Changing Nobel Prizes without Bob Dylan

A sign outside of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas congratulates Bob Dylan, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Las Vegas. Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, a stunning announcement that for the first time bestowed the prestigious award on a musician for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." (John Locher/AP Photo)

The Nobel Prize winners were announced this month, and the debates surrounding them are in full swing. This year, one winner is consuming the media and public alike: Bob Dylan, after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. Many people are debating his merits, though he has profound lyrics and has undeniably influenced American music and culture as a whole. However, the misplaced awarding of a prize in literature to a musician calls into question the established fields of the Nobel Prize and stirs arguments for expansion.

This prize gives not only funding but also publicity, benefitting the academic fields more significantly than a Grammy-winning musician who has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The existence of this prize is not only to praise someone who has made progress in the field, but also to encourage new works and display the importance of the subject. By awarding a musician this prize in literature, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is stripping the field of literature of this necessary publicity, funding and praise. Music matters as well, but there are many highly publicized award ceremonies for that art. Instead of praising such an already acclaimed artist in a field that is not his specialty, the Nobel Foundation should be expanding their awards in another way. There should be further categories of awards in fields that do not have equivalent praises, such as ecology, geology or social sciences, to name a few.

Some people might argue that Bob Dylan deserves the award as a reputable writer of a prose collection and a memoir, but the press release of his award sites the reason behind his prize  “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." By specifying this aspect of his career, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is spanning across arts in this prize, which is a new practice seemingly against their values. Incredible developments have gone without praise because they did not fit into the rigid fields of these prizes.

For example, Dr. Robert Paine’s discovery of keystone species has become a guiding theoretical principle in ecology, but because ecology does not fit clearly into an already established category, his work has gone unrewarded. Yet, if literature can be stretched to include music, it would make sense that physiology could stretch to include this influential discovery in ecology. This is not to say that the Norwegian Nobel Committee should stretch the categories to include important achievements; instead, it would behoove the Nobel Foundation to create new prizes for fields that have grown since Nobel’s will in 1895.

The world and the progress we make in it are completely different from when this award was established. Since 1895, fields have been created and experienced incredible growth. The sciences of geology, meteorology and ecology have all grown into impressive and complex fields with contributions improving the world. Technology and engineering have expanded incredibly, with subdivisions of the fields becoming solidified and validated in their own rights. The Nobel Prize is about honoring the continued advancement across boundaries of subject content, so the foundation running it should recognize and celebrate this progress.

The Nobel Foundation must consider what the categories mean in relation to their limitations and the importance of each field as time passes. Each category of the Nobel Prize stands as pertinent disciplines that withstand the tests of time, but the list is not current.  Due to continuous human progression, there will always be new subjects spouting. Yet, it is up to the Nobel Foundation to establish what they are trying to celebrate and who they are trying to recognize. It is important that if the Nobel Prize chooses to expand, it does not praise the fields that already receive publicity and praise. For this reason, the foundation should not establish a prize in music. Instead, it should establish one in a field that could use the funding and recognition.


Alyssa Luis is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.