Matthew gets Nobel Prize prediction right—four years too early (and a contest)

Four years ago, during Nobel Prize Season, Matthew made a prediction on this site: the 2013 Prize for Medicine and Physiology would go to “Jeff Hall, Michael Rosbash and Mike Young for their work on discovering the mechanism by which ‘clock’ genes work.” Well, Matthew was wrong at the time, but, as the New York Times and other venues just announced, Matthew was, as he emailed me with pride, “four years too early.” For Hall, Roshbash, and Young are the precise triumverate who got the Prize this morning. The brief New York Times article is below, but I’ll reproduce Matthew’s post because it gives more information than does the Times (at least what I saw as I wrote this at 5:30 a.m.). The press release by the Karolinska Institut gives you a ton of information about the research on circadian rhythm genes.

The Times article:

And here’s what Matthew wrote in 2013:

It’s that time of year again. The next week will see pictures of cheerful looking middle-aged (or older) men (they will be mainly men) holding bottles of champagne and explaining work they did years ago which has just won them fame and fortune and a Nobel Prize. Some of them will have beards. Many of them will be from the USA. This much history tells us. What is more difficult to predict is WHO will win which prize, with the exception of physics which will presumably go to Higgs for his boson (pronounced bo-zon).

First up (I think) is Physiology or Medicine, which is announced tomorrow. Here is my prediction: Jeff Hall, Michael Rosbash and Mike Young for their work on discovering the mechanism by which ‘clock’ genes work. They have won a series of major prizes over the last 18 months, and it seems inevitable that the Nobel Committee will soon be honouring them, so why not this year?

These clock genes were first found in the insect Jerry and I study: Drosophila melanogaster. In 1971 Ron Konopka, working with the late Seymour Benzer, announced the discovery of a gene, which they called period, which changed the fly’s ‘circadian’ rhythm. Furthermore, Konopka and Benzer had made three mutants in this gene – one mutation made the clock tick slowly (per long) so the flies were on a 29 hour cycle, one made  the clock tick fast (per short) so the flies were on a short cycle (19 hours ) and another was a null mutation in which the clock was broken and the flies had no rhythm.

Through the 1980s and 90s, Hall, Rosbash and Young worked out how the fly biological clock works, and it soon became apparent that this is not only a clock in Drosophila – many of the key elements of the fly’s clock also function in other animals, including humans.

To get a better idea of what the research entailed, here is a video in two parts explaining the research, which was made to mark the award of the Shaw Prize to the trio a few months ago. As you’ll see from the first video, Jeff Hall is an interesting character. Jeff is now retired, but even when he was active he was also a non-professional historian of the American Civil War, publishing a book about the battle of Gettysburg. He also has a reputation for being somewhat unpredictable; his Stockholm acceptance speech would no doubt be a gem.

As a reader notes in the comments, Brandeis University, home of Hall and Rosbach, hasn’t even put the award on their “Brandeis researchers in the news” webpage! Rockefeller University is more on the ball; Young’s prize (he works there) is in big letters on the University’s front page.

JAC: As the original videos posted by Matthew have been removed from YouTube, I’ll put up a short video with Mike Rosbash, and one with Rosbash and Hall, both describing the research and its history. You can see the Shaw Prize lecture, in one part, at this site.

Now: a contest. Here are the schedule of awards for the next few days, also from the NYT:

■ The Nobel Prize in Physics will be announced on Tuesday in Sweden.

■ The Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be announced on Wednesday in Sweden.

■ The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Norway.

■ The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science will be announced Oct. 9 in Sweden.

■ The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced at a later date.

Guess who will win in these five categories (you don’t have to guess for all of them. The first person to name at least one winner from two categories gets an autographed book (featuring a Nobel Prize Cat) AND a special book on ancient cat drawings. My guess is that nobody will win; people have a notoriously poor track record at guessing, especially in literature (who would have predicted Bob Dylan would win last year?). Put your guesses below (one set of guesses per customer). You are limited to three guesses for Physics and Chemistry, as the Prize can go to three people, but only one guess for Economics, Peace, and Literature, which have but one recipient.


