It's Nobel time again, the holiday season of nerds and geeky gamblers. With the prize committee scheduled to announce this year's winners beginning Oct. 6, European Web sites are already taking bets, and a leading information-service provider is out today with its annual predictions.
Thomson Reuters names 15 scientists and six economists as the likely winners, based on how often their published works are cited in journals. This is the seventh straight year the company has offered its picks for the coveted prize; since then, it's been right less than one-fifth of the time, correctly predicting five of the 28 winners since 2002. (Thomson Reuters periodically identified likely winners as far back as 1965, correctly naming seven prior to starting its annual predictions in 2002.)
"When you consider that there are millions of scientists publishing and a small fraction of that figure, practically speaking, at the top tier and therefore realistically candidates, you are still left with a thousand or so names," says David Pendlebury of the company's research services division. "Thus, I would say, to get any using this method is noteworthy."
Thomson Reuters' chemistry field includes three men: Charles Lieber of Harvard University, who develops nanowires and other ultra-tiny, nano-materials for computer circuitry; Krzysztof Matyjaszewski of Carnegie Mellon University for developing atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP), a controlled method of allowing molecules to bind to one another; and Roger Tsien of the University of California, San Diego, who created markers — visible tags — from fluorescent green jellyfish that allow scientists to peer inside cells.
Two Thomson Reuters contenders in the medicine category, Victor Ambros of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Gary Ruvkun of Harvard Medical School recently received the prestigious Lasker Award for their work on genetic molecules called microRNA in the regulation of genes.
Thomson Reuters has two other group picks for medicine: Shizuo Akira of Osaka University, Bruce Beutler of the Scripps Research Institute, and Jules Hoffman of the French Academy of Sciences for their work on receptors and immunity; and British epidemiologists Rory Collins and Sir Richard Peto, who head the Clinical Trial Service Unit at Oxford, where they've led some of the most frequently cited meta-analyses of diseases and treatments. Meta-analyses are analyses of data aggregated from various sources that have examined the same problem.
Jockeying on the Thomson Reuters list for the physics prize are Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov of the University of Manchester for discovering graphene, a potential upgrade on tiny electricity conduits called nanotubes. (Graphene itself is configured as a sheet of atoms, rather than as a tube.) Their competition: Vera Rubin of the Carnegie Institution for Science for research on dark matter; and Sir Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford and Dan Shechtman of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Iowa State University. Penrose discovered Penrose-tilings, a geometric mosaic that extends infinitely without repetition. Shechtman hit upon quasicrystals, a three-dimensional analogue of Penrose-tilings that appears in the structure of some materials and is being investigated for use in high-strength, low-friction surfaces, among other applications.
Thomson Reuters' contenders for the economics award: Lars Hansen of the University of Chicago, Thomas Sargent of New York University and Christopher Sims of Princeton University for their contributions to dynamic econometric models that combine theory and statistics to test economic principles; Armen Alchian and Harold Demsetz of the University of California, Los Angeles for their writings on property rights and theory of the firm, which states that companies will act in ways to produce profits; and former Reagan advisor Martin Feldstein of Harvard University for his research on taxation, health, Social Security and other public policy issues.
If you're a betting man or woman — not that we're advocating gambling — the British site Unibet is accepting bids on winners for the Nobel literature and peace prizes. Among the race horses for the peace prize are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; AIDS advocate and musician Bono; and the environmental group Greenpeace.
But who says Thomson Reuters — never mind the esteemed Nobel committee — is the expert? Let us know who you think will win. And look for our Nobel coverage, including a special package, next week.