This is the time of year the selection process begins for next fall’s Nobel Prizes. Unlike Literature and Peace, most fields of science have become increasingly collaborative over the last century, often forcing Nobel Committees to unduly truncate the list of recipients or neglect major discoveries involving more than three discoverers, the maximum Nobel’s will allows. A possible escape from this predicament would be to choose three official laureates randomly from a larger set of names, then publish the entire set, along with the fact that the official winners had been chosen randomly from it. The money of course would go to the three official winners, but public awareness that they were no more worthy than the others might induce them to share it. A further refinement would be to use weighted probabilities, allowing credit to be allocated unequally, with a similar incentive for the winners to share money and credit according to the published weights, not the actual results, of the selection process.
If the Nobel Foundation’s lawyers could successfully argue that such randomization was consistent with Nobel’s will, the Prizes would better reflect the collaborative nature of modern science, at the same time lessening unproductive competition among scientists to make it into the top three.