  1. Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    OK Matthew – who is winning in 2001?!

    • Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      um, 2021!!!

      • Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:18 am | Permalink

        Ah – but then there was Young…!

        My guess, one of the winners will be Yoshizumi Ishino, Feng Zhang & Jennifer Doudna for CRISPR, among other candidates, but maybe it is too early…

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:06 am | Permalink


  3. Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Now that four gravitational wave events have been detected, everyone is predicting the Physics Nobel to Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever.

    • Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      As with the following commenters, if you want a prize you have to guess at least one person correctly in TWO categories.

      • Posted October 2, 2017 at 8:06 am | Permalink

        OK then: Chemistry, one of Jennifer Doudna, John Bercaw or Jens Nørskov.

        And Donald Trump. No, not for Peace, but the Literature prize for his poetry on Twi**er.

        Angela Merkel for Peace (the PC choice).

        • Posted October 3, 2017 at 4:59 am | Permalink

          Ya-hey! I got the physics Nobel right, so am only one correct prediction away from a PCC-E-drawn cat!

          Admittedly my prediction for the Literature prize is a bit of a long shot, but surely no more ludicrous than the idea that he would be POTUS.

          • Posted October 3, 2017 at 5:30 am | Permalink

            two thirds right 😉

            • Posted October 3, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

              Well I hadn’t remembered that Drever had passed away this year, but I was still right enough for the contest!

    • Posted October 3, 2017 at 5:28 am | Permalink

      Two out of one! You missed Barish…

    • Posted October 3, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      You got that right. One more correct and you win.

  4. BobTerrace
    Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I predict the Nobel peace prize will go to Trump and Kim Jong Un for their skillful diplomacy.

    I can picture the ceremony now as Elton John plays the Barbra Streisand classic “Send in the Clowns”

    • Randy schenck
      Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:37 am | Permalink

      I think you mean the War prize? These clowns are in the running.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted October 2, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        I think they should get the Nobel peace prize. We do seem to live in times where, as Orwell wrote, “War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength [and bliss]”; or, as Kipling wrote of “the savage wars of peace…”, albeit in a specific context; and that poem itself can be read as an ironic commentary on the destructive entanglements the US has gotten itself into all across the globe. IMO Trump exemplifies the “White Man’s Burden” mentality.

  5. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    As of now, still no announcement on the Brandeis web page.
    Is it just me or is it early for Nobels? I recall 10 October…

  6. Hempenstein
    Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    If there was any intelligence inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Odious Occupant of the Oval Office would crow about Merkin Exceptionalism. But there will be silence on this, just as there will be silence about Las Vegas.

    • Mark R.
      Posted October 2, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Yes, silence in the form of prayers.

  7. Posted October 2, 2017 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Jerry, You are not correct about the Nobel Prize in Economics, which can be shared by up to three recipients. In recent years it has generally gone to more than one recipient.

  8. artkqtarks
    Posted October 2, 2017 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne for Physics.
    Richard Henderson, Joachim Frank, and Sjors Scheres for Chemistry.
    Margaret Atwood for Literature.

    • Posted October 3, 2017 at 5:29 am | Permalink

      You also missed Barish! 😉

    • gormenghastly
      Posted October 5, 2017 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      It’s appalling that Margaret Atwood has been ignored all these years. Ishiguro is a worthy enough winner but she’s worthier.

  9. Posted October 2, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    This is very exciting for me since my dissertation was on circadian biology!

  10. Posted October 2, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    What was that about economic science? Science?

  11. Posted October 2, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    They’ve already been guessed, but I will go with CRISPR (Doudna et al) for Chem and gravitational waves (Thorne or someone from LIGO) for physics.

    • Posted October 2, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      To increase my odds, I will throw in Bill Nordhaus for Economics (economic modeling of climate change).

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 2, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    There ought to be a Nobel prize for science writing<, and opera composers should be eligible for a Nobel in literature.

