For better or worse, the Nobel Prize is accepted by both society at large and a great many scientists—though they generally loath admit it—as the ultimate metric of success in the sciences. On the good side, the announcement of one of the science Nobels is a surefire mainstream news story dedicated to new, pathbreaking research; for people who run far, far away from science after their high school requirements—that is, most people—these announcements may be the only time they’ll hear words like graphene, quasicrystal, or telomere. On the negative side of the ledger, the Nobels neglect huge areas of science, they sometimes snub deserving scientists, and they often give a misleading impression of how specific discoveries were made and how research in general is done.
No matter what you think of the prizes, their cultural significance is clear: They are the single most significant way that a researcher can achieve fame. The Nobels don’t have a cute name like “Oscar,” but they’re the only way that a scientist can get a fraction of a movie star-type recognition for the discoveries they make. The Nobels have even become a template for acknowledgment in other fields. The Turing Award is called the Nobel Prize of computer science; the Pritzker Prize is known as the Nobel Prize for architecture; mathematics has two Nobels: the Abel Prize and the Fields Medal; and the not-quite-Nobel-level-famous Lauréat Prix International de Géographie Vautrin Lud, for excellence in geography. Like so many famous institutions, the Nobels have also generated their parody: the Ig Nobel Prizes, for research that “first makes people laugh, and then makes them think.”
With so much prestige on the line, trying to predict who will win the prizes each year has long been a parlor game for those interested in the various fields. This year, we are bringing this tradition into the modern day with the Nautilus Nobel Exchange, an online fantasy contracts market. In this exchange, each potential Nobelist is treated like a stock that can be bought or sold. The goal is to to hold the greatest number contracts in candidates that actually win a Nobel Prize this October. If more people buy contracts for a person, the price of her contracts will go up—that price signal is feedback showing what the market thinks will happen.
We give each participant $10,000 of fantasy money to invest, so go read about the different scientists you can invest in and get trading!
Amos Zeeberg is the digital editor of Nautilus.