition to)Bob Dylan.

  17. I agree that the main benefit is really the publicity. There are many changes that could improve the Nobels, but at least they cause a lot of media outlets to delve into some of the best science in the world, even if it is complex or abstract.

    1. That of course is also the problem as it is as much the recipient as the science that drives the publicity and more popular news outlets love personalties.

      However it is what it is-I gave up caring when the non-Nobel prize for the “science” of economics was added to the list.

  18. I wonder if any awardee has rejected his Nobel prize because he believed that an equally-deserving collaborator/contributor had been unjustly ignored/mistreated. Or, maybe accepted it, but shared it with the colleague.

    1. The 1923 Nobel in Physiology and Medicine went to Frederick Banting and J.J.R. Macleod, the senior U. of T. prof in whose lab Banting worked, for the discovery of insulin and its crucial role in diabetes. Dr. Banting was the primary researcher, but he worked together with a medical student, Charles Best, and a faculty biochemist, Jame Collip. Neither of the latter was named in the Nobel Prize award, but Banting shared his half with Best, and Macleod shared his half with Collip. As a curious historical note, Macleod and Collip have been largely forgotten, but everyone (especially in Canada) knows that insulin was discovered by Banting and Best.

  19. “Astronomer Vera Rubin provided evidence for the existence of dark matter by studying the way in which galaxies rotate—a feat that revolutionized our understanding of the universe.”

    It’s highly unlikely Rubin would have been awarded a Nobel even had she lived. Though her contributions were significant, they built on work from the 1930’s which measured anomalous rotation in M31 (Andromeda) using the same techniques as Rubin, and noted “non-luminous” matter as a possible cause – and similar work on globular star clusters. Rubin and significant co-workers extended and refined this work but the concept was not theirs originally. Granted this is a bit arcane, but Feltman and other science writers (Lisa Randall had a similar piece in the NYT) have chosen a poor example if they want a clear example of a female scientist deserving of a Nobel.

    This is one example, and is certainly not to deny that deserving women have been overlooked.

  20. These problems can be easily addressed by eliminating the Nobel Prize in science, and creating an alternative prize acknowledging the top-10 percent of scholars within the collective endeavor of grievance studies.

    1. Not going to happen I think, IIRC that prize is stipulated in the will.

      Why do you want to tamper with someone else’s will?

  21. “Need, abolish, keep”? The world is given the prizes out of a will, as long as the bank capital increases, and neither that nor the will can be changed – the interest and the criticism is just reflecting its popularity.

    Anyone can set up competing prizes with other rules and/or more money. and that has in fact happened. So why have we this discussion that in many cases rely on uninformed opinion.

  22. Also worth noting – and I know everyone knows this, but :

    The Nobel Prizes – especially with respect to the science Prizes – have inspired a sister prize for scientists, which make people laugh, then make people think : the Ig Nobel Prizes :

    … I’m not sure if any other prize is accompanied by such a delightful counterpart as the Ig Nobels. This I think further illustrates how the Nobel Prizes themselves really stand alone with respect to importance, perception, stature, etc.

  23. I think humanity needs the Nobel Prize to remind us of what achievement and contribution to civilization can be. It’s a mark of great pride to think that you are a fellow human with these high achievers. What a wonderful thing to celebrate! I would amend the rules, for example, to allow an unlimited number of winners so every major contributor to a discovery can be acknowledged.

    1. “I think humanity needs the Nobel Prize to remind us of what achievement and contribution to civilization can be.”

      Yes, I feel this way too, but I think this is the broader flaw Yong is getting at : there are other prizes and systems for recognition today, that keep pace with how “achievement and contribution to civilization” actually work in the modern world.

      A question would be : how can it be that only three individuals can share the prize for a discovery? This limits both the individuals recognized, and the discoveries that can be recognized. It does not mean that no other work was important, but it is sad when people die before their work was recognized. It is anachronistic.

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