    My wish for a Nobel prize in literature is Tom Stoppard, and my wish is that they create a prize for science writing and give it to Stephen Hawking.

    As for guesses, I think I’m out of my league.

    Here is a link to a picture gallery of 10 Great Writers who did not get a Nobel. The first is Leo Tolstoy who remarked “I was very happy to know that the Nobel Prize was not awarded to me. It deprived me of a big problem of how to use this money. I am certain that this money… can only bring evil.”

    • nicky
      Posted October 2, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      My whish for a Nobel prize in literature is Dawkins or other good science writer (that list would include Jerry, of course, but I fear his two books would be considered too small an oevre by the committee -if a living science writer would be considered at all, that is). My point is that science writing is literature too, at least as much as the songs of a song-writer like Dylan, to put it mildly.

  13. nicky
    Posted October 2, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    A well deserved prize, in my moderately informed layman opinion.
    The CRISP-er guys (and gals) are also so obviously in, that really is a ‘no brainer’. I think the problem there is who really is the most deserving there. (note, our host addressed the latter problem a month or so ago)

  14. Christopher
    Posted October 2, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    My guesses are: Kansas governor Sam Brownback in economics, the Huffington Post editors for literature, and Donald Trump & Kim Jong Un will share the peace prize.

    • nicky
      Posted October 2, 2017 at 10:18 pm | Permalink


  15. Posted October 2, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Physics: Immanuel Bloch
    Chemistry: Emmanuelle Charpentier
    Literature: Haruki Murakami

    • Posted October 3, 2017 at 5:59 am | Permalink

      Well, Bloch has plenty of years left. Kip Thorne was the obvious one here, but let’s see about chemistry and literature…

    • Posted October 3, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      And let’s add:

      Economic Science: Thomas Piketty

      So: Charpentier, Piketty, Murakami

      (OK, that’s more of a wish list than a prediction)

  16. Posted October 2, 2017 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Kip Thorne and/or B. P. Abbott for gravitational waves or Lluís Masanes for deriving the third law of thermodynamics from quantum principles (might as well throw him in)

    Jennifer Doudna for CRISPR-Cas9 or George Church for using it to edit human cell cultures (or both)

  17. colnago80
    Posted October 3, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    As other commentors have stated, the Nobel Prize in physics went to three individuals involved in the search for gravitational waves. The sad part of all of this is that the discoverer of the techniques for finding exo-planets, Geoff Marcy, whose accomplishment probably merits it, will also probably never receive the award because of the sexual abuse scandal that caused UC Berkeley to give him the heave ho.

    In fairness, it should be noted that Richard Feynman was a worse offender then Marcy but things were different on the sexual abuse front 50 years ago, where such was not taken seriously (back then, one would almost have to found guilty of rape to merit dismissal).

    • Posted October 3, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      The sad part of all of this is that the discoverer of the techniques for finding exo-planets, Geoff Marcy, …

      Not quite, he didn’t really “discover” one of the main techniques for discovering exoplanets, namely the radial-velocity technique, so much as develop and implement it (the basics of the technique were known well before). He was also beaten to the first one by the Swiss team who were doing likewise.

      it should be noted that Richard Feynman was a worse offender then Marcy

      Is this really so on the part of Feynman? Can you expound on what he did wrong?

      • colnago80
        Posted October 3, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        Feynman’s activities when at Cornell allegedly included sleeping with underage female students. I would consider that to be sexual abuse which should have subjected him to statutory rape charges. This was the reason why he was asked to leave that university. As I understand it, all of the girls involved refused to press charges or testify about the conduct. Remember, this was the 1950s where this was a far less of an issue then it is today.

        The only instance I know of where charges were brought against a high profile perp was the trial of actor Errol Flynn where he was acquitted thanks to the machinations of his attorney Jerry Giesler, a notorious defender of Hollywood personalities accused of misconduct. The first words uttered by any Hollywood personality who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar was “get me Giesler”.

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