Culture 4 min read

Two of the Worst Scientists Ever to Win the Nobel Prize

A war criminal with a valuable creation and a good-intentioned scientist with a cruel invention -- they sure both didn’t deserve the Nobel Prize.

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

When it comes to prestigious awards, nothing gets even close to the Nobel Prize.

More than the work itself, the Nobel Prize immortalizes the men and women behind great achievements and sets them on a path of lifelong glory.

Except that sometimes bad decisions happen and lead to laureates who aren’t worthy of the prize. Either because of the discovery in question or their persona itself.

Who do you think is better in all things considered: an evil scientist with a good invention or a good scientist with an evil invention?

Maybe the story of Fritz Haber and António Egas Moniz will help you decide.

These are two scientists who were the winners of the arguably most controversial Nobel Prizes ever awarded.

Nobel Prize Recipient Fritz Haber: The Evil Chemist

“During peacetime, a scientist belongs to the world. But during wartime, he belongs to his country.”

These were the words of Fritz Haber, a German physical chemist who, long before Hitler came to power, orchestrated the first-ever gas attack in human history.

Haber (1868-1934), who was awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, had worked on nitrogen fixation.

The chemical procedure is now known as the Haber-Bosch process. This chemical procedure provided the basis for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers that helped boost crop production and feed millions of people.

But, Haber’s ammonia research was not pursued because of humanitarian reasons at that time. Instead, the pioneer of chemical warfare was using it to develop weapons.

When Harber received the award that year, the Nobel Committee for Chemistry completely disregarded a horrible incident that happened just three years earlier. An event which Haber had masterminded.

On April 22, 1915, Haber watched from a safe distance as a 4-mile-wide wall of chlorine gas reached the trenches of the Allied Forces. That day in Ypres, Belgium, 6,000 soldiers died a horrible death.

It was the first-ever deployment of chemical weapons.

Read More: 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Goes to 3 Evolutionary Scientists

Nobel Prize Recipient António Egas Moniz: the Lobotomist

Another Nobel Prize win that still raises controversy is that of António Egas Moniz (1874 – 1955), a Portuguese neurologist who was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Egas Moniz came very close to winning the prize a few years before for his work in detecting brain tumors. And it would’ve been certainly more well-deserved than this one.

However, Egas Moniz took the Nobel Prize for his introduction of “lobotomy,” a brutal surgical procedure that was hailed at the time as a medical breakthrough in mental illness treatment.

Back then, mental disorders, like schizophrenia, were less understood and stigmatized. So, when Egas showed some faux potential, it became very popular around the world, particularly in the United States.

If drilling holes through the skull and into the brain, then injecting pure alcohol doesn’t sound like a good idea, it sure isn’t!

Many patients were unfortunate enough to undergo Moniz’ prefrontal leucotomy procedure.

Those who survived experienced memory loss, apathy, and other debilitating side effects that were thought to be temporary. But they were irreversible, leading psychiatric therapists to question the method’s viability in the first place.

Soon it became clear that awarding Egas the Nobel Prize wasn’t the best decision the Academy has made.

As quickly it rose to fame, lobotomy declined. Back in the 1950s, psychiatric therapists shunned the method for more humane and effective drugs and therapies.

The decisions of the Nobel Committee are irrevocable. Meaning, any prize awarded can’t be taken back.

In any case, these two examples stress questions like, can we separate the creation from the creator, and how today’s breakthroughs would stand the test of time?

Read More: Einstein Was Right: Nobel Prize Goes To LIGO Gravitational Waves Discovery

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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