They got the application in by the 31 January deadline, stimulated a lot of endorsements and swept up an array of other awards – Gruber Cosmology Prize, the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics, the Shaw Prize in Astronomy, Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. So why did they come unstuck?
Was it that the LIGO insiders tried to fix the 3 persons, when there were others thought to be equally or more deserving. Once there was lobbying for Barry Barish etc. to share the honours, the Nobel Committee would have delayed any decision to allow these others to be nominated before next year’s deadline.
Or was it that the LIGO group tried to claim too much, in their claim to detect black-holes? Black-holes are disputed, while just the detection of gravitational waves would surely have merited the prize, but then Barry Barish could well have displaced Kip Thorne from the chosen three. Einstein’s supporters likewise claimed too much in seeking the Nobel for General Relativity, when observational tests were disputed/uncertain in 1916-1920, over the years when the Nobel was richly merited for Einstein’s well-attested Special Relativity (eg. mass-energy of relativistic electrons) [Aant Elzinga, Einstein’s Nobel Prize: A Glimpse Behind closed Doors, review in Brit. J. Hist.Sci. 41. 148-149, March 2008]
In the LIGO case, they knew ‘horizonless’ compact objects are theorised, which equally fit the gravitational wave signal of an inspiralling binary. They knew the tail of the signal showing the actual merging was below threshold, when that could indicate the type of object. Mixing in the claim for black-hole detection rather than just an inspiralling binary (for which Landau-Lifshitz have a prior claim) should in any case defer any Nobel prize for the LIGO discovery. The lesson is – leave the Nobel Committee free to make their assessments using independent scientists and to choose the precise terms and nobelists.
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